User Interface Design: Patterns & Best Practices

Instructor: David Delony

David is a freelance writer specializing in technology. He holds a BA in communication.

In this lesson, you'll learn about some of the best practices when it comes to user interface and user experience design. You'll learn about the importance of style guides, libraries, and design when it comes to designing usable applications.

What are UX best practices?

User experience design is the process of designing applications that allow users to do what they want to do easily. A number of 'best practices' have evolved over the years for software design based on what has worked in the real world. This lesson covers several of the major methods for designing user-centered applications, whether they run on the desktop, mobile devices, or on the Web.

Interface guidelines

One of the best practices in user experience design is to have some kind of interface guideline, either created by your organization or using someone else's. One of the best examples is Apple's Human Interface Guidelines. The success of Apple's Macintosh platform was due to the company's early insistence that developers follow Apple's recommendations for things like where the 'OK' or 'Cancel' buttons are placed.

In the '80s, this was absolutely essential as very few developers had experience creating GUI applications. Mac users found that they only had to learn a few commands and that they worked the same in nearly every Mac application.

The approach was so successful that other companies, including Microsoft, published their own guidelines. There are even guidelines for the major Linux desktop environments, GNOME and KDE.

While it's not absolutely mandatory that developers adhere to human interface guidelines, users have come to prefer applications that do. The main advantage is that you'll be able to save a lot of time and effort trying to make usable software, if you adhere to the style guides for the platforms you're targeting.

Patterns / Libraries

Going along with style guides, there are also software libraries that you can use to make your work easier. These define things like drop-down boxes and check boxes so that you don't have to create your own UI elements. All of the major platforms, including Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android have these tools available.

The advantage of doing it this way is that you'll save a lot of time. Developers will try to use any library they can, not just for user interfaces, because they don't have to 'reinvent the wheel.' Developers can concentrate on improving the functionality of their apps, not creating widgets.

On the Web, there isn't that much standardization of user interface elements beyond the forms included in HTML. There are some conventions that developers have learned to use. For example, if you try to log into a website and your password is incorrect, often it'll show the password box highlighted in red and move the cursor into it, prompting you to reenter your password.

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