Building the perfect user interface

Automation design: Understand the user to create a useful, effective user interface.

By Petteri Hämäläinen February 14, 2020

Building products users want and can fall in love with is the source of never-ending discussion; many articles emphasize trial and error in this process. It’s better to identify the (sometimes unconscious) needs and wants of the users when creating digital user interfaces.

One of the most important questions overall that should be answered at an early stage of a design project is who the user is. Many choices will later depend on how the user is defined. Analyze the operating environment and decide user attributes such as consumer or corporate and typical skill level on the issue. From there, try narrowing down properties and qualifications expected from the user when working with a user interface.

Four ways to fail user interface design

Quite often, product design fails when the development team:

1. Does not understand well enough the differences between novice and expert users. Especially in corporate products, expert users are often the primary user group and user interfaces allow use cases that results in misbehavior of the product, or in worst case in error. This causes frustration among beginners and lower satisfaction level.

A rule of thumb in user interface design is presume all users are novices when logging in to the user interface for the first time. Modern user interfaces have views that combine related objects and data in one place. These views provide a logical way to manage and group data for users. If the product has tasks that must be completed in sequence, a wizard-like approach is often worth considering.

2. Ignores cultural differences among various user groups. Using colors should be considered very carefully as colors and symbols can be interpreted differently depending on the user’s cultural background. For example, in Chinese culture, red symbolizes luck, joy, and happiness, and a circle stands for perfection and unity. However, in most European cultures, a red circle often stands for danger and forbidden action, which gives the symbol a drastic contrast.

3. Ignores physical differences among users. Physical disabilities also limit users’ capabilities to interpret user interfaces. For example, some form of color blindness is surprisingly common, about 1 to 10% of population depending on cultural background. Therefore, using only colors to indicate information is strictly a bad design decision. Colors should always be combined with form or size to make the difference clear.

4. Overlooks language as an obvious reason for difficulties. Not everyone studies other languages. Supporting the native language of users is a crucial requirement. At minimum, versions in some of the most common languages should be considered. Internationalization and localization support are built-in in most software libraries these days.

Many topics require consideration when designing user interfaces. The biggest mistake is making assumptions not based on knowledge. Presuming too much is the mother of all failures.

Petteri Hämäläinen is product manager, Tosibox Oy. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

KEYWORDS: Automation design, user interface, wireless

When designing user interfaces consider differences between novices and experts.

User interfaces should consider cultural and physical differences.

Languages must be considered in wireless communication products.


When designing a user interface, what factors do you consider before starting and how?

Author Bio: Petteri Hämäläinen is product manager, Tosibox Oy.