The Elements of User Interface Design

Mandel 1997Mandel, Theo, The Elements of User Interface DesignWiley, 1997

Mandel trained as a cognitive psychologist. The book largely focuses on software application design and testing, but it was being recognised that the web was starting to have an impact, Chapter 16 focuses on the web, and a lot of the other design principles apply to web design. Interaction is defined for people by their past experience and expectations, and if something doesn’t work as expected, people tend to blame themselves rather than the product, so designers must ensure that their product works in a consistent manner. Mandel complains that magazines give the impression that it is easy to build web pages, which physically it is, but believes there is an art and a science to perfect a web site (not pages).

GUI interfaces for computers have added a time-delay factor, designers tends to play with the visual layout rather than focusing on the information, and what the product is trying to achieve. Define goals and information first, add design later. Designers must take into account the impact of memory, sensory systems of users should not be overloaded with, for instance, unnecessary animations. Designers must be user-focused, users used to have to adapt to systems, now there is a more common need for the system to adapt to the user; users can be given clues through the use of, for instance, visual metaphors. Now that the Internet has become more common, designs no longer need to be simply user-friendly, but should also be ‘user-seductive’. Goals must be realistic, achievable and testable.

Users want consistency across the web, but compromises are often needed, and designers should understand rules, but not follow them blindly, but know what they are breaking. Designs must be continually tested and reviewed to see if they work successfully, based in a sound structure, and the first site design is unlikely to be the last. Often web sites are based on TV models, but these don’t transfer successfully as the TV is a passive medium, whereas the web is an interactive medium, with a wide audience base with different skills sets, and differing paths should be offered for the new user, and the frequent user. There are new issues, such as legal and copyright, for web designers to deal with. (January 2002)

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