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Pro tips: 5 user interface features worth avoiding

As cloud-computing breaks into the business mainstream, software vendors are increasingly targeting end-users and individuals, not middle-management. As a result, more execs, marketers and developers are paying attention to the aesthetic and design components of their product’s user interface (UI). We think that’s great: there’s a thin line between form and function and it’s nice to see powerful, pretty products that are fun to use.

Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of crap out there. Whether that’s because it’s a young industry, or it’s simply down to poor design, there’s lots to be improved upon for many cloud apps. Here are some common problems to avoid:

1. Too many clicks, too many refreshes

Far too many apps require far too many clicks to get what you want. Depending on the app’s coding, those clicks may also mean refreshes, slowing you down further. It takes ingenuity, but the best apps avoid this through coding and user-focused designs that “naturally” display pertinent information.

2. Visual noise

Ever login to an app and rub your eyes from the amount of stuff thrown at you? It’s a common problem, and a big one: too much visual noise makes using a system a chore, defeating the purpose. Some of the most popular apps (cough *Salesforce* cough) suffer worst from this, probably because user demands are so varied. The best apps scale with the user: features are “hidden” until you need them, at which time it feels like they’ve always been there. Less noise, more fun.

3. Wasted space.

Similiarly, some apps waste space, either by not filling it, or by filling it with irrelevant, unused information. Virtual space should be approached just like physical space: if you have it, use it. That doesn’t mean fill it – we don’t want noise – but it does mean leveraging space to make a better user experience. If columns are left blank leave then them blank to accentuate the aesthetic, or to focus user attention: don’t leave them blank “just ‘cuz.”

4. Too many buttons.

We don’t need a button for everything. If the average user only needs something once a week, don’t hide it, but don’t make a button for it. We’re looking at you, Zoho…

5. Crappy graphics.

This is a pet peeve of mine. Too many apps shrug off visual design altogether, settling for graphics that look constructed in Microsoft’s Paint. Take the tabs in Highrise CRM for example: it’s a decent product but they’ve neglected the visual touches to make it world-class. If users are running their entire days with your software then try to make it feel homey, you know?

We could go on but we’ve worked ourselves into a frenzy that only the best software could calm. Here we come, Google..

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Chris Bliss works at VM Associates, an end-user consultancy for businesses looking to move to the cloud from pre-existing legacy systems.