We can create the greatest digital leadership programs, knowledge transfers or job aids, but if the interface design isn’t up to par, learners quickly become lost in figuring out how to navigate a course rather than focusing on the content. Interface design might sound daunting to L&D professionals. Some might even think that interface design is something only web designers and product managers must worry about. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What Is Interface Design?

Interface design is a term coined in the 1980s when IBM released its first personal computer, which used the MS-DOS operating system, a boring and tedious interface that allowed users to key in commands that would execute specific tasks. Three years later, Apple released its Macintosh computer, which introduced graphical user interface (GUI). The Macintosh release was a paradigm shift in the way users interacted with computers. Now, people used computers because they wanted to, not because they had to. Just imagine this scenario in learning!

In short, interface design is the process of making software or devices that are easy and pleasant to use. User interface is a big part of user experience; users (learners) often judge their overall experience by its interface design. The main goal should be to make the interface almost invisible so users can focus on the actual content. The less they focus on controls, the more they will immerse themselves in the content.

Now, if you consider your e-learning GUI, would you say that learners can truly immerse themselves in your content?

The Development of GUI

Some examples of early GUI are icons that are still around today, including the garbage bin for items that you no longer need and the magnifying glass for searching. Computers had steep learning curves that required designers to make adoption as easy as possible. Using icons depicting real-life objects did the trick.

Over time, there was a push for more graphic-rich, professional and better-looking icons. Around the 2000s, GUIs used an enormous amount of details like textures, reflections and gradients. However, users became bored, because the boundaries between reality and the digital world started to blur. GUIs started to look cluttered, and the flat design was born: simple colors with no textures or reflections.

Time will tell where interface design will go over the next couple of years, but one important lesson to take away from flat design is the importance of a streamlined, no-fuss user experience – something much needed in L&D.

Creating Outstanding GUIs for Digital Offerings

There are several elements to keep in mind when creating digital experiences:

  • Make common elements, such as buttons, perform predictably so learners can use them unconsciously. (This also means no need for navigation slides.)
  • Maintain high discoverability: Clearly label icons and buttons throughout the body of your content.
  • Every element must serve a purpose. Clicking for the purpose of clicking isn’t a real purpose! Keep interfaces simple, and create an invisible feel.
  • Leverage direction, and focus on hierarchy and readability. Typically, align text to edges (instead of centering them), and use color and contrast to drive learners’ eyes to important elements on the screen.
  • Minimize the number of actions learners need to take on each page. Ideally, there should be only one main function per page.
  • Put controls near objects that learners want to control. If learners have to move their mouse away from the object, they might lose focus.
  • Use rich feedback throughout (not just for knowledge-check questions), and keep learners informed about their actions.
  • Use reusable design patterns so the learners know how certain page types function. (That doesn’t mean that all your pages should look the same, though!)

These simple elements should help create an intuitive GUI for your projects and declutter your interface design. Always keep the learners in mind, as well as the environment they are surrounded by every day when they use their smartphones or computers. Don’t reinvent the wheel; design interfaces that support learning, rather than hindering it.