When people download an app, they usually look for things such as design, functionality, and efficiency. These fine qualities are never more present than in the app’s interface. You can create an app that is artfully designed and visually stunning, but if no one can figure out to how to move beyond the home screen, it’s not going to sell well. No matter how flashy an app looks, what most people want is an app that does exactly what they need it to do.
At the same time, consumers enjoy things that are easy on their eyes. Little navigation tricks might actually create interest for your app. And in an increasingly crowded marketplace, your app needs all the help it can get.
What you need is an app that stands out from the crowd while keeping the interface user-friendly. Probably sounds like a big job, right?
A great app isn’t something you can just slap together overnight, but if you follow these basic instruction and take the time to develop quality, you can create a UI that’s the complete package: as eye-catching as it is user-friendly.
Rule Number One: Consistency Is King
When you’re developing your interface, the most important thing to always keep in mind is that the UI needs to be consistent. That means consistency between pages, functions and options throughout the interface.
Why is this so important? Because it gives your UI an easy-to-use and intuitive feel, even if it’s a somewhat complicated app. Without consistency, users will become frustrated with the UI and likely just give up on it completely.
If your UI isn’t friendly, average users won’t want to use it. (Image credits: Claudia Regina)
Remember, most users don’t have the patience to deal with apps that don’t perform the way they want them to, and you won’t get a second shot to impress them.
Another thing to consider is your general color scheme and layout. While it might seem like a small detail, and not one that will affect functionality, having a consistent appearance will make your app feel more cohesive on the user end, which really does matter.
Take User Error Into Account
A user-friendly UI takes the fact that users will make mistakes from time to time when using the app. In many cases, users just hit the wrong button.
This isn’t a big deal for most users—if they can easily undo the mistake they just made. That means there needs to be an obvious, immediate way for users to undo something that they just did and get back to using the app the right way.
Many apps, including Google Docs, display a link that allows you to undo your last action. In many cases that can work very well. For simpler apps, a back button at the top of the interface may be all that’s necessary, but this should generally be reserved for apps that display information without allowing for editing.
Keyboard Shortcuts Are Essential
If your app is web-based, you might consider including common keyboard shortcuts. Not every single user that comes across your UI is going to want to use them, but there are many users that will be frustrated if they can’t take advantage of something they’re used to using, or be pleasantly surprised by their inclusion. Try to include the most common keyboard shortcuts and ones that will make the UI more functional for users that want to take the time to learn the shortcuts.
When it comes to picking keys and naming keyboard shortcuts, just be logical. The more logical the shortcuts are the more likely people will remember this, which will increase user satisfaction.
Make Changes and New Content Immediately Visible
One of the things many developers don’t do when they first start out is to make sure that users know about changes that just took place within the app. In many cases, this is done by simply highlighting the change when it occurs. Other UI creators use icons to indicate when new content has been added.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure changes – ones made by the user and the app – are immediately noticeable. Otherwise you might end up with some frustrated users.
Make the UI Familiar
When you think about pasting a piece of text or a photo in app, which icon comes to mind? For most of us, it’s a clipboard. That’s a familiar symbol for the paste function.
To that end, it’s important that you use standard symbols for things everybody understands and knows already if your app offers these features. A glue-stick looking tool might seem fun for the paste function, but it’s going to bug users that are looking around for a clipboard and not finding one.
If you want to make your app fun and unique, that’s fine. Replacing standard symbols is not the way to do it.
Make Your UI Customizable
Many UI’s allow users to make the app easier for them to use. Some UI’s allow you to change colors or upload unique graphics all of your own, while others allow custom page templates and allow users to change the way they view the app.
Whether or not these ideas are functional in your app are up to you. However, including some form of customization—some way users can make the app feel more like their own—is very important.
At the very least you should allow for color scheme modification or the addition of a personal avatar. Believe it or not, the ability to change simple things like color scheme, font and font size can greatly affect end-user satisfaction.
Many developers use a color wheel to allow users to choose their own color scheme. (Image credits: Wikimedia Commons)
Use Tabs and Buttons
Tabs are beneficial for navigation for a variety of reasons, but the most important for you is that they tend to make users feel like the app is more organized and easier to navigate. What tabs do is give the user the feeling that they’re using a well-laid physical item like a binder or book.
Think of your tabs as sections or chapters. A book with chapters is easier to follow than a book with a bunch of random pages that aren’t sectioned off, right? That’s how most users feel at least.
When it comes to actions, buttons are the more obvious choice. These make sense to users when it comes to performing an action – just like in many real life situations, buttons control movement and action.
All of this might sound like it acts on something subconscious which likely isn’t important in UI development, but users will notice something out of place or not quite right about your app without these things. You have to take the user’s expectations into account to create a user-friendly UI, and even psychological things like this can play a major role.
Allow Users to Seek Help
Believe it or not, many app developers aren’t incorporating help functions in their design. It’s not exactly clear why since they seem like they would be vital to a good user experience.
To make your UI user-friendly, try including tooltips and help toolbars whenever a user might be confused about how to move forward with the app. In fact, including tooltip and a help icon on nearly every screen can’t hurt you too much, especially if you have a complicated app that may take some users a considerable amount of time to learn.
If your users can’t get the help that they need to use your UI properly they’re going to move onto another app that will help them do what they want to do efficiently. Remember, in most cases, the reason people use a certain UI is because it helps increase their productivity or make something easier for them.
If you’re not sure how to incorporate these features, try making them available through modal windows or in a sidebar that the user can access within the page.
On The Subject of Modal Windows…
Modal windows can be useful for help screens, and can be utilized for many other features of an app such as alerts, confirmation screens, etc. One thing to consider however, is that if you’re going to use a modal window within an app, you need to make sure you use shaded modal windows that shade everything in the background out.
A shaded modal window makes the screen much easier for users to follow and keeps the pop-up screen from feeling like a distraction. This is particularly important for help screens and pop-ups within an app since shading helps eliminate distractions for the user.
Providing Efficient Workflow For Users
For many users the number one reason a person is using a particular app is because the app makes their life easier. In short, it makes the workflow —whatever that work is—more efficient for the end user somehow.
To make your app more efficient, try grouping functions that are commonly used together or in a particular sequence. In order to make these groupings you’ll probably need to spend some time with app as a user and revise accordingly.
Another thing to consider here is removing functions that aren’t standard. Tools that don’t make standard operation more efficient might be easy for you to ignore, but they aren’t necessarily easy to ignore for the average user.
If a function or tool isn’t helping make workflow more efficient, there’s a good chance it’s making it LESS efficient for the average user.
Keep It Simple
If the talk of technical and subconscious issues like where to put buttons and when to use tabs is getting a little heavy, take a step back and remember the most important rule about creating a user-friendly UI—keep it simple. But what does keeping it simple mean? In many cases it means:
- Keeping your UI free of fancy bells and whistles that don’t do anything for the user except clog precious screen real-estate and make the app aggravating to use.
- Not adding visual design elements that are overbearing. Does your app really need nine colors on the same screen? The answer is no.
- Avoiding extra features. Extra features within an app might seem like you’re giving the user total control. In some cases, that’s true, but not always. If the average user doesn’t need half the features on a single screen, you need to think about a better way to integrate them into your UI. Allow users that need them access, but don’t make them part of the visual design, which just serves as clutter in most cases.
Developing a user-friendly UI isn’t exactly rocket science, as you can see. However, it does take some effort on your part. In most cases, you’ll need to revise your UI many, many times to really make it effective for the end user.
It’s also important that you, as a developer, take time to switch gears and try to view the UI as a user would. Without doing that you’ll have a hard time knowing what might frustrate users and what might make them smile.