We discuss the concept of a good user interface and give you 4 guidelines for designing a great GUI for your customers’ control devices.
A user interface can be defined as the way the user interacts with a product. It can take many forms; tactile interfaces such as a computer mouse, dials, keyboards, buttons or scroll wheels; voice interfaces such as the voice assistants from Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon; or graphical user interfaces (GUI) on our devices’ screens.
Thanks to the extensive presence of digital devices in our everyday lives, tech companies are investing heavily in researching and designing good user interfaces, and thereby creating positive experiences for their devices’ or apps’ users. As a result, users have learned to understand the differences between a good and a bad interface. Their expectations have become very high.
What happens then, when their expectations come crashing down after a negative experience with the poorly-designed control interface in their meeting room?
Visuals & Functions
When asked what makes a good interface, most people would reply “the look”, or in designer language, the visuals. However, there is another essential element of a user interface, which is the functionality. The functions and aesthetics work together to help users fulfil their needs and achieve their goals.
The visuals play an important role in breaking down complex concepts and tasks into smaller and easier steps. Furthermore, good visuals ensure that the control device is more approachable. People are more likely to use the control device if the visual part of the interface looks good. You can say that it increases adoption, engagement and overall enjoyment when interacting with the device.
The functionality of the interface can be described as all the possible ways the user can interact with the device. It is extremely important the interface’s functionalities fit with the users’ expectations, without overwhelming them with too many choices.
Elements of a good UI
Read the following guidelines to get a better understanding of what a user interface needs to be, in order to be effective.
The control interface needs to be designed with its users’ needs in mind. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the interface is, or how many functions it has if these don’t allow the user to perform the necessary actions to full his or her needs.
That’s why it’s important to take the time to understand the context in which the interface will be used before designing it. What type of room is it? What equipment needs to be controlled? Who is the typical room user? What do they normally do first when they walk into the room? What is the most important thing for them?
Answering these questions can give a lot of valuable insight that can be used to designing an effective control interface.
Accessibility is somewhat related to value. An accessible interface means that it is simple and clear enough to be understood and used by different types of users, no matter their technological skills or familiarity with the device. Furthermore, an accessible interface addresses the most important and specific user needs first. That means that the most important functions should be accessible immediately, without requiring the user to navigate through several layers.
Finally, an accessible interface is also a forgiving one. Nobody is perfect, and people are bound to make mistakes; navigate to the wrong view, click on the wrong button or turn off a device they didn’t mean to. It is important for users to have the possibility to remedy their mistakes.
The decisions behind the different elements of a user interface need to be grounded on knowledge about the users, their problems and their needs. These decisions will have a direct impact on their experience with the control interface and their ability to reach their goals. Therefore, every element of the user interface should have a purpose behind it.
Designing with intention also helps to simplify or streamline the GUI. It helps you keep things clear and concise so that the user can understand what to do without requiring a long explanation and can also complete the task without performing too many actions. As they say, less is more.
Some questions to ask yourself here are:
Is this function necessary?
How does it help the user?
How can I simplify the process?
Can the user understand what each button means with an icon label or is an explanation text required?
Can the explanation text be shortened/simplified without losing its effect?
In an ideal world, when interacting with an interface, users shouldn’t be thinking about what they’re doing, but just doing what they need in order to achieve their goals. In practice, this means reducing the amount of time it takes for a user to complete an action and reducing any barriers or obstacles to achieving that goal. We want to give our users an intuitive experience when using Neets products; an experience that starts the moment they step into their meeting room! The factors that affect this experience are the placement/location of the control panel in the room, as well as the actual GUI. An intuitive experience makes the user feel ‘in control’.
Let’s discuss some of the barriers to creating an intuitive experience – time-consuming & complicated actions.
Actions that take a long time to perform can cause the user to start to question the design and be dissatisfied with the interface. Time and other barriers can also cause the user to give up, stop using the control interface and find another solution. The users start to ask themselves “What’s happening? This shouldn’t take that long! Why is it so complicated? Why doesn’t it just work?!“
Some ways to ensure that this doesn’t happen and that users can achieve their goals with your interface is to use familiar design patterns consistently and give feedback to the users.
A familiar interface is exactly that - an interface that looks like something you’ve seen and used before. When you’re familiar with something, you know how it behaves, you know what to expect and you instinctively know what to do. To design a control interface that feels familiar, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, use standard design patterns used in apps or operating systems like iOs or Android. This means using standard icons, using familiar navigation systems like tabs, or placing buttons in familiar locations such as the back button in the top right corner of the screen.
Consistency here simply means maintaining the same design, style and layout through every layer of the interface. The user will be able to learn what the different buttons, tabs and icons look like, what they do and how to use them. Consistent design helps the user feel comfortable with using the interface.
Finally, feedback on the control interface is a way to communicate with the user – to inform them of what’s happening. Feedback can take the form of different button states (pressed and not pressed), active tabs or a progress bar. This form of communication helps the user orient himself on the interface and feel safe knowing that they have performed an action successfully.
As mentioned earlier, a beautiful and aesthetic interface helps increase the adoption rate of and engagement with a control device, as people are more likely to use the device if it looks good. An attractive interface becomes enjoyable to use and make the overall user experience more satisfying. When an interface is enjoyable to use, users will actually look forward to using it!
Of course, beauty and aesthetics are very subjective, and what looks ‘good’ will vary depending on who is being asked. Again, design the interface with the user in mind, and make the interface’s design fit the audience.
From designing to doing
By following these guidelines, you will be well on your way to designing a control interface that is both functional and beautiful, and that makes the end-users happy, which in turn makes your customers happy with your service, and loyal to you.
At Neets, we work very hard to design products that are focused on creating a good experience for their users. Our touch panels’ interfaces can be designed and configured with our custom software Neets Project Designer, which has a drag ’n’ drop functionality and allows you to create a control interface that fits your customers’ requirements. No programming, no coding.
We’ve tried to make the process easier for you - you will find several templates in Project Designer that you can use as a base. There are templates for all our different touch panels; 4”, 7” and 10”.
We believe that user experience should be an important criterion when selecting AV equipment for your meeting rooms or learning spaces. We've made a UX checklist you can use to easily assess whether a product is right for your users.