Usability & knowledge: UI Strings

I’m working on a usability project for desktop software right now, focusing on “UI strings.”

UI strings are the messages that you see in an application … what it tells you. Obviously, the better these are written, structured, and presented, the easier the application, and the better your experience with it.

Four things are really coming to my mind as I’m going through this. Three of them are directly related to UI strings. They enhance usability when …

  1. You know what the software will do before you ask it to do it
  2. The software does exactly what you asked it to do: not more, not less, not different
  3. If something goes wrong, the software tells you in simple terms what happened, why, and how to fix it (this can be hard!)

The fourth thing is not really about UI strings, but an aspect of the application itself: revocability. Revocability, of course is the opposite of irrevocable (as in: can’t be undone).

The connection to UI strings is that if you know something is revocable … you’re less hesitant to try it and see. And that makes you a more confident and therefore happier user.

The overall goal of UI strings is giving the user the right amount of information at the right time. And the only way to know if you’ve got it right is to do usability testing during and after launch.

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