UI: Hot or Not?

The Wisdump blog recently did a design critique of Odeo. They made some good points but specifically thought that the sign-up form was too simple. 37signals did their own critique of the site but arrived at the opposite conclusion.

These are two intelligent and experienced teams (it’s not like any schmuck straight out of college can get his own blog) with an above average sense of what makes a good user interface for a website. But they both saw the same site and disagreed. I think a big reason why this happens is that it’s hard to separate the elements of design related to organization and the elements related to aesthetics.

Joel makes a point about this in his series on good design. However, I disagree with his point that aesthetics can only enhance a design and not take away from it (imagine if your Ipod was puke green). He’s on the right track: good design is a two dimensional problem. One dimension is related to organization and engineering and the other is aesthetics.

Shouldn’t the engineering aspect of it be more objective? If UI is engineering, than it should be more than just a variation of "hot or not".

One of the main elements that lead to good design is the issue of prominence. What parts of a website are the most eye catching to a user and what elements belong in those prominent locations. As I see it, there are four elements that go into how prominent something should be:

  • Value to the user: How much does this feature enhance the users experience and interaction with the site?
  • Value to the site: How much does the site need this feature to function properly?
  • Simplicity: How simple is it for the user to learn or use this feature?
  • Attractiveness or convenience: How much does this feature engage the user with the site?

Next step: Is there a way to quantify these factors in order to look at UI in a more subjective way?