Working in the EdTech space, we at Kinvolved are creating a product, our mobile and web app, KiNVO, to be suitable for an extremely diverse user base. KiNVO services teachers, administrators, and student support staff who range in age from 21 to 70, and who occupy the entire spectrum of familiarity and comfort with technology. For this reason, it’s not always easy to build an interface that can properly balance usability with streamlined visual design in a manner that suits everyone. Some designers may favor minimalism over clutter, but users dislike guessing blindly through interfaces that lack effective cues.
To achieve a sleek user interface (UI) that your product’s users can fully appreciate, you must first create a design that answers to your product’s intent, and that takes into account your users’ web literacy level. At Kinvolved, we consider the below best practices to achieve successful UI design:
- Establish your product’s purpose. It is better to err on the side of simple usability for an app like KiNVO. For example, in NYC public schools, KiNVO is designed to revolutionize the essential practice of attendance recording in schools. We help educators to save time and input more reliable attendance data into our app, compared with the traditional paper-based record. This simple task is critical, as well-taken attendance, with active real-time feedback from parents, will ultimately improve student retention rates. For KiNVO, data accuracy, ease, and speed of use are important. We want teachers to spend less time fumbling with attendance sheets, so our design must accordingly be as simple as possible to use.
- Understand your users. Let this guide the direction of your user experience (UX). Some recent attention has shined upon technologies that appear to thrive, in spite of (or perhaps due to) their chaotic and unwieldy UIs. Notable examples include the Bloomberg Terminal and Snapchat. These products are exceptions to the classic “usability-first rule.” They were designed to target certain narrow audiences, like professionals and tech-savvy adolescents, who treasure the exclusivity afforded by an interface that is confusing to outsiders. Though it becomes tempting to conclude that users are attached to clunky interfaces, it is important to remember the wants and needs of your users. Does your interface serve a niche user-base, or is it more important to make your product serviceable to a wide audience of people, possibly with varying levels of technological skill? With this in mind, we want KiNVO to be intuitive, keeping the barriers to entry as low as possible for users of all technology skill levels.
- Borrow familiar symbols into your design, to minimize distracting text. Just as learning your second and third language is progressively easier than picking up your first, you can leverage users’ existing knowledge by using iconography. For example, in the KiNVO app, the globe symbol corresponds to language selection, and the paperclip symbol denotes file attachments. Allowing symbols to “speak for themselves” will replace excess text, remove clutter from your site or application, and improve the look and feel of your product. But, be aware of the costs of becoming too minimal. For example, when you keep buttons tucked away from view by hiding them within nondescript dropdowns, certain essential functionalities might be completely overlooked by users. Know what is essential for the consumer’s regular use, and accordingly make the design as clutter-free as possible, without compromising usability. Consider this part the fine-tuning knob that will allow you to strike the balance between cleanliness and usability that is just right.
At Kinvolved, we keep these three practices in mind in all of our constant UI/UX designs of new features, and modification of current interfaces. As part of our most recent web and mobile app redesign, we have made our Inbox, thread view, and attendance recording interface more user-friendly and reflective of modern design trends. Inspired by the aesthetic of current messaging media like Gmail, Facebook, and iMessenger, we implemented key UX strategies that minimize unnecessary text. We have also adopted a front end, with which most users are already familiar. We work hard to consistently improve our product and its design in support of our end users.
KiNVO has proven to be effective in elevating attendance, and if used well, it can be transformative for our educators, students, and our nation’s future. The best way forward is as a community, join the movement with Kinvolved.