What My Grandma Taught Me About User Interface Design

An old lady with delicately groomed hair sits at a computer screen, feverishly clicking away at her mouse with reckless abandon at a graphic user interface with icons and windows. “Nothing is happening!” she screams. She looks down at her hand, which is covering the mouse, and admits that she just ‘doesn’t get it’. That, regardless of how many times we tell her that she has to click on a particular icon on the desktop, or scroll over to a particular menu, she just doesn’t want to be bothered. After all, this is a woman that, now in her late 80s, grew up well before computer technology developed and evolved into this thing called the Internet. So even the most basic user interface on a computer, regardless of how simple it might be to the rest of us, is immediately complicated by the fact that there is also a mouse and keyboard attached, two alien objects that, for the most part, she is completely unfamiliar with. But she can play bridge, and she has figured out how to consistently get into that application. Fortunately, the user interface isn’t too complicated, either. But anything beyond that, like accessing the NYTimes, or sending e-mails is way beyond her realm of understanding.

This woman is my grandma. She is one of those technologically challenged types that doesn’t get computers and how to use them because, for the most part, she doesn’t really want to. She is perfectly content with reading newspaper on actual paper, watching news on the TV and listening to opera on the radio. Those technologies that aim to make her life easier, and grant her access to information at the click of a button only frustrate her.

Something Spectacular Happened

And then something spectacular happened. I handed her my iPad and asked if she would like to use it. I told her that she could, quite easily, read a variety of different articles from different online sources right at her fingertips. That’s all I told her. So, at first, she started pressing the screen with her hands. Different articles would pop up and become more readable, and occasionally she would ask, “what did I do?”. Then, she started moving in between articles by swiping. Infrequently, she would hit the ‘Home’ button, and return to the list of apps, then proceed to randomly click on other apps. I would then intervene and help her find her way back into Flipboard. She continued reading one, then five then ten articles. It was mostly due to curiosity, sure, but it didn’t hurt that the interface was so simple to manipulate and so basic to understand.¬†

When The User Interface and Control Is That Simple, It Becomes Almost Nonexistent

What that brief experience taught me is that when are you able to distill a user interface and its input mechanisms into something as basic as what iOS essentially is, it is almost as if the user interface is non-existent. No longer are there overly complicated menus, or left and right clicks, or different keyboard commands — instead, you press icons, type words and navigate apps all with your fingers.

This has long been a vision of Steve Jobs and thus Apple well before the creation of the iPad. The iPad, I think, is just the culmination of that mentality. It shows that by creating an intuitive interface with a responsive device, and then pairing that with new touch technology, computers can become far simpler than the often complicated devices that pepper cubicles and home offices.

An Era of Simplicity

And now we are beginning to see an era of simplicity. Apps have become more focused, websites have become more concise — just about everything, electronically and digitally, is reaching a point in which complication as seen as a failure to innovate. If something requires you to click through twice, or three times, it should be made much simpler. “How can we do this in just one click?” is the question developers have begun asking themselves.

And maybe this all began with Apple, at one point, trying to address the question of, “how do we get people that are completely unfamiliar with computers and unwilling to learn, to use them?” Because, in a lot of ways, the iPad has answered just that question.

I think that the iPad, and all of its apps, are just the beginning of a technological shift. Instead of trying to overcomplicate, most new apps will aim to simplify — to distill.

Instead of trying to solve the question of “how can I give them something newer?” people will be trying to solve the question of “how can I give them something easier?”



Source: MSM DesignZ, Inc. is a Westchester based NY web design firm specializing in SEO, social media, web and graphic design and much more.