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interface

Interacting with the world around us

Interface is an issue for anything that is ‘used’; telephone touch pads, lift buttons and light switches are all examples of real world interfaces.

An interface enables a user to interact with a system to perform a task. For example:

An interface may combine a number of types of sensory cues:

An effective interface combines the available, contextually-appropriate sensory cues to:

Design patterns

Due to the decentralised nature of the web, interface design has also been popularised. The need for a new and often less-technical audience to engage with interface issues has given rise to the alternative term ‘design pattern’. The Yahoo Developer Network defines a [design] pattern as: …an optimal solution to a common problem within a specific context. [1].

The above definition combines the companion dimensions of:

scenario
the situation in which an interface is to be used
use-case
(loosely) the task(s) the user will complete using the interface
path
how a task is broken down into meaningful stages and sequences
interface conventions
sensory cues and interaction models likely to be known by the user

Interface conventions

The comfort of the familiar

Interface conventions are a significant issue when creating a computer operating system (OS). One of the reasons for the success of the Apple Macintosh is that software developers use standardised interface elements. The OS feels more ‘friendly’—even when using a new program—because the interface is familiar.

When an interface element is recognised and understood consistently, by a significant user-group, it becomes a convention.

Hyperlinks

On a webpage, one convention for indicating a hyperlink is an underline. For a user familiar with this convention, their expectation is that clicking underlined text will link them to a new location: either a new webpage, or a different point on the same webpage.

Underlining webpage text for decorative purposes, or to indicate emphasis, sets an false expectation. This impacts on the ability of the user to complete their chosen task, as they may not be able to differentiate between hyperlinks and (non-navigational) content.

Interface conventions in other media

Interface conventions also exist for other media. For example, in Western tradition, a number displayed in the corner of a printed page usually indicates the position of the page within the overall structure of the book. It is also expected that pages are arranged sequentially, in ascending order. These conventions enable specific content to be found via a table of contents or index, without reading every page.

Related terms: closure, form, GUI, information architecture, label, mass practice, navigation, perceived affordance, usability, wysiwyg.

 

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