“Art” and UI Design

No matter what document or specification or standard is used, good UI design, like fashion, has a subjective quality to it. In other words, there is still opinion involved on whether or not someone likes it. It’s like that age-old quote about art: “I may not know what art is, but I know what I like.”

The twelve guidelines remove the subjective aspect of evaluating a UI—or at least reduce it substantially! There IS a technology to UI design, there ARE basic principles that result in better interfaces.

The ultimate arbiter is the customer and how well volumes of customers like and adopt the product. The UI is the first, the foremost, and the primary interaction with the product by the customer and thus has a huge impact on the success of a product. It’s worth getting it right.

Good underlying code impacts the performance of a product and the reliability of a product. Long-term satisfaction is obtained by having bug-free software and good software performance.

Yes, following good coding practices and making code tight and efficient are good engineering principles to follow and certainly help speed subsequent releases. I wholly support–and recommend–good engineering practices that result in logical code that is well laid out, well-documented, that can be upgraded and updated without tearing one’s hair out.

However it’s the UI that drives success. The underlying code can be a rat’s nest but as long as it works and looks good, will the typical customer care?

You can have a great product. The code is tight, well architected, robust, with nary a bug in sight. But if the UI is plain jane, if the user interaction with the software is clunky and it’s hard to use, your success will be limited.

(Yes, some software products have succeeded in spite of themselves. Government regulation, filling a specific market niche, the only product available, killer marketing, there are factors that can drive a product to success in spite of itself. But if they had a great UI…)

With the UI the most important part, how to you design a great UI when there is a subjective quality to “art?”

The fact of the matter is, there are technical factors with art that make it appealing to the viewer. “Good” artists know these things, either instinctively or by training and apply them. While there will always be a subjective quality to what is considered good–cars come in MANY different colors, for example–there are certain principles that apply to great UI design.

There are reasons why people like certain things. With the User Interface, just as there are technical laws behind what constitutes good “art,” there are certain principles that define a great UI. I have identified twelve principles of UI design that, when applied, result in great UIs.

What we’re going for is a UI that looks good, is easy to use and satisfies the customer. Following the twelve principles will result in a good UI. To make a great UI, it takes that artistic touch, that drive to perfection, applying the basics with a touch of flair.

In my next post, I’ll get into the twelve principles. Stay tuned!



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