User interface (UI) fragmentation is a problem that many large companies face when their products are created by different teams. Different teams may have different tendencies and preferences, the products may use different technology stacks and the applications may use different frameworks.
The results are often fragmented and inconsistent user interfaces. The higher the fragmentation across your products, the higher the learning curve your customers have to deal with.
UI fragmentation can occur at various levels and places, in a software application or a hardware device. For example, a company should always aim to use a common icon set across all products. If the company’s customers want to go to Settings, they should not have to click on a wrench in product A, a cog in product B, or some sliders in product C.
Perhaps more important than icons is a consistent navigation experience across and throughout different applications. Applications typically have primary and secondary navigation elements. If product A uses sliding side menus as the primary navigation method, then product B should not opt for drop-down menus.
Harmonizing user interfaces
User interface harmonization across products helps speeding up the creation of mental models when moving from one product to another. A mental model is what the user believes about the system at hand, with an emphasis on believing, not knowing. If all products behave according to a user’s expectations, it helps to reinforce this mental model.
When we started designing our web-based real-time service quality monitoring application SmartMonitor, we decided to use Google’s Material Design, which is a modern and clean visual language that adapts well to different screen sizes. It can be used in web-based desktop applications as well as in web-based or native mobile applications.
The customer feedback on the SmartMonitor UI has been overwhelming. Why? Because many users already know this design language from mobile apps, predominantly Google’s own apps. So when they see an icon with the three vertical dots, they intuitively know that by clicking on or pressing this button, a popup menu with additional options will appear.
Our aim is to introduce Material Design as a standard across our product portfolio.
Forward-thinking and with our customers’ best interest at heart, we also created the role of a Usability Manager with the goal of harmonizing user interfaces across all new products. The Usability Manager works with the different product teams, formulates user interface concepts and prototypes based on the product requirements, and conducts usability reviews to identify areas or components where products should be better aligned.
In the end, users should feel familiar and comfortable with whichever Rohde & Schwarz mobile network testing product they are working.
In the next post of this series, I’ll discuss the benefits of single sign-on access control.