October 11, 2006 00:20 | WebTech

"Getting to know each other" UI design ideas

Quick thought about complex applications, especially web-apps, which have many features and functionalities and which are, of course, always a challenge, not just for the user but for the designers who need to make them usable.

First of all there is the "play with me" approach, which is very much what Flickr uses: make the easy stuff as obvious and plain as day as possible. Get people hooked on one, maybe two aspects, tops. Then as they use the thing, playing, they discover deeper levels of interactions, more possibilities.

Clever that.

Not nearly as clever, is a thought I just had. It comes from pondering the "icon vs text label" debate. Myself, I tended to be of the "make it small and unintrusive and let the user figure it out" school, which of course is not always good, especially when there is no playground in which the user can be bothered to learn in (see above, and see my tiny little comments and trackback icons).

But I also like text labels, however they tend to be so big and clunky, and frankly, parsing text is several orders of magnitude more brain processor intensive that simple image recognition (assuming recognition: i.e. seen it before, learnt already...)

And this brings me to "get to know each other."

Say you've got a complex web-app to design, with lots of functionality, some of which somewhat involved... first of all, go with the playful metaphor. Two or three key interactions, get people in and hooked. Use text labels as best you can.

Then, over time, learn what interactions a user (yes, a specific user, who has an account, and who's interactions you can track) regularly uses. At, say, the tenth use of a feature, add a little icon that signifies this interaction (or have it there from the start if you can spare the real estate). If you are adding it, pop a little note: "hey, this little icon means *this* action..."

Then, say, at the 20th interaction, yank the text label, again with a little notice: "psst, we know you know what this means... shall we unclutter the UI a bit for ya?"

Of course, give the option. A user might prefer to keep only text labels, or only icons... or both...

Just a thought.