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Currently developing a WPF application with a completely customised UI. Just wondering if anyone has any tips to allow the UI to be unique, but still look professional and polished.

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    This is very subjective and difficult to do without a URL of the site in question...
    – Sniffer
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 8:31
  • @Sniffer - it's a desktop application, but your comment is still valid.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 10:37
  • Why is this Community Wiki? Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 21:37
  • @Jourke - Probably because on StackOverflow, people just automatically put questions that are subjective and should be closed as Community Wiki because they then hope it will not be closed. Commented Aug 13, 2010 at 16:42

5 Answers 5

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Consistency is a big pointer to something being professional and polished.

  • Make sure all your icons are a the same size and properly lined up.
  • Use a consistent font and text size throughout.
  • Make sure that if there are options to change font sizes that they affect all text items.
  • Make sure that changing the colour scheme affects all items consistently.

I know it doesn't make your application unique, but the UI is the first thing your users see and what they have to interact with every time they use it.

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  • And since this is WPF, create all your icons in xaml so they can scale well. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 21:40
  • @Jouke van der Maas - All-XAML icons are not without their tradeoffs. They are slower & harder to render, esp. on lower-end systems. Also, for small icons you lose a lot of the pixel precision offered by bitmap icons. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 23:32
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As a rule of thumb, professional means clean and simple.

Regarding Animation - it really depends on the application. Animation often implies applications that are more casual, so it would work great for games or consumer applications. If we're talking about enterprise software, it might not be appropriate.

I think http://soluto.com/ is a great desktop application to use as a reference. You can download if for free and install on any PC.

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As has already been pointed out, consistency is important - not just in terms of appearance, but in terms of behaviour.

There are times though, when deliberate breaking of consistency is not just a good idea, but necessary.

Part of achieving a "Professional and Polished" look is knowing when to do this.

Examples:

On StackExchange sites, the "Ask a Question" link at the top of every screen isn't apart of the sequence of other buttons - it's right aligned, giving some visual isolation.

In Microsoft Outlook 2007, the Send button isn't included in the Ribbon along with everything else, it's kept separate and always accessible.

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  • Ugh. The "Send" button is actually a very distracting option to me. I always click in the "Paste" button when I use the mouse. Glad Ctrl-Enter still works... Commented Aug 17, 2010 at 1:19
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Animation effects make a big difference. This is a huge part of what makes the iPhone look so slick.

Every transition should appear to move or grow from somewhere. Nothing should ever just appear or dissapear.

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    Ah, but does the iPhone look "professional"? Judicious use of animation is good, but overuse or slow/distracting animations, while prefect for kiosks or games, can potentially be problematic. For example, I'd argue OSX's genie effect, while admittedly quite awesome, does not convey "professional". Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 21:14
  • It'll have to be very quick and simple transitions, no huge animations. Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 21:36
  • @Robert, yes I would say the iPhone looks professional. A slick look doesnt just belong with toys, it also provides for a more productive user experience as it gives the user more clues as to what is going on. The OSX genie effect shows the user where on the task bar the window has minimized to so you know where to go when you want to restore the window. The animation does have to be done correctly for it to work, obviously animation that is too slow is just animation done wrong, but that doesnt mean it should be used at all! Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 8:45
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Study, study, study.
Observe the competition or similar products.

One of the best things about UI is that you don't, and IMHO shouldn't, reinvent things. I know your question involves a desktop application, but even still a run through Google Images (based on appropriate keywords) ought to serve up many, many examples of how your general situation has been designed to date.

And by all means, TEST your UI on candidate users. It's remarkable how few DEVs take the time to do this and the returns are typically very valuable.

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