Most applications are designed to help people get their job done, so the success of an application often depends largely on how people use it. Many application development teams falsely assume that they have little to no control over how people use their applications once they are delivered. In fact, rich user interface design has a great impact on how people use the application. In general, applications with well designed rich user interfaces are received well and used well, while applications with poorly implemented user interfaces are received poorly and are not used to their fullest extent.
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A well designed rich user interface draws the user in and encourages the user to interact with it and learn from the application. This process makes the user more inclined to achieve some level of expertise with the application, thereby making them more effective with the application.
Well designed rich user interfaces reduce the need to rely on training. The more intuitive an application is, the less time they have to spend in training before they can effectively use the application on their own. Ideally, a user will be able to sit down in front of a Web application and begin using it straight off without having to be told what the application is and what it does. If it makes their job easier, they should be able to see how it does so immediately, without prior coaching.
When users misinterpret design elements, you need to change them.
Web usability guru
To ensure this kind of usability, Dr. Jacob Nielson, possibly the most well-known expert on improving Web application user interfaces for effective applications, suggests letting users direct testing and design. His "thinking aloud" technique pairs representatives from the application development team with representatives from the actual user base to find out what they will think of the application without being taught how to use it. Basically, the user is asked to use the application to perform certain tasks and to say out loud what they're thinking every step of the way. The chief advantage of this approach, in Dr. Nielson's own words, "You hear their misconceptions, which usually turn into actionable redesign recommendations: when users misinterpret design elements, you need to change them."
Where Web applications are concerned, writing the front-end webpage in HTML5 and CSS3 may present real advantages over using HTML4, XHTML and earlier versions of CSS. In April of 2010, Steve Jobs stated in his paper Thoughts on Flash, "HTML5, the new Web standard that has been adopted by Apple, Google and many others, lets Web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third party browser plug-ins (like Flash). HTML5 is completely open and controlled by a standards committee."
As explained in an earlier article on HTML5 and Java, HTML5 was designed and is still being refined, to support a user facing front-end Web-based interface that pulls in plug-ins from high powered Java applications running on the server. This has been the concept behind the client-server paradigm for a long time, but now HTML5 is empowering that model to reach new levels of flexibility.
Stay tuned to TSS to learn more about rich user interface design, HTML5 and how they might make Java applications run in even more Web-based locations.