In-Context Interface Design

Micha Goldfine - Saturday, January 02, 2016

Distribution and tables based applications are not ‘sexy’ by any means. They probably fall in the same bucket of many other administrative applications and tools. So how does a design team approach something that might look simple on the surface but actually is very complex under the hood?

Web applications, specifically cloud-based ones are ‘blessed’ in terms of user experience design scalability and agility. The ability to swiftly change and deploy UI changes in conjunction with real-time user experience analytical tools are things tech companies where not able to achieve a short time ago, certainly not traditional ‘boxed’ software companies.

In spite of the ‘cloud’ and the ability to change UI quickly most users especially ‘power users’ who use management tools that display data grids and setup pages require quick and in-context experience.

In-context workflow

In-context workflow is probably the biggest difference for users since moving away from paper to digital interfaces. Spreadsheets where replaced with applications such as Microsoft Excel, newspapers replaced by social media apps, and even traditional TV is moving to contextual TV where viewers have control over content.

With the move to web based applications specifically cloud-based ones keeping in-context paradigm is a natural progression for ‘old school’ users and new users alike. Actually, new users, ones that never experienced a ‘boxed’ software before probably expect in-context interfaces the same as they would when using social media channels or when booking a hotel room.

EVERYTHING IN CLICKABLE, and should display helpful content on demand.

This type of design ultimately might lead to a single page application where the primary data loads first and then things might change depending on user decisions on what to display, when and where. Furthermore, what we see today is starting to evolve as user predictable interfaces where users will be guided by the application based on past experiences and usage.

  • Increment data display. No need to load everything in one go. Allow users to decide what to load first. • Smart filtering and sorting
  • Save and pin. Allow users to save sessions and pin favourite data blocks.
  • Sub-menus and contextual popup windows. 
  • Descriptive icons instead of long descriptive text.
  • Overlay windows for quick setups and help content.
  • Colours and graphic elements to highlight changes.
  • Responsive layout to fit various devices.
  • Avoid hover states or find alternatives for mobile devices.
  • Design for alterations. Things change much quicker then we design them for.

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