Edward Tufte's books on information design and Donald Norman's books on usability continue to influence me. When I first read it, "The Design of Everyday Things" explained the principles behind things I had noticed all my life. "Why do I pull this door when it clearly says push?" Because it has a handle on this side, and handles are for pulling. I continually read articles and discussions on usability and information design but these are what got me looking at the world this way, and they are still the sources I go back to. I also like Steve Krug's book "Don't Make Me Think," which is worth it for the title alone.
These are the basic people-centric principles I try to keep in mind:
Be clear. The layout and language should set and meet expectations.
Clarity is in the mind of the beholder. Is the proper information and action clear to your intended user?
Be responsive. When someone does something, let them know it happened. Give feedback.
Tufte's idea of "the smallest effective difference" is appropriate for response cues as well as layout informational hierarchy.
Be forgiving. If a person does the wrong thing, allow a graceful recovery.
We're building tools for people to use, not tests for them to fail.
Be visually appropriate. Any design needs to reinforce the overall story you are telling.
The look and feel of the design sets the stage for the actions people will take.
I subscribe to the Nielsen/Norman newsletters (along with some 80,000 other people) for usability information on new devices, intranets, etc. The basic principles the Nielsen/Norman Group uncover in their studies seem to stay the same, even though the devices and uses change. In a recent newsletter, Jakob Nielsen said, "Technology changes quickly, but people's brains stay the same." As long as we're designing things for people, we should keep the same fundamentals in mind.
"Shipping" was the number-one search term in our Help System. Our e-commerce Shipping Options had been built upon for years, with no consistent design. Valuable new features were hidden among deprecated options, their natures obscured with ad hoc names and descriptions. As part of our Shipping cleanup, we redid the setup options.
Old Shipping Module List marked up for revision
This is the graphic I gave the developers, showing exactly what gets changed, along with new names and descriptions.
The red columns are not useful to our clients, and are slated for removal.
The green boxes show the new ordering. The new menu layout makes it clear.
The bubbles in the middle show the new, names and descriptions.
New Shipping Module List
Everything is simplified, and reordered for clarity. This will be wrapped in a tabbed interface that covers all shipping options (no more drop-down menus).
Unused modules and useless columns are removed
The “Enabled” icons become checkboxes, and the names now link directly to the configuration settings
Modules are grouped by similarity, from most to least used.
Frankly, "Custom" should go, and "Flex" and "ShipValue" might be better with descriptive names...