Designing effective and more usable applications
Usability studies show that users prefer to complete major tasks quickly and accurately. User-friendly applications provide the following benefits:
- Improve user task completion rates by 25-50%
- Reduce technical support time by 20-30%
- Reduce training time by 30-40%
- Reduce user frustration level by 0-50%
The following tips can help you design better applications:
- Target common tasks — Design around the three or four most common tasks that users are likely to perform. If you have several types of users (for example, managers and support personnel), design separate forms, tabs, or views for each type.
- Group elements — Group information that belongs together in the same area. For example, keep all customer address information in one area. Label each section clearly. Use white space to separate the grouped information.
- Emphasize elements — Place important elements, such as required fields, at the top of grouped sections. Place optional or less important elements at the bottom. Buttons should immediately follow the section upon which they act.
- Simplify the interface — To increase your user success rates:
- Reduce the steps required to accomplish the most common user tasks.
- Reduce the amount of text and font types, design elements (such as buttons and fields), and graphics. Consider eliminating elements that are not required.
- Create smaller tables.
- Plan your design around the tasks that users must accomplish and the fields required to accomplish those tasks. As a general rule, 80% of optional fields can be eliminated.
- Create contrast — Choose a light background color that makes black text easy to read. Avoid light-colored text and dark, multicolored, or textured backgrounds. Use headings, bold text, and light-colored cells and borders to make important elements stand out.
- Align elements — Align fields and field labels. Misaligned fields create visual confusion and draw the user's attention away from the tasks they must perform.
- Be consistent — Keep language simple and consistent. For example, use Postal Code or Zip Code, but not both. Use similar field lengths and button types for similar actions.
- Provide feedback — Provide a message or clearly change the way the interface appears after a user performs an action. For example, if the user performed the wrong action, supply an error message that explains why the action did not succeed and what the user must do next.
- Test your application — Customers can provide useful feedback on your application from a user's point of view. Test your application with a cross-section of customers that reflects your intended audience.