AODC – reviewing a user interface

This week I’m attending the Australasian Online Documentation and Content Conference (AODC) on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. Today Rhonda Bracey took us through the long list of things we need to check and consider, when reviewing an application’s user interface.

Rhonda runs her own technical communication and consultancy business, CyberText Consulting. She has posted her summary of the AODC, day 1.

Reviewing a user interface (UI) is something that a technical writer is frequently asked to do. We are usually the first people to use a software application (or other product, I guess) after it has left the developers’ hands. Or even before. So Rhonda’s in-depth session was an excellent guide to the things we need to consider.

She covered a lot of detail about each of the following elements:

  • Design elements — object placement, alignment, etc.
  • Text elements — this is the most obvious arena for a technical writer, but Rhonda mentioned some items that are easy to overlook, e.g. the items in dropdown lists; the status bar; error messages; tooltips.
  • Link elements — non-obvious ones here are the menu structures; links in images; links to online help; mailto links; and the consistency of link styles.
  • Visual elements — graphics, colour and display. Take a step back and consider whether the graphics are necessary; size; what happens if the user turns the graphics off; what happens if the user changes the OS colour scheme, e.g. Windows is totally configurable; what happens if the user overrides or turns off the CSS.
  • For web applications, test with different browsers; change the text size; turn off the JavaScript, cookies and frames; resize the window; test on different devices (even mobile platforms if relevant) and resolutions.
  • For desktop applications, there’s a similar list of things to check.
  • Click and press everything; try all options of the search and fill in every form.
  • Check the speed and response times.

In particular, Rhonda had some good tips regarding translation and localisation, if applicable to your application. Here are a few I remember:

  • On each screen, check whether the developer has left enough space for a translated UI — for example, German text is up to one third longer than English.
  • Check for any logos or other images that contain text which will need translation.
  • Watch out for culturally-specific terms or words, even within the same language e.g. American versus Australian usage.
  • Consider the symbolism of specific colours in different countries.

To round off the session, Rhonda had some tips about giving your feedback to the development team, and some handy tools.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 15 May 2008, in AODC, technical writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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