Quick, choose one: Takati or Ulumo?

Welcome to the world of User Interface Design. Here is your first assignment:

You are tasked with building OTN’s next great telemedicine service which will be delivered on PCs, smart-phones and tablets. Thousands of users are going to click on your service. Your service consists of two different applications (‘apps’). The first app is called TAKATI and the second app is called ULUMO (don’t worry what these strange names mean, play along). Your job is to choose a graphical look-and-feel that will make it apparent to users which app is which.

Which of the two graphics above do you choose to be the icon for the TAKATI app and which one for ULUMO? After you have chosen, take a moment to reflect on your decision. Was choosing easy or hard? Why do you think a shape and it’s colour just seems to fit a particular word? What would happen if you reversed your decision – would it make a difference to how usable our service was?

Over the last few years the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) have been increasingly driving more of our service to the Internet. Our members can now get a broad swath of information about how to use telemedicine through on-line documents, check-lists, policies and member agreements. They can search and find healthcare providers and sign-up for educational opportunities on-line. They can schedule telemedicine encounters. If they need training, they can get it through a web-based multimedia at any time. They can launch videoconferencing events from the web or smart-phone. Have a videoconferencing encounter on their PCs over the public internet. We have a lot to be proud of, but we are only just beginning. In the next several months, we will be bringing all these isolated services under one web framework and one look-and-feel. Harmonizing all these services into one Telemedicine Centre will bring coherence and functionality as our users have never seen before.

As the little assignment above demonstrated, it can be important how you name things, what colour you use and what they look like. User interface design is about these issues and a lot more. Think of all the times you have been frustrated by poor user interface design on business-oriented websites or apps. Who has not had an experience an inability to find information on-line, to specify the correct product to purchase, to navigate a complex on-line form or to find out what to do when you run into trouble. Bad design leads to a bad user experience. And a bad user experience can lead to disillusionment and abandonment. Designing good graphical user interfaces is key if we want our users to adopt our services.

According to Jacob Nielsen, The distinction between user interface and user experience is subtle but important:

We design the user interface: screens, error messages, forms, commands, etc. But users experience the system as a whole, comprised of both the design and the implementation as well as many other components, such as network delays, which can ruin response times and degrade user experience as much as bad design can.

How can we ensure that our users have a positive and productive experience using our on-line services? Many of us at OTN already have aspects of the user experience at the centre of our job descriptions. However, the graphical user interface is a new thing for us. It will play in increasingly important role in user experience as we release more service through PC/Phone/Tablets and it needs its own special attention.

 

To this end, I have formed a User Interface working group to kick-start this work. We have been meeting and working on the user interface and user experience for our PC-based videoconference portal and the Telemedicine Centre with some great results (coming soon — be patient).

We all understand how important it is to make on-line services ‘easy to use’. However, making things easy is not always easy. It takes design expertise, effort and persnickety attention to subtle but important detail. With the formation of the User Interface working group, we now have a team which focused on the User Interface aspects of our user’s experience making sure our on-line services are the very best they can be.