Developing an application interface for a system you are working on can be a labor of love. Many project teams will go to great effort to craft the best possible interface. From an ergonomic, functional, and aesthetic standpoint, they will pain over the most minute detail until their interface is "perfect". Unfortunately, many times users have other ideas as to whether the interface we develop is a good one. Here are some very basic guidelines project teams should keep in mind as they design their interface.
Users are much more pragmatic than we think in the way they approach an interface. Many times, particularly with our wording and graphics, project teams can tend to over-design an interface. With wording, we can tend to be too verbose and/or too creative. With graphics, we can tend to be too symbolic. Using terminology or graphics that are not obvious enough may seem creative but it can actually hinder the user in determining whether this is actually the content they were looking for. Which leads to the next point...
Users are not "consuming" your interface, they are "grazing". With a task in mind, users will scan an interface looking for meaningful words or images and then make a best guess as to whether that interface element is what they are looking for. Rather than considering whether their best guess is the correct action, most users take a trial and error approach. This is why it is very important to provide easy and accessible ways to undo an action (ex. Back button, Ctrl-Z, etc...).
Lastly, remember that you are NOT your user! This is perhaps the most obvious and, yet, most disregarded fact in user interface design. Project teams can let opinion and conjecture drive the design of an interface, or they can test it and let the data tell them what works. Usability evaluations and Information Architecture analysis should not be seen luxuries for serious project developement teams. You would no sooner push out code without testing it for bugs than you should release a design without vetting it with real users. Fresh eyes can show you things about your interface that you either didn't see or didn't want to see.
Check back for a future blog post about design guidelines that can help you tailor your application interface to typical user behavior patterns.