by Morgan Strauss
In the world of UI design, graphics tend to dominate the conversation. However, when it comes to usability, the actual words on a touchscreen are just as important as the graphics – if not even more so. Why? Graphics require a certain level of interpretation when used to communicate an action, which can lead to confusion. To clearly indicate what a user needs to do to shut down their system or select a different source for their audio system, words are required. Following are four tips to use them more effectively to deliver the best possible user experience.
Tip One: Verbs Are Your Friend
Non-specific labels are confusing to the end user, and that can mean more time spent on training and support. Verbs, however, clearly describe what a button does and allow the user to fully understand the message. For example, the touchscreen message reads “Shutting down your system.” Instead of using “Yes” or “No” as the possible course of action to proceed, use the verbs “Shut down” and “Cancel.”
Tip Two: People Skim Text
You can expect users to only read the first two or three words of a message, so it’s important to make those first 10 or so characters count. For example, “You are about to shut down your system” is ineffective because the message is well beyond a few words before it gets to the point. Instead, use “Shutting down your system.” It says the exact same thing, but is more concise and puts the relevant information right up front.
Tip Three: Location, Location, Location
Most designers tend to center text in a button. Unfortunately, users tend to only touch the bottom half of the button, obscuring text with their finger. A good compromise is to center the text at the top, which allows users to see the label while touching the bottom.
Tip Four: Duplication Equals Difficulty
Repeatedly using the same words on labels makes it more difficult for users to locate and touch the button they need quickly. The best solution is to eliminate duplicate words altogether. If that’s not an option, a good alternative is to take the buttons that feature the same words in their labels, and group them together under a single label.
Morgan Strauss is the president of Guifx, an interface design studio specializing in touchscreen interfaces for home automation and embedded systems. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.