7. Ergonomics: Functionality Wins!

Definition—Ergonomics: scientific study of the efficiency of people in the workplace.

A classic example of ergonomics is driving your car—how easy or how convenient is it to manipulate the various devices, buttons, knobs and switches in your car? Are all of the controls reachable with only moving your hands and arms, or do you have to lean forward or sideways? What is accessible on the steering wheel and what is on the steering column, accessible with a flick of the fingers?

Ergonomics in software design follows that same principal. Are all of the user controls easy to manipulate? Is the layout intuitive to the user, following a left-right, top-down philosophy?

Good ergonomics in software design means not only an aesthetic layout of functions, but a logical layout of functions that matches the actions a user normally performs or would be expected to perform.

In other words, what is the user going to do and how would he or she intuitively do that? Match the software to the natural tendencies of users and you have a winner.

How do you do that?

It’s one thing to say, “Put the most-used functions up front, and then the least-used in sub-menus.”

One way to identify the most commonly used features is to do user testing and see what functions users will try to do the most. Another is having analytics in your existing software that counts the number of times each item has been clicked.

Once you have the functionality identified, you have to eliminate menu clicks as much as possible. For example, when I want to use bluetooth headphones with my iPad, I simply turn on the headphones to the bluetooth setting and the iPad connects to it.

With my Android phone, even though the headset is already registered, I have to go through a pairing process after I turn the headphones on. What a pain! Why do I have to do that? Why can’t the software automatically re-connect to the registered device?

Part of functionality is simplicity. Make the functions SIMPLE.  Why make users perform required actions that can be automated? Why ask questions that 99% of users will answer the same?

Part of functionality is EASY. When the Model T was first invented, there was a hand-crank starter until the electric starter was invented. Now we’ve even eliminated having to put the key in the ignition. If it’s in your pocket and you’re close to the car, you can start your car at the push of a button.

The fourth component of functionality is to group common functions together. We’re all familiar with the File and Edit menus, with similar functions grouped together. The most commonly-used functions get big buttons on the main screen, while lesser functions are accessed via a menu. The menu title is logical with the listed functions and the menu items are similar in nature.

Thus Functionality breaks down to:

  1. Most commonly-used functions are the easiest to find and execute, preferably with dedicated buttons on a main page
  2. Functions are SIMPLE to execute (the bare minimum of menu clicks)
  3. Functions are EASY to execute (no or few decisions to make)
  4. The remaining functions are logically grouped into menus

Killer UIs are easy to learn because they follow a functional layout. Killer UIs are easy to use because there’s a minimum of menu clicks to execute the important functions.

Make the UI functional, easy and simple–and toss in an aesthetic flair–and you can’t lose.