Custom Application Development

Dec 6 2007   1:30AM GMT

Application User Interface – Busy or Sparse?

SJC SJC Profile: SJC

Designing the user interface seems to be an exercise which requires both a combination of artistry and a thorough understanding of the business process that the interface serves.  I suspect that this is not a talent commonly found with a single programmer / developer.  While my preference in user interface design seems to lean toward the ultra-simplistic, I have become accustomed to the generally “fully loaded” user interfaces which we are afforded given the high resolution and large size monitors which have become so common.  As developers are given more and more screen real estate — I wonder where we find the balance between available screen real estate, and that which will optimize the business process.

I doubt that there are many who have experienced data entry in the character-based data entry era who would disagree that such data entry was perhaps “lean and mean”.  A user was directed in a step-by-step process from which they could not deviate — only cancel out of (…in some cases).  The power was with the application program – which made life easier for the app developer.

Then came the point-and-click era, thank you Steve Jobs!  I remember seeing that first release Apple computer that the company I was working for had just purchased — and I was NOT impressed!  Little did I know at the time that what I was looking at would be the future of application user interface design!  While eventually Microsoft came into the graphical user interface, I stayed comfortably entrenched in my character-based Xenix/Unix based applications.  (…even some dos though I definitely preferred Unix as an O/S).  

Today we have the challenge of providing visually appealing data entry screens which generally seem to require that significant associated information be presented on-screen in addition to the required “entry” fields.  One might ask — when is a screen “too busy”?  At what point does too much information display?  There is also the consideration of font size — browsers can display fonts at a user selected font size (…unless of course it has been programmed to only use a certain size font).  Then there is the consideration of the screen resolution — not even proportional any more.  I have watched many a user adjust screen resolution because they just couldn’t read the information on the screen — and then have to deal with scroll bars!  This is NOT an optimal design in my book.

Recently I have seen more and more designs which have utilized the “tab” approach — and I find this to be quite an appropriate and effective design approach.  I believe that using “tabs” allows the developer to group data together in related areas, yet have additional data available at the “click” of a mouse.  This approach seems to be a good approach toward keeping entry screens “sparse”, yet having information quickly accessible for the user when desired, thus creating a good balance.

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