Understanding the Process When Engineering New, User-Friendly Designs
Staples has the “Easy” button, which ironically, does nothing. Though I guess you could say, it makes doing nothing pretty easy. And who doesn’t welcome solutions that come as easily and simply as pushing a button?
If we dig deeper, we could surmise that the truly easy solutions should feel like you’ve done—or have to do—nothing to arrive at them. For end-users of a product or service, that is how a good solution should be experienced. The reality for the people creating that ultimate user experience (UX) is anything but simple and easy.
There are a number of principles that design engineers use in their process of designing user interfaces that create elegant, seamless solutions for people—when applied correctly. As always, the ease of function for the end-user is the focus. The list of principles includes a number of elements, but the one that ranks at the top of everyone’s list: Clarity.
Clarity. If people don’t recognize what it is, why they would (should) use it, how it helps them, and what to logically do next, they won’t get past step 1. People also need to know what/who to interact with predictability about the entire experience.
Flexibility. At the risk of making a one-size-fits-all “commodity” product (which isn’t a bad thing if that is your goal), you need to balance your product’s ability to meet the intent, and perform well in all situations. Keep in mind that people work on different platforms and have different levels of security to access different portions of the product and have different levels of proficiency.
Familiarity. We are drawn to and feel secure with what we know. We even feel smart knowing something without even trying. And that’s the feeling familiarity should engender with design. It also simplifies the visual and physical experience for people.
Conserve attention. This is a reigning principle in interface design and it can directly affect usability if not done well. Keep in mind how many distractions people have going on around them off-screen—and ensure you haven’t added to that with your design. Do everything you can to keep their attention uninterrupted and on the process at hand.
Control. How often have you downloaded a software program, thinking it was going to ease your process, only to get bogged down in trying to learn how to install it, let alone use it? Keep the user in control by keeping the pathways clear and interactions predictable—and repeatable. Nothing is worse than finally figuring out where you need to be in a program, only to not know how to get back to the beginning … or even where you just came from. As Joshua Porter says, “Keep users in control by regularly surfacing system status, by describing causation (if you do this that will happen) and by giving insight into what to expect at every turn. Don't worry about stating the obvious … the obvious almost never is.
Efficiency. This goes hand-in-hand with the control element. People should be able to flow smoothly from one task to the next, never losing the results of their work. Figure out the basics of what the users’ routine, then design those functions in the most logical, streamlined sequence.
Consistency. This complements familiarity—as good design does follow basic principles—and usability will become familiar to people in form and function, regardless of purpose. Elements like hierarchy, basic navigation sequences, color schemes, and grid alignment all contribute to overall consistency for visual and functional appeal.
These are some of the most salient interface design principles. Other, perhaps more granular ones, as Porter suggests, include:
- One primary action per screen
- Keep secondary actions secondary
- Provide a natural next step
- Appearance follows behavior
- Smart organization reduces cognitive overload
- Highlight, don’t determine, with color
- Progressive disclosure
- Great design is invisible
- Build on other design principles
Certainly, the last bullet encapsulates much of the lesson here—these principles do build upon, complement, and depend on each other for a combine synergy that creates a solid, functional, successful experience for users.
It’s with these interface design principles in mind that Enginasion developed a new design using creative solutions on medical device technology. The photos in this article depict the before and after designs of the digital screen.
Elements that we needed to consider for the redesign included the challenges of how light is perceived in different lighting conditions: having a dark screen in a bright room is tough on the eyes, as is a bright screen in a dark room. Generally, when working in a dark or dimly lit room, you should reduce the brightness of your monitor. Looking into an overly bright screen while working in the dark is like staring into a flashlight. Your eyes perceive the darkness around you, but you are looking directly into a light source. The “before” screen represents the absolute worst interface for people who are working in a bright operatory or for those who are colorblind.
Our team comprised a cooperative group: an embedded programmer; electronics engineer (also a programmer); and a graphic artist, illustrator, and story teller. Facing the challenge from multiple perspectives offers a diversity of talent, experience, and skill for creative solutions.
Enginasion has had many different customers over 40 years—from diverse industries. What we do when we configure a solution is to first listen to your situation, challenges, and goals, and then pool history with the latest technologies to create new solutions with solid foundations. We can adapt and create technologies to answer your unique needs—we do it all the time.
Having thoughts about how you can improve a process or an interface? We’d love to talk with you and explore the possibilities. Contact us or call us at (508) 735-3734 and we can begin working together to discover the next great solution for you and your company.