Thanks to FileMaker's WYSIWYG editor, it's easy to get a lot of great design practice without a lot of time invested in learning a program. For the beginning designer, though, knowing where to start when designing a FileMaker user interface (UI) can be daunting. Or maybe not, but still, designing a new UI can be a complicated mess that leaves you wondering where to start... or finish.
To help give a framework for how to think about UI design, it helps to break it into two broad, but distinct and equal chunks:
1) Visual Design - This is the static, visual parts of the interface. Examples include layout, grid, legibility, readability, color palette, alignment, visual hierarchy, icons, aesthetics, and so on. A good, clean visual design helps users easily navigate between fields and pages.
2) Interactive Design / Usability - Usability includes everything from the relatively simple design problems like feedback (e.g. What alerts a user that they have, say, clicked a button? A visual cue? A click noise?) to easy navigability, all the way to how a database is organized into sensible, intuitive chunks that help guide a user through the different parts of the database.
Some of you might be wondering whether interactive design is the same as interaction design. Although the two terms are so closely related as to be nearly indistinguishable, they are different. For our purposes, Interaction design refers more to the user in relation to the greater business and how the system will support that process. Interactivity looks more at the software program outwards towards the user. I digress.
Either way, breaking up UI design into these two chunks can help to slow your head down or route around difficult problems as they arise. You can also use it as a framework to discuss yours or anyone else's UI work. Look at the designs and ask yourself what's working visually and/or interactively. Write it down. Or don't. Doesn't matter, just think about all the little pieces branching out from the two different chunks of graphic design and interactive design. Look at your own work and ask yourself why a piece of information is in one area and not grouped with another? Test how many clicks it takes you to get between the two deepest areas of your database. Is it reasonable? Give your interface to the client or a friend and have them try it out. Is it easy to use? Does the system make sense?
What you're ultimately looking for is a clean, easy-to-use system that gets out of the way of the user and lets them do their job. Separating the areas of interface design into two discrete parts can help give the beginning designer a framework for thinking about how to tackle the complexity of a new UI.
A great resource for best practices regarding usability can be found in Jakob Nielsen's articles on heuristics.
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