Raj Lal Makes User-Interface Design More User-Friendly

Digital Design Essentials: 100 Ways to Design Better Desktop, Web and Mobile Interfaces is an encyclopedia-style, user-friendly guide to UI design. Author Raj Lal has compiled need-to-know UI design information and “make your life easier” UI tips and tricks to help streamline your design process.

So why do you need this book? Digital Design Essentials is chock full of live examples, design guidelines and best practices. In fact, Raj covers virtually every major UI concept with clear definitions and illustrations for easier understanding.

We recently spoke with Raj to find out what inspired him to produce such a helpful, tactically-oriented guide to support UI designers…

Raj, you’ve had a lot of success in your career with multiple books and a thriving professional life in Silicon Valley. In the midst of your personal work, speaking commitments and life in general, what inspired you to write Digital Design Essentials? I’ve always been fascinated with design and how it applies to software development. I myself like software that’s easy to use and aesthetically pleasing. Having a keen sense of design and passion for Human Computer Interaction, two books had a particularly deep impact on me. The first one, The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman, talks about how putting users first gives a new and correct perspective to design.

Raj Lal Digital Design Essentials

Interesting. It seems that you’re clearly influenced by user-centered design. What’s the  second book that influenced this project?  The book which actually triggered this book idea [Digital Design Essentials] was The Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell. It’s is a collection of 100 design concepts and amazing design principles. I realized that these concepts are great for coffee table discussion, but today’s graphic designers, web designers and mobile app designers also need practical advice when developing software applications.

Designers need to-the-point design guidelines, and they want to know the best practices. This gave birth to the idea of 100 software design examples, ranging from desktop software, web applications, mobile apps and tablet design that I call “Digital Design Essentials.” Best practices, design guidelines, tips for better User-Experience and popular case studies–together they are an essential reference for any developer or designer who is working on digital design and Human Computer Interaction.

Digital Design is such a vast topic, ranging from Desktop, to Web, to Mobile, to Tablets. How are you possibly covering all of the topics in a single book? The book is laid out in chronological order. We have four sections which reflect how the software design has evolved over time for Desktop, the Web, Mobile, Tablets, and TVs.

The first Desktop section in the book talks about some of the first User Interfaces, which were created for human-computer interaction. These were the Command-line and WIMP interfaces, used for Windows, Icon, Menu, and Pointers. Then we talk about interfaces for more commonly used Desktop applications, like Setup Wizard, Image Manager, Desktop Explorer, and even some advanced User Interfaces, like Integrated Development Environment (IDE), 3-dimensional User Interfaces, and even the latest trends of the Modern/Metro UI approach used by Microsoft, and the Skeuomorphic Design popularized by Apple.

The second Web Section is all about Web User Interfaces. This section starts with how to design a successful website and covers topics like the crucial elements for a successful homepage. Here, we learn about blog design, guidelines for single-page website design, personal websites, and even accessible website design. This section also covers all aspects of e-commerce, such as the best practices for designing a product catalog, a product detail page, shopping cart, and checkout page. It also covers the user account, login, user profile, and community forum design guidelines. Later parts of the section talk about some of the advanced web application designs like Ajax, HTML5 Web App, Web 2.0, and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). It also covers key elements for web design like Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Infographic Design, and Adaptive User Interface.

Wow. This is impressive. And there’s more! Yes, the third section is all about Mobile. There are 30 different Mobile App designs, all of which are covered in the book. Each App includes architecture, design guidelines, best practices, and top tips for better user experience. All types of Mobile App design are covered, including, but not limited to, the Camera App, Bluetooth, Augmented Reality, and the Location Aware App.

The fourth and final section covers miscellaneous topics such as advanced User Interfaces like the 10-foot User Interface, Game Console design, Natural Interface, Organic User Interface, and so on.

Covering so many designs in a single book can be really difficult. How is it that you are achieving such a feat? We have used 100 Digital Design Essentials with examples to cover all of these. Each “Design Essential” is structured in a practical and understandable format with little-to-no theory involved. Each “Essential” starts with the definition and then shows the Architecture of the Application. This gives a better understanding of the big picture.

Then, the Essential jumps into the Design Guidelines—the standard guidelines used by designers all over the world. These guidelines point out practical to-do items for creating the designs. The third part discusses the Best Practices—the industry standards to solve the problems. Next, I have compiled a special section called “Top Tips for Better User Experience.” These are based off of my own experience in designing these kinds of apps. Finally, the last section shows one or more case studies of popular applications, to show how the design guidelines are used in the real world. These five elements create a complete picture of each User Interface discussed in the book.

How does a good User Interface translate into a great user experience? A User Interface is when a user interacts with an application. It can be used both to consume information, and to interact with the application. It can be both visual and non-visual. The role of a good User Interface (UI) is to get the information and interaction to the user first. Steve Jobs once said that good design is not how it looks, but how it works. A good UI adheres to this same principle. It has a basic purpose to help the user.

What is the architecture of an application in terms of user interface? We have used an Architecture view for each User Interface. The architecture, in terms of User Interface, is the key elements of the application. You’ll need to know these in order to create multiple versions of the application. Once you know the main elements, then the final application can be of any shape and size, but still function the same. It also gives a top view of the User Interface, how the application fits in the bigger picture, and interacts in the real world. For example, a checkout application is a key aspect of online commerce, but it is still only one part. The other parts of e-commerce also need to be understood in order to create a great ecommerce experience.

What makes this book different from all of the other books currently available in the market? This book is very practical and has 100 different real examples of popular applications. It covers virtually all of the User Interfaces available, including Desktop, Web, Mobile, TV, and Tablets. This book is an essential reference on Human-Computer Interaction for any digital designer.

You’ve said it well, Raj. Sounds like this book is any digital designer’s “essential” companion.

Raj will be presenting on “Evolution of the Digital User Interface” and signing copies of Digital Design Essentials at the Digital Web and Design Innovation Summit September 19-20, in San Francisco.

To see him in action: Check out Raj’s session from the HOW’s 2012 Interactive Conference in Washington D.C. 

HOW Design Live Online

Want more interactive juice? Check out HOW Design Live ONLINE July 17-19! You’ll hear from interactive speakers such as Patrick McNeil, Mark O’Brien, Chris Butler and Matthew Richmond. 

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