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Application Interface Design: Web & Mobile

Instructor: David Gloag
Interface design is an important area these days. In this lesson, we'll take a look at Application Interfaces, what is needed for the web, and how that contrasts with mobile.

Computer Interaction

Computers affect a lot of people. For some, computers are hard at work behind the scenes. People know they are there, but they have no direct interaction. For others, they are a tool that gets used daily as part of their working lives. For others still, computers are personal, providing a source of communication, entertainment, and information. Given this, would it not be prudent to focus on making computers easier to use? Particularly, in the areas of the web or mobile? Obviously, it would. To that end, significant effort is being done in the area of application interfaces.

What is an Application Interface?

An application interface, or user interface, is the set of features an application provides so that a user may supply input to, and receive output from, the program. If you think about Microsoft Word, as an example, the application interface includes a central area for typing and adding feedback on your screen. A large number of mouse-clickable buttons are located along the top that perform various tasks. And status information resides along the bottom. Even sound comes into play when you ask the program to speak the text you have written.

Input methods can vary greatly from application to application. Some notable ones include: the keyboard, mouse, hand controllers, cameras, and microphones. Output methods are also varied and include: monitors, speakers, force sticks (a form of joystick), and printers. Not all input and output (I/O) methods are supported by every application. In each case, the I/O methods supported provide the most efficient access to the application's features as deemed by the designers.

What is Particular About a Web Application Interface?

Web applications are unique. Not so much in terms of visual elements as they have buttons, text, and drop-downs just like any desktop application. But they have a couple of significant restrictions. First, they run in a web browser, which provides very basic computing capabilities. This means that any significant processing must be done on an external server. As you might imagine, this complicates things and consumes time.

Second, the Internet, itself, introduces lag time. The Internet is a store and forward network, meaning that information travels from one place to another in a series of jumps or hops. In between each hop, the information is stored until a channel becomes available, and the next jump occurs. As a result, application interface design efforts focus on decreasing the time it takes to perform any interface processing and compressing the size of visual elements so that they can be transmitted as quickly as possible. In other words, web application interfaces favor speed above all else.

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