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We're currently discussing a redesign of the applications we develop for internal use. Now, to change things for the better, we'd like to make as many UX considerations as possible before we go ahead. First off, here is some cornerstone data to describe our application: Most of them are typical data entry forms, some displaying an image and one or more text fields, some more typically displaying CRM-type data. Others display data in Grids, but that's basically most of it. They are .Net applications. People use them for many hours each day.

Now I myself am a software developer, and I can't say enough about how much darker editor color schemes eased my daily pain. I feel like the visual stress has been taken away from me, but on the other hand there are colleagues who happily use their white backgrounds. I also noted that many design applications like the Adobe palette, 3DS Max and so forth switched to darker layout, but that (I've heard somewhere) is supposedly because of a disturbing effect of white background when working with images.

Of course it's impossible to make an application "beautiful" in the eyes of all users, but I want to deliver applications that cause little visual stress (if possible, none), make the user feel at ease and probably even speed up the data entry by effectively guiding the focus.

Do you have any information based on your own experience / academic investigations / market recommendations / whatever concerning contrast, colors (warm / cold / neutral), use of images, text fonts and general design considerations that you can share with me?

I know this is a bit of a graphicdesign question, but I really hope to find answers that shed light on the ergonomic part of the design, rather than the aesthetic part.

EDIT: I don't know how many of you have already switched to Windows 8, but the minimal design decisions Microsoft has introduced (What they sloganize as "Content before Chrome") are a good sample for what I've considered. While it is truly readable and less detouring to look at a 2 color UI, do you think it is really still more intuitive, more fun to use? Some clickable links look like plain text (no underline, no border, no italics)...Is Windows 8 Styling necessarily good styling? On the contrary, Android and Iphone have a way to style icons and buttons appealing to the user's desire for haptic interaction. You just want to touch that Glass Button...While this is pure chrome, I find it appealing. Is it disturbing the user?

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Remember to think about how you distribute white space. It can't be stressed enough. Even though features of your application could probably be grouped together in the same view, because they pretty much correlate, remember to still weigh this against how crowded the view will be. Maybe the user would benefit if these features were divided into different views rather than crammed into one. Then the views would be easier to find from correct taxonomy and labeling and also each individual view would be easier to scan. This is very abstract, I know, but this subject is big... –  AndroidHustle Dec 11 '12 at 8:48
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Darker backgrounds actually make reading a lot harder. It may be different for mono spaced code as that really does not read as text, but as, well... code. I tend to avoid websites with a dark background because the font tends not to have been adjusted. On darker backgrounds text seems to sink into it and one should use a larger font or a font with with thicker strokes to compensate. Most importantly: the preference for a light or dark background is very personal! So cater to that by allowing both. –  Marjan Venema Dec 11 '12 at 9:28
    
@MarjanVenema Actually, on darker background the font seems bolder and the spacing smaller. Also, there are no up to date (with current screen tech) or even older yet well-preformed researches on lengthened reading with light vs dark backgrounds. –  Danny Varod Dec 11 '12 at 19:11
    
@DannyVarod: not my experience, but it may be due to technology improvements that have passed me by as I have learned to avoid dark backgrounds. –  Marjan Venema Dec 11 '12 at 19:46
    
@MarjanVenema Then try using them intentionally for a few hours each and then see what you think. Make sure that the contrast isn't too high though (e.g. light grey on black or white on dark grey, not white on black). –  Danny Varod Dec 12 '12 at 11:07

2 Answers 2

I would agree with the points that were made by kontur. I would also suggest that you take a look at the new myspace UI look and interactions. What's been done there is they took "whats always been done" and pushed it that much farther out. As a Sr. UX Architect and UI designer I've been playing around with it for a few days now. It takes some getting used to but once you get the hand of it the UI and interactions become part of the users flow.

I would also place the labels for the form fields within the fields themselves. This gives the UI / form a cleaner look. This also serves to plant into the users mind that the form is not as complicated to fill out as they might think.

Figure out what your end users flows are. Sit with them and watch if possible. Ask them if you could build them the perfect app what would it need to do for them?

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Here are some point that are equally general as your question is:

  • Start with thinking of actual usage scenarios and look at the users needs. Go into a concrete "Miss X. wants to file a insurance report for a new customer Y", what are her steps, how will she navigate the application, and so forth
  • Be consistent with your user interface and your user flow. Try to condense your interface into guidlines from which you can adopt to different requirements that different part of your application have. Form logic grouping of UI elements by thinking of how the user will use them, not how you code them. Being consistent doesn't mean you have to be repetitive. Just like your code has structure and follows paradigms, line out the same for the user interface and interaction so the whole team can follow them
  • Try prototyping, even just on paper, to see how navigating from one view to another happens, what should be where. Try out different things and: Iterate, iterate, iterate. If possible, have test users provide feedback on prototypes or development versions
  • Whenever something could be easier, make it easier. Take the extra step to make things simpler where you can. In terms of structure and simplifying you might want to make an effort to limit the things on display so that on each view the focus is in a hierachy
  • Use visual elements with prupose, and only with purpose. Font size, color, alignment, space, icons, nothing should just be, because "well, it is", but be there and the way it is implemented for a reason. What does this color help to communicate to the user, does it make it easier to grasp the overall reach of the application or is it mere decoration?
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