The Perfect UI

Posted September 12, 2011

In video games and much of modern design, User Interaction is simultaneously the most and least important feature. At best it’s the least noticed component. At worst it will prevent anyone from using the product.

To create a perfect UI, it’s important to keep these three things in mind:

1) The perfect UI is no UI at all.

The average user hates menu’s and screen clutter. We can’t sugar coat the truth. Be reductive in every screen, menu, and HUD element you create, even the basic stuff. Ask if the user really needs a health bar, or an ammo counter, or a picture of their character.

Choosing sensible default behaviour is better than an option. Resist the urge to inundate the user with choices and statistics. The only time it’s acceptable is when it has an impact on gameplay, or supplies reward to the user.

If there’s barely anything on screen and users still know what’s happening, you’ve done well.

2) The perfect UI works at the speed of thought.

Nothing in games is more demotivating than load times. This applies to the menus and UI as much as gameplay. Three seconds may not seem like a huge amount of time to wait for a screen to load but once the user has to go through more than two or three, they take notice.

The whole game should be as close to instant as possible. Once a button is pressed the user expects results. In fact he wanted results earlier but his damn central nervous system got in the way.

If in reviews you see or hear the terms “snappy” or “fluid”, than you’ve done well.

3) The perfect UI is consistent in all dimensions.

Every screen is a new world that the user has to learn the rules of. People hate extraneous information. Learning where things are in a menu has no bearing on their lives or experience.

Always use the same buttons for the same functions, the same elements for the same information. If a UI element looks familiar it should control familiarly. Switching to Mac or Linux from Windows is not difficult because Windows is better, but because Mac and Linux control differently.

The fewer button prompts you have to add the better you’ve done.

Conclusion

In case it’s not obvious perfection is impossible, but your best is not. Remember to “make things as simple as possible, but no simpler”, have responsive controls, and be consistent. Obviously there are more bits of advice on this topic, but even doing these things decently will give you a head start on a great UI. Have Fun!