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Interface and Visual Design

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

Computers and people don't speak the same language. We don't talk in bits and bytes, and computers don't naturally speak words without bits and bytes giving directions on how to speak. The interface connects humans with machines so they can understand each other. Successful interface design ensures that the important stuff is up front and filters out the garbage.

Interface design overlaps between information architecture and the visual designer. A successful interface has the needed elements so the user can complete a task without a struggle. Remember, good IA is invisible, and when a user can readily get the task done, the IA has done its job.

When working on interface design, consider the user's bandwidth, his technical knowledge, and tasks he wants to accomplish. For example, a user needs to conduct a search. One search box for most pages typically works fine. Some sites, however, have multiple search boxes on a single page. Why not combine the three to keep it simple? Many sites have a link to "advanced search options," in which users can get a page full of such options.

The information architect works to determine what actions the users are most likely to take, and the visual designer ensures the elements representing these actions are accessible. An example of a bad interface design is a Web site using buttons as headlines. When you see a button, what do you think it does? Buttons are expected to be clickable and lead to something else. Headers created with buttons are more confusing than creative.

Visual design represents the visual style of the site, which distinguishes the site from other Web sites and solidly integrates branding. Information design determines how to group and arrange elements of a page, and visual design is the presentation of the elements.

It's easy to mistake visual design as the aesthetics or the "look and feel" for the Web site. Visual design focuses on ensuring that the elements work well together supporting the site goals.