What do we mean by good or bad interfaces?
As we’ve seen in the previous steps, user interfaces connect people to technologies, by finding ways to allow users to control often complex processes.
Computer systems can do a very wide variety of things, from basic mathematical processes, such as doing daily accounts, to connecting people through sounds, images and interactions. However, sometimes, in particular when a type of computing technology is very new, it can be extremely difficult to understand how we might make it available for people to use.
Let’s take one of the defining technologies of our time, artificial intelligence, or AI. We all know that AI has the potential to change our lives. It can help us do useful and important things, such as find objects in images, understand how different things people say relate to one another, and even design and control robots and autonomous vehicles. But what kind of interface do we need in order to make this technology available to people? How do we find out what kind of interfaces we need in order to get these systems to work? And who is going to answer these questions and make sure that the system we build to do all these things actually works?
The answer is, lots of different people! But these people will all be doing the same thing: they will be designing ways for human beings, and sometimes other beings, to interact with, understand and, fundamentally, control that technology.
We have all experienced good interfaces and bad interfaces. We’ve all struggled to fill in an online form, such as a visa application or an online accounts system, incorrectly completing a process by clicking on the wrong box. The extent to which these things are difficult for us to do is precisely linked to the ways these systems have been designed - or not - to allow us to use them coherently. Less accessible interface design leads to more user errors, more frustrated users, and more time required to get things right.
Designing for accessibility
When thinking about design the first thing we often think about is the aesthetic look. However, designing for accessibility is every bit as important as designing for aesthetic value. But what do we mean by accessible?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, accessibility describes how “easy something is to reach, enter, use, see, etc.” In the specific context of this course, the term accessibility also means how well a design maximises equal access to digital interfaces for everyone in society. This includes people who have lifelong disabilities and also people with temporary impairments.
In the context of digital interfaces the issue of accessibility is far-reaching and affects everyone. Later in the course we will discuss specific guidelines that have been defined by experts with the aim of standardising accessibility features across all designs.
A good interface needs to incorporate knowledge of UX and UI principles, delivering both aesthetic appeal and accessibility. Some of these UI principles were introduced previously in Step 1.4.
Later in the course we will talk to people whose job it is to work out how things work best, in order to make technology more accessible and easier to use. We’ll focus on positive stories of how user interface design approaches can be used to make life better for people, and the rules and guidance required to make sure this happens as it should.
Have your say
Can you think of any examples of interfaces you have encountered that have ‘all looks and no accessibility’? Or interfaces that are accessible but needed work aesthetically? How does the imbalance affect your experience?
Share your views with others in the Comments section.