A little while ago I was brought in to help with an existing database. The user was having a hard time with it. The client gave me a copy and I tested it out. I used the forms to input data and to run queries and look at the results. Everything worked just fine. I was stumped. Why she was having such a hard time? She talked about how frustrating the whole experience was.
We scheduled a Skye call so I could see how she was using it. Was she confused about the processes? Were the steps unclear to her? Do she not know how to open the right forms?
No, she was very adept with the database. She knew exactly how the processes worked and understood the steps she needed to take to produce queries and reports.
But a strange thing was happening. When she opened a new form it took her a while to start using it. I could see her arrow floating around the screen as if she was searching for something. Then it hit me: she IS searching for something! She couldn’t see the forms, datasheet views or reports clearly! She had to find the place on the form then zoom in so she could use it.
Ok, I confess that when I used the interface I did notice that the fields and the fonts were rather small but I could read them alright. But my eyesight (thank goodness) is fine.
But my client’s eyesight is not fine without glasses. And even with glasses she had a hard time seeing the database’s interfaces. Everything was just a little too small, the fields, the fonts.
But what also contributed to the problem is that the design was so bad. All of the fields were jammed together. They were distributed in an odd, random way. There was no logical pattern to how you use them. And don’t get me started on the colors!
Unfortunately this is common problem. I’ve been repairing or updating exiting databases for years and I am amazed at how poorly they are designed. Mismatched sizes, colors, weird layouts. Not to mention those Special Effects that are supposed to enhance the appearance but end up only being distracting.
So what can be done?
At Counterpoint Data Services (CPDS) we have a Design Guide that we use when designing the User Interface (UI) to ensure that all of our clients have a pleasant experience when using the database interfaces that we provide them.
CPDS Design Guide
Here are some of the rules we use in designing a good User Interface (UI).
- Design Palette: Start out with a design palette for all interface screens, including choices for font(s), colors, sizes, field sizes, company logo.
- Uniformity: Create a uniform template for all screens that are related to one another.
- Chart and Plan: Develop a hierarchical chart of how each screen with flow into the next screen or process.
- Think Simple. Design for the first-time user who is unfamiliar with this database. This includes the design of each screen and the processes of working through the database.
- Clarity: Keep each screen clean and uncluttered.
- Consistency: Locate similar types of Controls in the same places on all of the screens.
- Clear Language: Use descriptive language to tell the user where they are going. For example, use “Open Customer Report by Date Range” instead of “Open”.
These are a few of the design standards that we use in our office. What are some of your standards?
Thanks for reading,