Tulsi Dharmarajan presented a session at ProductCamp-Austin about building better UI. Here are my notes and thoughts:
Your product has a personality, even if it isn’t a conscious choice on your part. It might be formal or casual, friendly or hostile, easy or frustrating. In effect, your product’s personality makes customers feel a certain way. How customers feel affects how they act. This is why it’s so important to proactively craft and cultivate your product’s personality.
Once you’ve determined the personality you want your product to have, you need to establish a tone that will convey that personality. Be sure to communicate the desired personality and tone across the organization, so everyone’s efforts are aligned. If you have casual, friendly content, yet a confusing IA and rude error messages, your product has a split personality and you won’t achieve the decided user behavior.
Tulsi’s recommendations for good error messages:
- Give the user only the information he needs
- Speak like a person, not a database
- Use slightly self-deprecating language
- Never blame the user for the error
- Offer a clear action the user can take to resolve the issue
She also pointed out other best practices, such as establishing consistent naming conventions, avoiding internal terminology, using smart defaults, and minimizing distractions by burying infrequently used features a step below the main UI (in a ‘more’ or ‘advanced features’ drop-down, for example). To get everyone aligned, use cases should specify the user, the action, and the benefit/outcome. Similarly, screenshots help make the expected UI concrete for developers. They are far easier to digest than pages upon pages of documentation and reduce miscommunication and, therefore, time wasted in iterations.
With everyone aligned, you can more effectively craft a consistent, desirable personality for your product. Regardless of the personality you go for, you want users to be able to easily accomplish their goals, which means making a customer-centered product. Start by focusing on the first thing users see, how they get started, and how they get help. A product that puts its customers first will always have a leg up in a personality contest.