Indaba’s User Interface: Engaging, Effective, Efficient

Whenever anything new emerges in the webosphere such as a platform, website, blog, browser, etc., its user interface (UI) must be well designed, allowing users to easily and quickly navigate where they need to go.

Of course many of you already know this, but doing it can be harder than it sounds when needs are complex and inconsistent across users, as we have learned while designing, launching and now improving our Indaba platform. This is a tool Global Integrity and partners have used over the last couple years to collect and organize data about several variables following a structured workflow.

During this time, we (the Indaba team), have learned a lot when it comes to how we can improve the UI, as well as enhance Indaba’s core features.  Some of what we’ve learned seems like common sense to us now, but building open source software within a budget limits some of the tools, not to mention that different user needs are tough to foresee.

The 10 most important themes we have noticed are:

  1. Ensure your site is engaging – This is always tricky to balance: too much text and users could feel overwhelmed. Not enough text or direction and the same user could feel helpless about what they are supposed to do. Both of these result in a frustrated user.
  2. Few clicks – Does the site bring users to where they need to be in the shortest amount of time possible? Can they do what they need to do, without having to unnecessarily click around?
  3. Feedback loops – Figure out if the usability is effective. Ask whether the site conveys what you want to the intended audience and, if not, what would do that?
  4. Top features – Make sure that all-important features are above the fold so users don’t have to scroll too far down the page to find them.
  5. Symbols or characters, when possible – When you label something in English, the meaning/connotation might translate into something different in another language. Symbols are more universal.
  6. Start small – Make small changes first and grow from there. User feedback might be more helpful in determining long-term needs. Don’t try to build everything at once.
  7. Big shiny buttons – Ensure the core functions are easy to use and well labeled.
  8. Test – Have multiple people test your beta versions. Developers might not always share the same perspective as the end user. What’s more, each user will bring their own perspective to the table.
  9. Court ideas – Don’t be married to a technical solution before you know what the users need.
  10. Don’t skimp – Trying to cut corners on the UI could cost you more in the long run.

We hope that with our 2012 upgrades and our long-term plans to improve the UI for both the Fieldwork Manager tool (used to collect the data) and the Publisher tool (used to publish the data, by using spreadsheets, third party API’s or widgets linking to websites), we will be able to exponentially scale the use of Indaba within the next 2-4 years.

In the meantime, we are applying several of these lessons-learned to the newest feature of Indaba: a Control Panel that will allow organizations flexibility and control over customizing, setting up and managing projects. We’re currently testing, so stay tuned! 

Other good UI design suggestions can be found in:

— Monika Shepard

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