March 29, 2016
The Importance of User Interface
One of the topics you’ll frequently see me write about (or speak on) relates to user interface and the user experience. I am passionate about providing the user with an experience that is both pleasing and easy to use. As a result I find that I am constantly looking at and analyzing the software and the interfaces of others. I find some that I think work amazingly well and I take note of what they do right. Unfortunately the majority of the interfaces I interact with I find do things poorly and in some cases absolutely horrendously.
What is it about gas stations?
The latest interface fiasco which forces me to write this particular article is captured in the screenshot below.
For the careful observer you’ll probably notice this is not the first time I have shared an image from a filling station or gas station. In fact, the previous time I pointed out something from the gas pump it also related to the user interface. If you don’t remember that image I’ve included it below as a refresher.
It’s hard to know where to start but I suppose I’ll begin with the first graphic since it’s the most recent one I have come across. There’s one major and very glaring problem with the simple four step process they’ve outlined on this card. If you guessed step number one then give yourself a gold star, you are right!
Yes, Yes, Yes
A good user experience should never begin with the first step requiring the user to cancel something. This starts the interaction off wrong from the very beginning. You want to instill positivity and encourage them, not start off with a negative. In fact, this is a rather well-known fact and a common practice in sales/marketing worlds. One of the earliest encounters I had with this principle came from a timeless book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. If you’ve never read this book I encourage you to do so. As you work through the principles you’ll come upon Principle #14:
“Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately.”
Now, if we understand and agree with this principle then the idea behind this 4-step process beginning with a negative, “1. Press Cancel” is inherently wrong and a bad user experience. How do we make this experience better? Well, in this case simply changing the first step to “1. Press Go” or any other positive action word will resolve this conflict with the user experience. Maybe even drop the first step all together and move to a simple 3-step process!
One way to say yes
We started with the easy one, let’s now press on to the next image and a seemingly more difficult interface to fix. While at first glance this image and the user experience seems daunting and possibly unfixable the truth is that the solution is a simple one. One of the things I spend considerable time on is finding the best way, the most efficient way to accomplish a goal. I spend time finding ways to help others save time. I think good user interfaces should be efficient. And one of the best ways to be efficient I have found is by following another key principle. Keep it simple, otherwise known as the KISS principle.
“Keep it simple, stupid”
This is not a new concept and certainly not something specific to computers and software interfaces. But it can certainly be applied to these areas. Here is how you can apply the KISS principle to the user experience. Don’t make them click three buttons when one will do. Don’t give them 4 options to accomplish the same goal. Take the time to think through the interface and consolidate options. Give the user one way to say yes.
I know you may be thinking I am over-thinking and over-analyzing something as simple as the way I pump gas, or how I interact with the rewards program at a gas station, but this is how I see the world. I believe we can make even the everyday experiences better and more enjoyable. Because every interface has the opportunity to improve a relationship, or harm one. The details matter. Every detail matters. Be thoughtful about how to do things better, how to interact better. Make it simple. Make it efficient. Make it excellent.