Microsoft Inductive User Interface Guidelines

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

When designing Microsoft Money 2000, Microsoft followed a “new user interface model”, which they called inductive user interface (IUI). The Microsoft Inductive User Interface Guidelines are available on MSDN. I came across them a few months ago and thought they give a nice description of how to make simple, focussed applications screens, whether for a desktop or web application. I’ve summarised the main points here.

Ensure each page has a clear title. Almost everything else follows from that simple rule.

Focus each page on a single task. A screen is focused on one purpose if the designer can express that purpose with a concise, meaningful, and natural-sounding screen title.

Title each screen with a concise and explicit statement of its primary task. This can be a direct instruction (“Select the account you want to balance”) or a question you want the user to answer (“Which account do you want to balance?”). To write a page title, designers imagine a friend asking, “What is this screen for?” and then come up with a clear, helpful response that completes the sentence “This is the screen where you…” The words that complete the sentence become the screen title.

Optionally include a brief descriptive paragraph at the top of the screen. Even when a title is carefully chosen, the title region may be too small to adequately explain a complex task. To alleviate this problem, you can include a brief descriptive paragraph at the top of the screen’s content area that elaborates on the task.

If the screen title is clear and simple, designing the screen is usually straightforward.

Provide a clear exit from the page.

I remember back when I first saw Microsoft Money 2000, I was struck by how much it looked like a web site — screens looked like web pages, and UI controls looked like web controls. They had simplified the interface so it felt like a website. At the time I thought this was the way of the future: desktop apps would start to look like web apps. Actually I wasn’t exactly right: what’s happened is that desktop apps have been replaced by web apps.


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