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Interface design

How a personalized design improves ‘public’ interfaces

Veerle's
For a few months I’m using Gmail as my default e-mail client. It was actually the iMAP functionality that really convinced me to start using it. iMAP allows you to keep using your default e-mail application and at the same time you can also use your mobile phone or webmail. Once you have read or replied a message in one of the applications the other applications know what you have done with it. A centralized server, but different interfaces.

Make Gmail better
The unexpected thing happened that with my move to Gmail I also stopped using Mac Mail, the default mail application on Macintosh and one of my favorite applications. The Gmail web client just works very well.

The Gmail interface doesn’t look so great. It is clear, easy to use, the service is great, the mobile phone version is great, the spam filter is fantastic and it just does e-mail better.

Can Gmail be better? I think so, let me explain how after this example.

WordPress
I love WordPress. I’m sure it is one of the best blog publishing platforms in the world, if not the best. I don’t know all the other platforms, I have tried a few. What makes WordPress unique is the back-end. The back-end of this platform is gone through a great evolution. The WordPress back-end fits the needs of most users, is extendible and it can connect with an API to other applications.

A classic thing to forget when developing a content management system is to design a usable back-end. Often a system evolves around functionality and a (often narrow) view of what the users should be allowed to do, instead of freedom to experiment and usability. I think how WordPress developed was very good for the back-end interface. Anyone can use it, advanced user or not.

Can WordPress be better? I think so.

Custom interfaces
We are getting used to customizing web interfaces. We drag rearrange widgets and choose personal themes. For example I’m using Veerle’s theme to brighten my Netvibes and since this week I can change the lay-out of iGoogle as well.

Wouldn’t it be great if WordPress and Gmail had easy to style interfaces?

There are hacks like Grease Monkey for Gmail and a plug-in for the WordPress admin. The problem with these hacks is they are hacks. They’re not supported by the provider. They don’t return value to the application, for mail your hacks are bound to a computer and as soon as something changes your hack needs to be updated.

Learn from design
Think about what would change if you could use simple CSS to build themes for Gmail or the WordPress admin. Designers would start playing with it because it is easy accessible and their design can reach a large group of users. Gmail and WordPress can keep directories in order to see what’s the most popular interface, the highest rated and the newest.

If a service provider wants to learn from their users they should enable them to use stylesheets and templates that make it possible rearrange all the objects and buttons in the interface. Maybe Gmail just works better when the navigation is at the top, split up or in the middle. Who knows?

We are getting used to choosing templates for our blogs and rss readers. It would be wonderful if we could start using templates for admin screens and e-mail interfaces.

The most popular interfaces tell you a lot about what your users want from your interface, with this free knowledge a provider can adapt the default interface and make it even better.

2 replies on “How a personalized design improves ‘public’ interfaces”

Ja, dat is een geweldig concept en ik denk de toekomst van nieuwssites. En misschien wel het einde van redactiekeuze wat betreft de homepage.

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