Constructing Your Personal User Interface
ICONFESS — I have a somewhat clunky phone manner. I tend to dispense with small talk, go straight to the business at hand, and when the business is done I’m ready to hang up. I’m so abrupt, once my business partner asked me, “What is UP with you and the phone?” And it’s not just business calls: my husband and children lodge similar complaints.
I’m not much for small talk on social media either — perhaps that’s why I like Twitter. There’s a staccato effect to the interaction that I enjoy. I suppose I think of myself as less-than-smooth when it comes to my personal interface.
It’s no surprise then that I also struggle with my digital interface. In an attempt to buff out my real-life rough edges I tend to over-compensate by trying to add excess functionality to my website. My steady and patient graphic designer Brandon Jameson has reminded me on many occasions, “Don’t get lost in the sophistry of gimmicks.” In other words, get rid of the fluff and make sure that every aspect of my user interface fulfills the purpose for which it was included. Last week, as I prepared to launch my book, that purpose was to make the online experience of Whitney Johnson smooth, enjoyable, and informative.
In this modular era for workers, some principles of user design can be applied not only to building websites, but to each of us as managers, free agent workers, and freelancers. As we think about how we present ourselves to our employees and employers, clients, coworkers and the world, we should ask ourselves: How’s my user interface? According to user experience consultant, Whitney Hess, five of the most crucial overarching principles to consider when designing a website are: 1) Make a good first impression, 2) Provide feedback, 3) Be consistent, 4) Make actions reversible, and 5) Be credible and trustworthy.
These principles also apply as we contemplate our personal user interfaces. Hess explains her design principles and how they apply both in human-computer interaction and human-human interaction: 1. Make an accurate first impression. The first thing visitors do when encountering your website for the first time is scan the page to ensure that the information presented is relevant to their current goal. Ensure your layout is easy to digest and accurately conveys your purpose.
Ideally the site is also attractive and appealing, strong and sensible.
Establishing a set of rules for conduct in real life is similar to designing a digital experience.
Sure, you want to make people feel comfortable when they first meet (or speak) to you. But you also want to set clear expectations about what you can and can’t offer. If your working style is fast-paced, for example, but in person you seem to have a leisurely style, give a glimpse of your pace upfront. Better said, abide by the WYSIWYG motto: ensure that what people see of you is actually what they get.
2. Provide feedback. Long lines with no announcements are irritating, and so are delays in an interface. Whether submitting a form, clicking to load a video, or trying to go to the next page in an article, a person’s action should be immediately followed by the system’s reaction — a clear notification that a trigger occurred. Design is not a monologue; it’s a conversation.
3. Be consistent. The navigational mechanisms and organizational structure that are used throughout the design of a website must be predictable and reliable. Navigation bars should be in a fixed location on all pages; links should always look and act the same way; terminology shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
When things don’t match up from one area to the next, the experience can feel disjointed, confusing and uncomfortable.
4. Make actions reversible. There is no such thing as a perfect design. No one and nothing can prevent all errors, so you’re going to need a contingency plan. Ensure that if people make mistakes, they are able to easily fix them. Have clearly marked emergency exists for leaving an unwanted state without hassle. Offer constructive suggestions for recovering from any system errors.
5. Be credible and trustworthy. It’s hard to tell who you can trust these days, so the only way to gain the confidence of your site visitors is to earn it. Your content must be accurate and up-to-date, your aesthetic modern and fresh.
Dial down the hard sell, encourage and revel in visitor engagement.
In other words, do what you say you’re going to do, don’t over-promise and under-deliver. If you set people’s expectations appropriately and follow through in a timely matter, you will gain their trust. Trust is the foundation for a smooth user interface — both virtual and interpersonal.