One of the most important success factors of websites, web apps, and mobile apps is usability, i.e., how hard, easy, streamlined, engaging, and intuitive is the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).
If I were to boil it down to three primary factors or best practices that interactive designers should focus on, it would be these:
- Consistency – every time somebody visits a page or uses a particular type of device or feature, they need to get oriented, figure things out, and think things through. So, once you have taught people how to use your UI, stick with it. Be consistent. Don’t make people figure out page by page, section by section. Once you come up with a standard or protocol, stick with that standard and protocol. Be consistent.
- Proximity – clump similar things together. Related things should be placed together. About 100 years ago, a school of psychology emerged around the concept of “gestalt” which is a German word interpreted as “pattern”. One of those Gestalt principles of design suggests that we group similar items closer together and dissimilar items farther apart. When it comes to UI, as you lay out your screen, be sure to group similar things together.
- Clickability – Especially when it comes to UI/UX, it is very important to make it clear to users when something is clickable or not. My general rule is this – if something is clickable then it should look clickable, if something is not clickable then it should not look clickable. Clickable things should look clickable, non-clickable things should not look clickable.
There are a ton more things to consider when focusing on usability. Quality assurance is one, for example. When a site is designed, usability specialists pay special attention to usability. But, after that site is launched and content management falls into the hands of people who are not usability specialists, things start slipping through the cracks. It is important to teach content managers the principle concepts and best practices of usability and, equally important, regular quality assurance.
For more on usability best practices, I highly recommend the usability bible, “Don’t make me think,” by Steve Krug.