Sunday, April 29, 2012

Clean and Intuitive

The adjectives in the post title are the two most important elements of interfaces designed with user interaction in mind. Yet, they often seem to be the two most neglected features. Our strongly web-based, or even computer based, culture should be keenly aware of the importance of these two features, but I am often baffled by the complexity, busy-ness (spelled so to avoid confusion with business), and shear illogical structure of many interfaces I interact with on a near daily basis.

Admittedly, I have never taken any courses on design or human-computer interaction. However, my mind is keenly aware of the downfalls of a poorly designed interface and seems to provide me with innate knowledge of how an properly designed interface should be. Just think of how many times you have become frustrated with your computer (or a particular webpage) when you can not immediately find content you are looking for or when you feel overloaded due to immense amount of text and links scattered randomly across a page.

Examples of such pages* are numerous and are not difficult to locate. Chances are, you visit such pages daily. I dare not name an pages explicitly, to avoid any potential backlash. If you are a Google user, however, you may have noticed changes in Google's interface for Gmail, Calendar, Google+, and so forth that have made the Google page more pleasant to view while still making it simple to find the content you are looking for. Google has seemingly made a very strong attempt to clean up their interfaces and return to their initial model that made Google the search engine so appealing: it's simple, clean, and intuitive. How do you search? Oh, you type in the search box under the Google logo on the otherwise blank white page.

Unfortunately, I feel that Google is one of the few web companies that is making cleanliness and intuitiveness a priority. We exist in an age where flashiness and quantity (of content) is valued over anything else. "Does this page have a shiny navigation bar that has a smooth drop down animation? Is this a one-stop shop for my web-based needs?" Yes, flashiness, when done right, can compliment an already clean and intuitive page. However, most pages seem to use flashiness as a means to cover up their apparent lack of ability to organize and streamline content.

There may still be hope for web design companies to alter the direction of this downward spiral of needlessly cluttered webpages. With the advent of web enabled smart-phones, many companies have had to streamline their interface due to the lack of real estate available on phone screens. I hope this trend carries over to webpages displayed in browsers and the age of cluttered, poorly designed pages are on the way out.

What do you think? Do you agree that the two most important design element are "clean" and "intuitive", or are there other elements that you place higher on the list? Are there particular design elements that drive you crazy? How about elements that you adore?

I'd love to hear your comments as I plan to address my view on design elements in more detail for future posts.

* I focus on webpages since they are an interface people can most easily relate. However, we can easily extend it to operating systems, window managers, and other abstractions that do not require interaction with a computer.