GUI Design for Enterprise Systems

By , January 23, 2008 8:04 pm

The Dilemma

When designing screens for enterprise systems, I frequently face an issue. There are too many fields to present for a user to complete an action (i.e. manage an order transaction). In terms of cohesion, since these fields serve one purpose, they should be put in one screen. But again, too many!

Too many of them clustering in one screen makes it look like a mess with texts, numbers and boxes. Not nice at all!

New design trends pushes this even further

The new design standard introduces alternating colored grids, text boxes with strong borders. All of these increase to size of elements, thus will make the screen narrower.

So we face a dilemma: should we put all relating fields in one screen, or break an action into multiple screens?

All in one screen or break down to multiple screens?

Put all in one screen
or
Break the information into multiple screens?

What’s your Focus?

There are a couple of things you can do:

  • Review GUI Design Guidelines
  • Review a high level document (i.e. Vision) to determine what the system is for and what it should look like in general
  • Create different prototypes and propose them to the customers

The most important factors

Some factors to look into when composing your own solutions:

Number of clicks

Because user’s interaction with system is done chiefly through mouse motions, number of clicks is considered one of the most important factor of GUI design.

Most of the cases, my experience is that with a little twist in design, number of clicks can be reduced from 3 to 2. Not so frequently it can be cut down dramatically. 1 click seems trivial. However, a user may perform that action a thousand times per day, thus makes it worth the effort.

Efforts users have to spend to learn how to use the system

If a screen has too many fields, it would be confusing for first-time users to know how to locate information.

If it takes quite some screens to accomplish a task, it would be confusing for first-time users.

In the long run, the first solution would prove to be better when user has memorized the location of information sections.

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