Over the years I have often found myself in the position of needing to use an ‘App’ that was incomprehensible to me. Where I felt like I needed a legend or an SME (Subject Matter Expert) on hand to decipher what I was reading. These are the times I questioned whether the person or group, who created the app, put any thought into ensuring that their app was usable by the intended audience. Most of the time the answer I came up with was a resounding NO.
Every group in your organization has a language that is particular to what they do. Finance speaks Finance, HR speaks HR, I.T. speaks I.T. and so on. Much of that language is not and does not need to be readily understood by people in different groups and that’s fine when we are communicating within our ‘group’.
It’s when we need to communicate outside our group that we face our biggest hurdles. We must recognize that assuming our audience’s ability to decipher acronyms, terms specific to our group, and cryptic names/abbreviations or codes that we have given something is a sort of arrogance.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Consider the following when creating an App for others to use.
Use friendly terms, names, and phrases.
Use common language that is easily understood.
Use official names AND numbers. Example: Form 162-A, New Computer Request Form
Present wording in a way that doesn’t leave your audience feeling like they need a translator to figure it out.
Nothing makes an app harder and more frustrating to use than unfamiliar terminology, or codes and words that are not easily understandable.
The next thing to consider is consistency. Consistency can mean the difference between an app that is easy to use and one that people can’t get away from fast enough.
There are 2 main areas of concern:
Consistency in naming
Consistency in appearance
Consistency in naming has to do with how you name things in your apps and sites. It could be a list of countries and regions, or the way the fields are named in a form. Consider a list of countries and regions. If your list looks something like this, you might have a problem.
Deutschland – BY
Australia – QLD
Australia – New South Wales
Australia – Victoria
Canada – Alberta
Canada – Quebec
Germany – Saarland
There are at least 3 things that are not consistent in the list. Starting with the country name. Germany and Deutschland both mean Germany, One is English and the other German. If your app is in English, make it all in English. Next, some country/region pairs are separated by a dash, some by a colon and some are in parenthesis. Lastly some regions are spelled out and others are abbreviated. Your list will not sort properly, nor will it be displayed in alphabetical order. This leads to confusion when people are expecting items to be logically grouped together and might cause them to miss important information.
Also, make sure that you are using the same name for items all the way through your app. If you refer to a cellphone number in one place as Cell Number, don’t call it Cell # or Cell no. in another place.
Last, but by no means least, Consistency in appearance.
This is probably one of the first clues that your app might not be friendly to use. An app that has a mish-mash of fonts, colors and inconsistently applied borders, underlines and other visual elements, is very hard on the eyes and can make it very tiring to use. It also makes it harder to find what you are looking for and looks less than professional.
Here are some style tips you can use when creating an app.
Instead of using different fonts, unless you need an element to really stand out, consider using bold, underline and italic effects as needed to emphasize text where necessary.
Choose colors to go along with the thematic elements on a site or to create a color palette that provides enough differences to be engaging and provide sufficient contrast to make fields easy to read.
Use the same elements throughout the app to indicate functions such as cancel, delete, save etc.
Where possible line up left or right edges of fields and labels vertically.
And, finally, consider that lighter colored elements, such as white against a light background, may look very nice but could be difficult for some to see.
If your app or site is informational and has the potential to be of great value to your organization, that last thing you want is for people to engage with it a single time and never come back. This happens when people can’t find what they need, or it’s presented in a way that makes it hard to read and look at.