The interface is constantly changing and evolving. Pro sites like google, facebook and youtube are setting the standards for interface design. Users then learn how these new fancy interfaces work and expect the same level of smarts in other applications.
What does this mean for your next web app? It means your designer needs to be totally familiar with all the new interaction design paradigms. How do social buttons now work, how should contextual items reveal them selves, how competent is the user in understanding something similar but different. Many start off making “what’s theirs” – something new and superior to the existing standard interface. Many then also revert back to a simpler version because the “user didn’t get it”. I’ve seen this happen before and it’s rather frustrating. Especially when the client thinks they’ve got something cool, fun and unique but don’t realise it’s simply too cool, fun and not quite ready for the average user.
Here are some things I’ve noted in this direction based on my experience in usability and interaction design.
– One search field, optionally one search button
Google has set the standard, if your search form has more than this then you’re wasting your time. Every search criteria element should be extracted from a single text phrase. “Elephants in Africa” should identify the animal and the place and understand the connection between these two elements. “Electrical Engineering for Dummies by Robert T Stump” should identify all 3 elements and return results ‘for dummies’ and by R.T.S relating to the (technical) field ‘Electrical Eng.’. It should also take into account relevance for each key phrase in the text query.
Facetted search is only useful for certain logical controls like price filtering or date restrictions but most of the time these are secondary search options that users don’t care to even look at.
Bottom line: Don’t encourage your user to make heaps of selections/choices when everything could be understood from one input.
– One web address = one app = one design… a consistent design across all devices
Users expect to access the same app where ever they are on what ever device. Styling, buttons and information architecture should all be the same. Layout should vary slightly but the overall experience should remain exactly the same regardless of device or screen res. No-one wants to relearn an app so don’t make them.
– One big cloud
Saving should be instant and synced to the cloud. There is no ‘save now’ button, there is no ‘backup now’ button. Data loss sucks! (see recovery). Any good app developer will ensure the cloud works seamlessly. In some cases this also means undo and redo controls are required, not just in a session but across the entire history of the file/cloud data. Google docs does this well. They offer an easy to navigate history view showing changes between versions.
– Showing off, share options
Each item needs a share link, each collection of items also needs a share link. Privacy options are not just expected, they’re demanded! Users expect to be able to export their content into different formats, share on any service, and get feedback from their friends/family/co-workers. This means using smart URL structures to begin with making use of human style and hackable URL formats. Your app should be able to recover from almost any miss-typed or broken URL scenario. When linking to private views in the open web context (eg, via public complex links), privacy information should also be maintained and not reveal personal details. Feedback/comment systems should also be controlled via the share link.
I share, you share, we all want to build something together. Real time collaboration is the standard thanks to Google Docs and the like. If 5 people can’t work on the same data at the same time then it’s not fun and it’s not as productive as we want it to be. No longer do we sit at the same screen using 2 brains on 1 computer. We have 3 brains working on their own computer anywhere and anytime in the world. Gone are the days when an excel file is locked because someone else is working on it.
Don’t make me click, don’t make me wait, don’t slow me down. The UI has to be slick, easy and fast. Location specific hover elements make a lot of sense (at least with a mouse). Intelligently preload data, don’t have slow/complex or clunky animations/transitions between content or screens and if I have to wait for something, it better be less than 2 seconds. If it’s longer, then it better be a background task (lazy loaded) that I can ignore and doesn’t greatly affect my task at hand.
Everyone sets out to make a usable app taking into account good usability standards. Few actually reach this. An app only has poor usability when your users start using it. When your programmers and business directors use it, it’s perfect. It functionally works, it ticks all the business requirement boxes but it might not be any fun for your end user. Apps should have excellent default settings and hide the advanced options by default. If your user is advanced then they will find the options and take the time to learn how they work. Provide text over icons where possible or contextual tips where not. The decision to use an icon over text would depend on how well the icon can be recognised and understood by the average user. This is again dependent on what the big guns are setting as the standard.