The new Netflix interfaceNetflix, a popular movie rental and streaming website, recently changed the look and feel of the “Watch Instantly” content on their website.  The change, while more visually appealing, is much more difficult for experienced users.

Obnoxiously, the new interface requires users to hover their mouse near the edge of the screen to scroll thumbnails of titles and it removes any capability to display titles in a sorted list view.

Netflix’s blog post announcing the change had received over 4,000 comments within a few days of the change, almost entirely from users who did not like the new interface.  Some comments even offered the “theory” that Netflix was intentionally creating an unusable interface for the purpose of making users spend more time searching for titles and less time eating bandwidth by watching movies.

Eschewing the conspiracy theory for the moment, we would like to consider what goes into a proper interface design.  There are seven ISO dialog principles for correct user interface design:

  1. Suitability for the Task
  2. Self-Descriptiveness
  3. Controllability
  4. Conformity with User Expectation
  5. Error Tolerance
  6. Suitability for Individualization
  7. Suitability for Learning

When we design interfaces for our products, our main considerations are:

  1. Know your audience. A website where your intended audience is software engineers can be far more complex than one intended for grandmothers.  (We offer our apologies to any engineers reading this who are grandmothers.)
  2. Proper function is more important than pizzazz. You can have all of the nifty Flash animations in the world, but if your ordering system doesn’t work or if it’s painfully complicated to use, it doesn’t help you.
  3. Be kind to power users. Don’t require the user to click on every control on your form — make sure that tab stops are setup correctly.  Don’t make users who know what they’re doing click through 100 pages of instructions.
  4. Don’t blind the user. Hot pink doesn’t work as a background color for your website — this isn’t 1995.
  5. Finding the right button should not be a scavenger hunt. If you are displaying a long list on a website, put any relevant buttons at both the top and bottom of the list – don’t make the user hunt around for them.

What are your UI best practices?  Let us know in your comments.

image credit: Netflix user interface

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