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User Interface / User Experience Design: It’s Not Just About Looking Pretty

Most people think that a nice User Experience design is just that: nice.  The word ‘design’ gives the impression that a UI is made to be visually pleasing. It’s true that everyone loves a pretty interface. Don’t forget, though, the U in UX and UI stands for user. The user should be the focus of any design. UX design isn’t about looking pretty at all, though when it does that’s not a bad thing. UX design is about creating an experience for the user.

An interface facilitates the completion of a task. An overly designed UI that focuses too much on form risks losing sight of the function that is its sole purpose. UX must prioritize the needs and behavior of the user to be successful. Indeed, UX is important.  For most businesses, poor user experience can have dire consequences. In some cases, user experience is a matter of life and death.

When UX Goes Wrong

Jonathan Shariat wrote an article in Medium about ‘Jenny’.  Jenny was the fake name given to a little girl with cancer who died tragically due to a medical error. Bad UX contributed to the mistake that took her life.  Jenny didn’t receive necessary IV fluids despite the fact that the nurses caring for her had more than a decade of experience between them.  The source of the error  was said to be the design of the hospital’s software. The interface was too complicated. Somehow the prompt to administer IV fluids got lost.  The nurses were so confused by the screens they were looking at that they weren’t able to catch the mistake in time.

Healthcare isn’t the only industry where poor UX can take lives.  In 2006, the FAA launched an investigation into incidents of Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) who did not respond to alerts issued by their software.  ATCs are tasked with making sure airplanes don’t crash in the sky. It’s a tough, high stress job. Thousands of lives rely on air traffic control and it’s software.  When planes are on flight paths that will bring them too close together, the system issues an alert. The ATCs were often handling the issue before alerts actually occurred.  Basically the majority of alerts fit into one of two categories. Either they were providing old, already known information, or were being ignored entirely due to alert fatigue. These ignored messages led to unsafe situations, and could have caused mass casualties. All because the poorly designed UI was issuing too many alerts.

What’s the Solution

Almost every UX problem has the same solution: consider the user.  Simplicity is key. Users in hospitals and healthcare need to be onboarded quickly.  Nurses shouldn’t be spending time learning how to use new systems. They need to spend as much time as possible caring for patients.  The systems they use must be so intuitive that there’s no learning involved. Air Traffic Controllers shouldn’t be distracted by unnecessary alerts.  They handle so much information and data as it is. Any alerting must be timely and informative.

Just because lives don’t depend on other systems for other industries doesn’t mean the design process should be different.  A designer should always consider the actual needs and behaviors of the user first. After all, any business can fail because of poor UX design.

Learn More About User Interface / User Experience Design

The only real solution to poor UX is a good designer.  A designer needs to understand that an interface should prioritize function over form.  Even though people think software is technical, there’s a human component. Knowing how to code isn’t as important to UX design as understanding human behavior.  To learn more about how to humanize UX, contact us.

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