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I'm still in the beginnings of my career as a programmer, and have always thought I was more interested in low-level back-end type stuff. However, having done a few projects lately on my own, I've been forced into doing more front-end work, and have really enjoyed the challenge of having to come up with neat interfaces to messy problems.

Is there anywhere I can find problems that will challenge my ability to create elegant interfaces? I'm thinking things like:

  • Design an interface to allow a user to easily edit [all-of-this-messy-data].
  • Design a web-based interface to do [X] with(out) the use of AJAX.
  • ...If I had a lot of good examples I wouldn't be asking this question!

Essentially, I'm looking for the Project Euler of UI design. If it doesn't exist, what's a good way to come up with problems to challenge myself?

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1  
Go to myspace and start making random pages not ugly using only CSS. In 1,000 years you might be done! –  Ben Brocka Oct 13 '11 at 13:30
    
@BenBrocka I was more referring to the usability and mechanics of interfaces, rather than the aesthetics of them, but obviously an attractive interface will be more pleasant to use, so that's still relevant :) –  Cam Jackson Oct 13 '11 at 22:18
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Things like poor accessibility (colors) and overly complex or awkward layouts greatly harm usability too =p But point taken. –  Ben Brocka Oct 14 '11 at 13:04

8 Answers 8

up vote 25 down vote accepted

You're here!

This is the right place!

You can answer real people's real questions about real situations and needing real answers, - maybe with just real ideas, or with real mock-ups and real designs!

All manner of problems and challenges are raised here - take a look at previous questions (especially the unaccepted/unanswered ones) or watch the new ones come in.

Enjoy - and keep it real!

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4  
Very true. Try to answer existing questions here. Then compare them with the answers that others give. Don't be afraid to upvote "competing" answers. This place is not just a place to find answers to you own questions, it's also a great place to learn from others. –  Bart Gijssens Oct 13 '11 at 12:12
    
or if you're roger, to answer every question first! –  colmcq Oct 13 '11 at 14:30
    
@colmcq - to be fair to AssafLavie and JohnGB - they both got in there first :-) –  Roger Attrill Oct 13 '11 at 14:40
    
Haha well said! Although, when I was looking for the link here from Area 51, I believe it said 90-something% of questions are accepted! Good to be here though :) –  Cam Jackson Oct 13 '11 at 22:20

Despite their authors' sincere and deliberate efforts, most user interfaces are at best flawed and at worst unusable. Where are problems to challenge your UI design skills? Everywhere.

If I were you, I would seek an organization with a frequently used but terrible web site who would accept your volunteer efforts: perhaps an open source project or a non-profit organization. Then I would interleave usability tests with site changes. It will help to have a web site that is frequently used because it will be easier to find usability test participants, and because you will be working a real problem.

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Perhaps designing user interfaces for other user types (audience) might be interesting for you. Like for example children with Autism Spectrum Conditions. Not only would you have to rethink how to make an application easy to understand but also how to keep the user interested in what is going on on the screen (short attention span). Yet the design needs to be intelligent and simple since every detail that doesn't belong there might draw the attention of the child away from the important stuff.

General research applications (any fields) are in dire need for good user interfaces because they neglect it to the extend that in has impacts on research results.

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I've looked into designing interfaces for Autism Spectrum children, it's a very interesting and rewarding challenge. –  Ben Brocka Nov 18 '11 at 14:34

You might consider sharing your knowledge. Start writing a blog, create a small sample webpage explaining and showing core principles of you what you learned to be most important, write an e-book or whatever ... seek to get feedback from thousands of people out there, guess there is no tougher challenge then the crowd around here ;-)

Apart from challenging yourself thereby, I can imagine it could also be very awarding a thing for you to teach others.

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Problem 1: design and implement a site that is the Project Euler of UI design. I'll tell you Problem 2 later.

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Found it: yvettesbridalformal.com –  Ben Brocka Oct 13 '11 at 14:57
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@BenBrocka - Thanks for killing my productivity today. –  zeroef Oct 13 '11 at 17:01

review some really bad websites and devise cost effective solutions to fix these problems. This will give you coal-face, frontline experience of some of the work of a UX gimp.

c

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  1. Come up with a small useful application that you would like to use
  2. Design said useful tool
  3. Test wireframes / mockups with real people
  4. Build useful tool
  5. Test with real people
  6. Improve useful tool
  7. Goto step 5
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I can suggest browsing the web for popular web apps (e.g. gmail, facebook) and trying to improve on their UI. It's hard because they already invest a lot into design. The problem is that without actual users you won't really be able to tell if you've improved anything.

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