13.09.2011 | by Tom | view comments

A few months ago we were invited by Geometry, a local iPhone app development company, to design the user interface for an iPhone/iPad App they were developing for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. We had plenty of experience designing user interfaces for web, and had been playing around internally with app design ideas. So this was an exciting opportunity to develop something on a larger, commercial scale.

The basic idea of the app was to find your position on a map, then based on your location, it would bring up a list of all the different endangered creatures, heritage listed buildings, national parks, and other similar categories, in your immediate area. Geometry were to do most of the coding, while we were to concentrate on the user interface design and graphic elements.

It was a great project, Geometry were excellent to work with, and we delivered an app we were really happy with. It has since featured on the front page of the iTunes App Store. You can check it out here.

I love the process of user interface design. It requires a very different approach than print or motion graphics. How the user interacts with the interface, how the interface responds to the user, and how the whole experience makes the user feel are all critically important to creating good UI. And to add an extra dimension, the way a user interacts with their iPhone is very different to how they interact with a website on their PC.

There are a few principles we feel are vital to keep in mind when designing user interfaces for apps.

1. MAKE PEOPLE FEEL CONFIDENT. If designed well, people will feel competent while using the app. From the time the user first starts it up, it’s important they feel they’re ‘good at’ using it. This makes the user feel confident about both your app and technology in general, and people are more likely to enjoy and continually use things they feel confident about.

2. MAKE IT INTRIGUING BUT NOT CONFUSING. Good app design needs to be unique and engaging, allowing the user to play and discover the functionality in a captivating way. But the process of discovery can’t be bogged down with unfamiliar and unexpected navigation. It’s jarring and confusing for the user if they tap a button and suddenly they don’t know where they are within the app.

3. MAKE IT HARD TO MAKE MISTAKES. Always give the user a simple way out, and make it very hard to do something irreversible. If a button needs to be quickly accessible, but it does something dramatic like deleting contact information, there needs to be an easy, obvious undo option. But wherever possible – without frustrating the user – make controls that can cause damage difficult to hit, to avoid accidents. This is done well throughout the iPhone’s inbuilt software. If the user wants to delete a contact from the address book, they need to select the contact, select edit, and scroll all the way to the bottom to the ‘delete contact’ button, which is hidden off screen when you enter the edit view. It makes it nearly impossible to accidentally delete a contact.

All these principles are directly connected to making the user feel good about the app they are interacting with. User perseverance levels are quite low when it comes to UI. If an action is difficult, frustrating or confusing people will likely move on to the next app. One of the big reasons people love the iPhone is that it’s so easy and enjoyable to use, which empowers the user. This is the goal of good UI – easy, enjoyable, and empowering.