The right mental model makes software easier to use

Recently, a client told me we needed to redesign the main data-entry form of their company’s flagship product. Customers said they didn’t like the form in our client’s SaaS or cloud-based software. Despite extra training, customers still felt apprehensive and intimidated by its complexity.

The online form was built years ago, without a designer—as was typical of dot-com start-ups. Within a few years, iPhone and iPad showed people that software could be simpler, and that’s what our client’s customers wanted, too. So we were tasked with simplifying the form. Continue reading “The right mental model makes software easier to use”

Visual-design principles in practice: A team self-assessment

In a lecture about user-experience design to software developers at Stanford University, Jeremy Lyon explained how important it is for software’s visual design to reinforce its use and meaning. He listed five principles that he wants designers and developers to apply:

  • Balance.
  • Rhythm.
  • Dominance.
  • Motion.
  • Unity.

For fun, I decided to use these five visual-design principles to assess a recent project I worked on with a team of developers. In this article, I’m only illustrating a small portion of our design—an application that helps people set up a corporate event, issue formal invitations, and then track all related communication that results. Continue reading “Visual-design principles in practice: A team self-assessment”

Modernist design: Beyond flat and simple

Earlier this decade, the big players in software adopted modernist design for their user interfaces. With this redesign, digital came of age, with a look and feel that’s no longer bound by last century’s conventions or bound by the inexperience of those new to computing. Modernist user interfaces focus people on their current task, supports fast-paced use, and embraces the fact that the interfaces are digital.

You’ve seen and used modernist interfaces, on your Apple phones and tablets, in Google products, and in Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows. But let me explain what modernism is and what it isn’t.

Modernism sometimes gets reduced—incorrectly—into two guidelines:

  • Put fewer elements on the screen.
  • Make what’s still there look simpler and flatter.

Blindly applying those two guidelines without understanding the underlying principles can lead to puzzling and inconsistent experiences. In some cases—including in products by the big players—fewer items and less visual detail on screen has resulted in the removal or omission of the necessary cues that separate content from controls, the cues that allow people to learn and use the software effectively. In other words, overzealous application of the two oversimplified design guidelines has made some modernist products less usable.

Let’s examine each of the purported benefits listed above. Continue reading “Modernist design: Beyond flat and simple”