Thursday, October 8, 2009

Busy User Interfaces

There are good user interfaces and there are bad user interfaces. It is hard for users to explain what they like about the good user interfaces. They are just good. Designers who create these user interfaces often know when they've built something that is, just, good.

It is easier to talk about what makes bad user interfaces bad. Some, are just plain ugly. There are zero visually appealing aesthetics about it. This is becoming a less frequently encountered issue though because CSS makes theming applications much easier. The colors and shapes and general layout can start off right, and be made into something bad.

User interfaces transform from something good into something bad usually because of over population. It simply looks too busy. The naturalness of the interface is overshadowed be features. And many of these features probably aren't even needed.

However, eliminating features simply isn't practical, or even possible, in most cases. So all the user interface designer can do in these circumstances is migrate the overpopulated visual elements somewhere else. The current page, the one that is too busy, can often benefit from containers. It is an easy way to hide things that add to the current chaos.

A popular container type is a tab. They are a very intuitive construct for the end user and are easy for the designer to make look good. One still must be careful when using tabs though because they can also be overpopulated. The last thing anyone wants to see are two dozen horizontal tabs across the screen. Another thing to watch out for are sub-tabs, tabs within tabs. Try to avoid these wherever possible as they are hard to get right.

There is a balance between the total number of container elements and the total number of elements within the container. Too many of either will most definitely yield a bad user interface. But if the designer can strike the best balance possible while maintaining the visual appeal, that is when it is time to start talking about removing unneeded features.