Usability Heuristic 8 Aesthetic and Minimalist Design

One of Jacob’s 10 heuristics for interfaces is to use an esthetic and minimalist design, that heuristic doesn’t mean that you have to use a flat design or a monochromatic color palette. It’s more about making sure that you’re keeping the content in the visual design of your UI focused on the essentials. This is closely related to the human computer interaction concept of a signal to noise ratio. The signal to noise ratio represents the ratio of relevant to irrelevant information in a user interface. The information involved in this ratio could be anything text content, visual elements or animation. Essentially, anything that users have to process could count as signal or noise to improve the efficiency of communicating information through your designs and to help users complete their tasks. Aim for a high signal to noise ratio. Every extra unit of information in a UI competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility. As a consequence, it’s important to prioritize your content and features if something would be used infrequently or by a small number of users who don’t contribute much to your company’s goals, it might be a candidate for removal. It’s also important to make sure that the visuals, particularly graphics or photos, support the primary goals of users or your company. In other words, you shouldn’t have many visual elements that aren’t there for any other reason than to look prettier, to take up space, communicate, don’t decorate.

Jacob Nielson’s second useability heuristic says to match between the system and the real world, that means the system should speak the user’s language with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user rather than system oriented terms. Additionally, the system should follow real world conventions, making sure that information appears in a logical order. Let’s discuss each of those components a bit more. The system should speak the user’s language. Too often I see the use of marketing jargon instead of direct plain language to describe features or web components. So let’s say we’re redesigning an Internet and need to name a section that houses contact information for employees. Maybe we’re looking at two proposed names meet and greet or a staff directory. Well, meet and greet might sound trendy, but it requires the user to make a lot of inferences. You might think is that work events, maybe calendar invites using the more direct label of staff directory results and a stronger information sent because many users will recognize the term directory as a place to find contact information. In addition to speaking the user’s language, we should also follow real world conventions here. It’s important to point out that people’s mental models of technology are based on their previous digital experiences, in addition to their prior experiences in the physical realm. Now we can’t talk about the second usability heuristic without mentioning schema design. Ski morphic web design entails designing digital experiences to match a physical experience both in visual and interaction. For example, books and physical books. We can turn pages, highlight text or use a bookmark. Looking at a digital book and the Kindle app, we can highlight text by pressing and holding a word, turn pages with a swipe gesture or place a bookmark by tapping the page, clicking the bookmark icon in the top right. The digital experiences of reading a book is closely aligned to the physical experience. Effectively following the second usability heuristic means speaking the user’s language and following real world conventions. If you’re not doing, both users might portray your interface in a negative light as if you don’t really know them or you just don’t care. At the end of the day, get out and observe real users, test your prototypes and remember to design for them and not for you.

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