Diving Into The User Interface With Fundamental Questions

The charismatic process of designing a user interface is one that requires not only the adequate skills, but understanding of an effective user to application relationship.

Engineering an effective user interface means you should place focus on certain parameters that will allow you to build a set of accomplished user goals. Everything from the visual elements to the functional aspects must be intact.

This might sound challenging, and many times it will be. However, if you have the right set of tools at your disposal then designing a UI that lets the user interact with minimal adaptation is definitely achievable.

Beyond this point you’ll find a variety of fundamental questions that will introduce clarity through explanation. These questions range from basic to advanced user interface design. Let us know which one(s) catch your attention the most and in which way you choose to address them.

Is There a High-Level of Consistency All Throughout the User Interface?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

Your users arrive at your website with a wide range of thoughts flowing through their minds, the last thoughts you should instil is inconsistency and confusion. There needs to be some type of consistency within the UI that keeps the user on track without having them wonder around your site trying to figure out the “flow” of things.

For example, if you have items in one category that can be dragged and dropped into a shopping cart, then all items throughout the site should have the same functionality. Place buttons in similar areas throughout different pages, use colors that mesh well, make sure your grammar/writing style is consistent in all aspects of the site, and try to keep all your pages structured in the same manner.

Does the User Have Control Over What They Can Do and Where They Can Go?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

We’re not saying that you need to give every user access to every page. However, you need to analyze how easy it may be to navigate through your site. In the end it comes down to the user being able to freely move around without little or minimal obstruction. Make sure they always have a way to get out of a “tight spot” or exit the application entirely without any issues. Those annoying pop-ups that some websites implement when the user is trying to exit the site put a large dent in the sites usability within the UI.

Are You Well Aware of Who Will Be Using Your Website?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

This is one of the most basic questions you can ask. In order for you to design an effective UI, you must be well aware of your target audience. Different elements of design pertain to different groups of users, and identifying these elements in order to structure a more compelling UI is vital.

A user placed within the 17-25 age group most likely will not be enticed by the same things a user within the 40-55 age group. Therefore if the corresponding elements of design in the UI aren’t present, then chances are you’ll fail to attract and captivate the user.

How Much Error Prevention Do You Practice?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

Errors, bugs, glitches or whatever else you’d like to call them, should be prevented rather then forcing the user to embrace them. Sure, you can gift the user with a pop-up message that’ll let them know what’s happening, however, if you thoroughly inspect, debug, and carefully eliminate these errors, then your visitors are one step closer to a much better user experience.

Beta testing is one of the methods used to get rid of errors before releasing to the masses. It’s usually quite effective and users will more than likely help in reporting any issues with your web application.

Do You Place Emphasis on Primary Elements First?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

To elaborate a bit, placing emphasis on the most important elements first gives the users what they need in order to better understand the content or visual entities at hand. Ultimately the user focuses on the most important aspects first, and the rest trickles down to the last.

Do You Incorporate Minimalistic Features Within the Aesthetics of Your Design?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

Some websites practice minimalistic design further then others, while some use minimalism to add usability to certain aspects of the website’s UI. You should always try and ask what aspect of your UI can benefit from a minimalistic approach. This will allow the user to move freely while avoiding irrelevant information.

You could build your UI in a way that provides great functionality but is “limited” in its design. Remember, crowded interfaces, no matter how functional they are, will drive users to one that isn’t.

Are You Providing Visual Cues?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

If you’re using technologies such as AJAX and Flash then you’re going to want to have visual cues that allow the user to know that the content is being loaded. You should always strive to inform the user about what is currently happening on your site.

For example, most browsers that utilize tabs have a small pre-loader that spins when a page is loading. AJAX (because it provides content without reloading) doesn’t activate this pre-loader, but you can implement it into the application yourself.

Does Your Interface Teach?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

Is your UI teaching your users how to squeeze out every function beyond the “self-help” or FAQ page? You’ve created (or planned) on building a website that has an interface that’ll benefit the user in a variety of ways, make sure you let the user know how they can benefit from the different aspects of your UI.

You can have small unobtrusive pop-ups or windows that give hints on the usage of your website. You could also use jQuery and give the user helpful tips every time they hover over an element. Similar to what many web forms put into play.

Are You Communicating in a Clear Manner?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

When you design a user interface there will more than likely always be some sort of content being displayed. It doesn’t matter the reason, make sure you word your text in a way that is concise, easy to understand, and clear. Avoid using overly large words that you need a degree just to comprehend. Keep it simple and straight to the point.

How Are You Using Colors to Your Advantage?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

Colors are an integral part of any user interface. As color theory states, the different uses of certain colors produce various emotions within the user. You should be careful as to use colors that do not mesh well with your website and its overall theme.

You must remember that some of your users could be color-blind. This is where we cross the line towards accessibility, however, designing an effective UI requires the consideration of both groups of individuals that can and may not be able to see color very well.

There should also be a level of consistency when it comes to the use of colors. Once you’ve chosen the right colors to represent your website, you should use the same color scheme throughout your site to ensure balance.

How Invisible is Your User Interface?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

This might seem a bit controversial since you would think that your UI is meant to be seen on all possible levels. However, as UI Engineering states “Great Designs Should Be Experienced and Not Seen”. This means that your users should be able to experience an outstanding user interface, rather then it be seen through several possibly unnecessary elements of design.

The simpler a UI was designed to be, 8 times out of 10 the better the user experience is. Make sure you avoid over using elements, crowding the interface, and annoying the user with unimportant content.

How Well Is Your User Interface Structured?

User Interface - Fundamental Questions

Your UI should be structured in a way that every element is purposely located in its exact place. The overall structure should be clear, consistent, and relative. Anything that’s unrelated should be properly divided and placed in a corresponding area. This will produce an architecturally sound website that’ll hold its own.

Your Turn Now

I hope you liked this post! Please take a minute to leave a comment below and share your own tips and tricks with the rest of us ;)


  1. says

    Ty for sharing, its useful for apps not only to websites.
    Really liked “designing a UI that lets the user interact with minimal adaptation is definitely achievable”

  2. says

    It is indeed a good piece. even if you have been doing web from the beginning and are versed with all the technologies and terms, you need this piece as a reminder to guide you especially now that UX is a key issue.

    Joel, thank you for this piece.

  3. Kevin Foster says

    Excellent post Joel. I’m walking through it now and making notes on a site I recently worked on to identify some things that may have slipped through the cracks.

    Thanks a lot and cheers.


  4. says

    Thank you for a great article. Many times good practices get confused by “good styles” concepts. Web design is not a box to have all the information a data base can hold, is about how to offer a user a better access to the information they want or need, but also to give them the information and the feeling that the owner of the website wants to transmit, marketing and selling it’s not only a matter of information it has much to do with emotions, and i think, that many web designs try to think more in a programmers point of view and not on users emotions. What does a company wants to transmit to the clients?

  5. B.Zack says

    Excellent illustration of the job of a UI web designer! This is one of the most intelligent descriptions of web design I have ever seen! You explain in a very straight-forward manner, what needs to be done in order to achieve optimal results for your website, and all of the factors that must be accounted for. This document is really helpful in designing an efficient website!

  6. Kelly says

    It is indeed a good piece. even if you have been doing web from the beginning and are versed with all the technologies and terms, you need this piece as a reminder to guide you especially now that UX is a key issue.

    Joel, thank you for this piece.

  7. mark says

    the continously fading in back to top label in the right hand bottom pulling attention away everytime i scroll/page up or down, strikes me as a glaring problem in the design of this page.


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