Human Interface Design Principles & Guidelines

Instructor: David Gloag
Our interactions shape our world, so controlling the nature of those interactions is of prime importance. In this lesson, we'll take a look at interface design and some principles used when adapting it for humans.

The Transparency of Good Design

Have you ever stopped to think about how the objects around us came into being? You know, how the letter opener on our desk, the broom in our closet, or the forks in our kitchen drawers, came to be? We take them for granted. They perform significant functions for us, but we essentially ignore them. Why is that? Why do we not pay more attention? The fact is that they are transparent, they blend into the background because their operation is so simple and effective, that we don't have to think about them. This is made possible through design.

What is Design?

Design is about creating something. More to the point, it is the collection of drawings, text, pictures, and processes that describe the something you want to create. Design can take many forms. Buildings are designed by architects, circuit boards are designed by electronic engineers, and meals are designed by chefs. Everything around us is created by design. Some are extremely simple, like that of a paper clip. Others are incredibly complex, like the vehicle sitting in your driveway. Design is all encompassing, and affects even the smallest detail. For example, design can affect size, color, weight, shape, texture, and materials used, to name a few. The goal of design is to find a balance between these many attributes, physical appeal, and usefulness.

What is an Interface?

An interface is concerned with connections. Specifically, it is the boundary between the opposite sides of a connection. It can be a place where people assemble to communicate, it can be the points in a computer system where users enter information and obtain feedback, and it can be the connection boundary between two machines. In each case, the interface delineates the contact point between the participating sides of the connection. As an example, think of an electronic device, like a clock-radio. This device requires power to operate, and receives this power through a wall plug. The plug itself, and the wall receptacle, constitute an interface, an electrical interface.

What is Human Interface Design?

Human interface design is the area of design that focuses on human-object interactions. We see the results of this focus all around us; in the size and weight of our cell phones, in the appearance of our wristwatches, and in the physical shape of a sculpted keyboard for our personal computers. Human interface design attempts to orchestrate various characteristics of these objects and produce a result that is comfortable in the hand, pleasing to the eye, and significant in terms of utility. As you might imagine, this is no easy task. And it is further complicated by the fact that the importance of the various characteristics varies from person to person.

What are Some Principles that Drive Human Interface Design?

The principles that drive human interface design vary depending on who you ask. Not surprisingly, given that we have several senses, objects can have hundreds of characteristics, and on top of it all, personal variation. But they follow general themes that can be summarized as follows:

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