So we all know there are a lot of tools out there available for us to use as designers. There are some especially popular tools, such as Illustrator, Photoshop, and the rest of the Adobe clan, wireframing software like JustInMind Prototyper, and even a few “concrete” tools, like the good ol’ pen and paper. But sometimes, there are a few unexpected things we can use that will increase our productivity and the quality of our product as much or more than any of the tools already mentioned. Granted, they may not necessarily be exactly what you would use, but consider these concepts and the tools you may use to achieve the main points below. These tools and ideas will definitely improve the effectiveness of your interface design!
1. A Dictionary and Thesaurus
This is an extremely important tool that every interface designer should keep right next to their beloved post-its and sharpies. As we have talked about before, labels are very important in interface design. This applies not only to form fields, but to any body copy that may be necessary in an interface, as well as instructional or guidance wording. If this text is so important to interfaces, then we can conclude that the language used within the text is just as important. Using the right word makes all the difference! Perhaps the word you have chosen doesn’t quite completely describe what you are trying to say. For instance, the word “schedule” doesn’t quite hit you (or your client) right, so you take a quick trip over to Thesaurus.com to find the word “itinerary.” While these words are very similar, there are different connotations between the two, and therefore it may be more consistent with your message, or even with your branding, to use a synonym rather than the first word that comes to mind. Sometimes, you may want to cross-check the words you think are correct, or say what you are trying to say, with the dictionary. This will ensure that you are not applying any meaning to the words that isn’t implied by its actual definition.
2. A Stopwatch
According to this article on websiteoptimization.com, you may only have 50ms to create a “first impression.” That is an important thing to know, considering the fact that it takes much longer to break this first impression. It is commonly reported that even in conversation and the business world, the other person will form an opinion about a new acquaintance within 7 seconds. According to the first article, in 1/20th of a second a person can cognitively judge a website. It is, therefore, extremely important that we study those first 50ms. What better way to study it than to take out a trusty old stopwatch? Obviously, you probably aren’t going to be able to tell your “tester” the words “go” and “stop” within 1/20th of a second. You can, however, test the interface’s appeal on different time increments. A quick flash, a 3 second exposure, a 7 second exposure, and a 20 second exposure, for instance. These different levels of exposure will help you understand the perception of the user on a cognitive and subsequently on a aesthetic level. But to even run these tests, you have to have #3.
3. Five (Very Honest) Friends (Who Aren’t Designers)
Okay, so maybe you don’t even have five friends. But the idea here is that we need people who are not design savvy to be able to look at prototypes of our interface and respond to our usability tests and timed tests. Gather post-test qualitative information to help you hone certain aspects of your design; allow these friends to see the interface, and then ask them as many questions as they are willing to answer. You may have to buy them a pizza to keep them interested, but hey… it’s all for the interface!
4. Five (Very Honest) Friends (Who ARE Designers)
There is a reason why we, as designers, have jobs (or at least incredibly time-consuming hobbies) doing what we do. Some principles, especially cognitive aesthetics, are what we learn the principles of design for. This is why it is important to have a designer community of people who are able to pick out your flaws. Check out DCTH (Design Community Twitter Hours), which is headed up by Chad Engle of Fuel Your Apps. Sometimes, when you have buried yourself in a project, it is hard to see it from a critical point of view. Find someone on Twitter, at your school, or perhaps at your workplace who is honest, critical, and constructive towards your goal. (Hint: I am always willing to offer suggestions through my Twitter.) This is also a perfect place to employ the help of a professor at your school whose strength is in the principles of design. More often than not, professors are willing to offer critiques, especially to current or previous students.
Important: No one is as immersed in your project or knows your client like you do; while the critiques of others should always be considered as important, DO NOT be afraid to trust your own judgement.
We have taken a look at a few tools we can use as interface designers that aren’t normally talked about. What else have you found to be useful and incredibly important in your interface designing? We’d love to hear about it!