I have been compiling some UX rules in my head getting ready for my AjaxExperience talk in October. Here are some that I have. Not too much detail here, I will expand on them at a later date.
- Don’t bend your users. Given 10 users, you will get 8 different ways they try to succeed in your application. (2 will be different by NOT being different and doing it one of the other already tried ways). So rather than bend your users guesses and make only ONE way the correct way, you should make ALL the ways correct. RIght-click, menu, icons, buttons, etc etc. Make all of their guesses work. Users will guess the first way that works for them and then they will stick with that way for a long time. Make their first guess a good one.
- Be friendly. Even with errors. Never say, “You messed up!” Give the application a personality that is funny and friendly. You would surprised how often a friendly and funny error message will make someone feel better about your application dying. The blue screen of death could have been an asset if Microsoft had given it a sense of humor. (I’m not joking). Be careful though, one man’s joke is another man’s insult. As a basic rule of thumb, do not let engineers write anything that the user sees, not errors, not instructions. Either you do it or get a writer to do it. Engineers make bad writers. (Not always of course, but you better be sure if you are the exception)
- Right-size your user interface. Interfaces support specific ranges of elements that they work on. A select box is good for 1-10 items. A combo box is better for 10-250 items. Search is best for bigger numbers. Each one does the exact same thing, but for a different set of elements. Every UI works for a particular range. Not only choose the right one, but be prepared to SWITCH your UI when your numbers get too big. Same goes for grids, trees, menus…anything that is considered UI.
- Don’t be afraid to revolutionize! I look at every challenge in two ways. One is “how did everyone else do it?” The second way is “How can I make this MUCH better?” The first view leads to incremental improvement. The second way leads to ground-breaking user experience. So many people are stuck in the first way. The second way is much better. I am not saying to ignore the first way. Use it as inspiration. Thinking outside the box is key to innovation and making your product special.
- Manage Expectations. So much about a good application is managing expectations. The most important question to ask people using your app is “What do you expect to happen when….” Get them to talk out loud about what they expected. It doesn’t mean you should do that! You just need to understand it. A great term is “unexpected WOW”. You can’t get that if you do exactly what they expect. However, unexpected WOW does come with managed expectations. There is a range. You don’t expect the computer to blow up when you click a button. Manage expectations to get WOW. It’s hard but not that hard.
Hmm, that last one needs further detail. Oh well, gotta run. I am sure I am missing some good rules.