2009 Interaction Design Year in review

With the end of the year upon us, I thought it would be appropriate to take some time to reflect on the evolution of interaction design in this last year. This year proved to be interesting with some positive advancements in the interaction design trends. Here are some of my favourites that have worked successfully to improve user experiences.

Mega Drop-Down

The concept of the mega drop-downs started to become more popular after a post by Jakob Nielsen in March. After this post, sites started adopting the mega drop-downs – some successfully and others not so successfully. The mega drop-down does help users find the information they are looking for quickly and easily by showing categories of information upfront. The mega drop-down isn’t for every site. Sites need to have adequate hierarchy and depth to them to warrant introducing this. If a site only has two levels of navigation, I wouldn’t recommend introducing it won’t necessarily improve the efficiency of finding information; it may actually hide information from the user.

The keys to success of the mega drop-down are:

  • Proper categorization and appropriate level of granularity
  • Timing and behaviour of menus should follow outlined standards
Columbia Sports designed an easy to use mega dropdown
Columbia Sports designed an easy to use mega dropdown

Faceted Browse

Finding ways to help users to find information on a site more efficiently has been a growing interaction design challenge especially on e-commerce sites.

Office Depot has a good example of facetted browse.
Office Depot has a good example of faceted browse.

Companies want to increase the conversion of the browser to a purchaser.The adoption of faceted browse is being seen as the solution. This allows users to narrow down the information on a site based different content/product characteristics.

As with any new interaction model, there are good and bad ways that people have implemented them. In September, UX matters published a good article “Best Practices for Designing Faceted Search Filters”. This article breaks down the faceted design into 5 things you need to consider:

  1. Decide on your filter value-selection paradigm.
  2. Provide an obvious and consistent way to undo filter selection.
  3. Always make all filters easily available.
  4. At every step in the search workflow, display only filter values that correspond to the available items, or inventory.
  5. Provide filter values that encompass all items, or the complete inventory.

Multi-tasking behaviours

The past year has seen a dramatic demand on the demands of application and website design assuming that we are adaptable task switchers. Interactive experiences are providing us with a continuous stream of information with which we are meant to process and respond to. Task switching is not to be confused with multi-tasking, the art of being able to do multiple things at once. Task switching is a behaviour in which when you stop attending to one task and start another task. This allows more attention to be placed on one task rather than dividing attention between two or more potentially important tasks. Throughout your day this occurs hundreds of times, and now more frequently with little widgets that serve as a cue that more information is available.

Twitter and Facebook both do this well by indicating to the user that there is new information available since the user started their experience with the application. Rather than just dynamically update the application with the new information, a visual cue in the user interface is displayed. This allows the user to stay in control of their experience and their place within the application – key usability principles that are often forgotten.

Twitter supporting task switching behaviour
Twitter supporting task switching behaviour

Game design principles

Principles of game design and play are starting to creep into the design of everything interactive. Companies are starting to understand that injecting some elements of game design into their design does not mean that users are going to be less efficient or view their brand differently. Some companies, like Twitter, have used the game model of collecting to help enhance and entice user interaction. In these places, collecting is being used as gathering ‘followers’ as some people use this is an indicator as their power of influence.

Ways to introduce gaming principles seamlessly into your next design project:

  • Saving progress: More applicable to application design and exploratory web experiences, allowing users to save ‘work’ and come back to continue later.
  • ‘Tutorial’ style introductions: A lot of games provide users walk users through the ‘how to’. This is always accessible to the players at any time during their game play. Think about your own ‘help’ design and how it can be made more engaging and easy to use.
  • Progressively add complexity to the experience: As your users become more proficient with your design, start to introduce levels of complexity to keep them challenged and motivated.This works very well in cases when the user has to learn a basic set of skills before they move on to different parts of the application or experience you are creating for them.

Touch interfaces and ‘the Swipe’

With the new iPhone being released in the summer, the further exploration, adoption and use of the touch interface continues. This has positive and negative impact to the resulting user experience. Because there is one less barrier (or piece of hardware) between the user and the screen, they have high expectations with the resulting performance and responsiveness of the interface. Users expect the immediate action; and are less tolerable of targeting problems.

More and more mobile devices are starting to adopt the touch interface mode of interaction.At the end of the day, does the touch interface help make users interactions with their mobile more or less efficient?It does make it more compelling, but the overall satisfaction of users still hinge on how simple and responsive the UI is.The number one rule of designing for any touch interface, whether it be on a mobile device, kiosk or computer screen is to ensure that there is enough space between buttons and actionable areas so that a user can select what they want to successfully.

The other night I saw an ad for the new HP Photosmart Premium TouchSmart Web All-in-One Printer. This is a printer that has a touch interface in which the ‘user’ was using the ‘swipe’ gesture to navigate to different screens. Will this introduction of the touch interface take off on a peripheral that we all have had a love/hate relationship with? Time will tell—maybe touch is the answer!