Hey there! Brian Dys here — I’m a visual and visceral person at heart. Ever since my mom lent me her old film camera, I fell in love with photography. All of my creative musings were exemplified by my second brain, the computer. This journey is a topsy-turvy ride of creative pursuits — from electronic music to UX design.
I enjoy every dull and wild moments of it — yes, this life of mine that I share with a woman named Jaycelle and a boy named Bryce. Take a peek into my kaleidoscope!
Discovery has always been part of our experience in using web sites and apps. They could be in any form:
clicking an ambiguous icon to find out what it does
going through multiple pages to find information
finding out what’s causing an alert icon beside a label
learning and memorizing keyboard shortcuts
…and the list goes on.
One UI element that helps us in most discovery processes is the tooltip. Users of Windows or Mac have surely encountered it when you hover your mouse cursor on certain items in your computer desktop (maybe by chance or out of curiosity if you don’t want to click something). It is in the form of a box with text label or description.
The Elements of Style Sheets aims to categorize CSS properties into three elements: Nature, Theme, and Layout. It could help a front-end designer’s mental model of building the CSS on top of HTML.
Nature refers to the individual characteristics of an element.
Dimensions (padding, width, height)
Theme refers to the visual design of an element.
Colors (color, background-color)
Typography (font-size, font-family)
Decor (border, border-radius, box-shadow)
Layout refers to the relationship of elements with one another.
Position (float, position)
As an example, after building the Content Structure in HTML, the front-end designer, in a mobile-first approach, will focus on styling individual elements – by their Nature first (usually, width is set at 100%). And then style according to Theme and lastly, as the viewport goes wider, the front-end designer styles the Layout.
An action and a reaction that goes back and forth between entities is interaction.
Here are simple examples of interaction between a user and computer:
you press the power button of your mobile phone and it causes the screen to light up, showing a pass code input screen
you input a pass code and the mobile phone unlocks, showing the home screen
you tap a particular app icon and you are shown its information
It is worth noting that the last item is one of the simplest forms of interaction in web sites and apps – you tap an app icon and it opens or you go to a URL and the web site appears; it presents information and you consume it. Think of link surfing in Wikipedia – you simply activate link after link and consume the information available in the articles.
Of course, added web site or app features provide for more interactions other than purely presenting and digesting information. Take for example 9GAG – instead of textual information, the user could consume textual and visual information, upvote, downvote, comment, and share memes.
Elements of Interaction
The Elements of Interaction aims to categorize the actions of the user while interacting with web sites and apps.
A task is a work done by the user. It is usually direct to the point. For example searching for the keyword “alpaca”. Given that you are already on google.com, this entails inputting the word “alpaca” into the search bar and activating the search button.
An activity is composed of several tasks. For example, contacting the best alpaca coat maker on the internet. Now, apart from doing the task of searching for the keyword “alpaca coat maker”, there are several tasks entailed in this activity such as reviewing the descriptions of top search results, looking for ratings, trying to visit all top five search results, picking the “best” according to your criteria, and finally, getting hold of them thru any communication channel available (contact form, chat, email, or phone).
A behavior is a user’s particular pattern of usage of a web site or app. This particular element of interaction creates a space for special cases that varies from user to user.
From a low-level perspective, a user might have a peculiar way of accomplishing tasks or activities. From the example above, a user’s behavior in searching might be to go directly to the top result by activating the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button.
From a high-level perspective, the user might have a peculiar way of using a web site or app which could be not the main purpose of the web product itself. For example, some users use Instagram only for editing pictures but not posting them to Instagram.
The Elements of Interaction puts the context in Elements of Information Structure. It puts the connections among the objects and components in a user interface based on how users might use the web site or app.
In this post, we will discuss Elements of Information Structure. We’ll use google.com as an example to demonstrate how information is structured in such a way that all its elements are identifiable in singles and in groups.
Elements of Information Structure
Contents of web sites and apps can be called “information” – these are words, phrases, symbols, and any representations of elements that give meaning to the user. All information, to be effective, must be properly structured. Imagine a web site that does not show easily the information the user needs – that web site might need to restructure its information by prioritizing the more important ones or what the users usually need.
An object is a singular element.
Note: Some Objects are generalized like in the Navigation Items above. There are several components there (e.g., Apps, Notifications, Social, and Admin) which are listed generally as “Navigation Items”. Ideally, another illustration could show these interactions but for this post, we won’t go into that level.
A component is a combination of more than one object.
Note: Name is considered a Component due to its HTML markup grouping wherein the Name Component could also contain taglines and other objects related to the name of the web site.
A container is a UI element that contains objects and components. Examples of containers are pages or screens, dialog boxes, pop-overs, and panels to say the least. Container is very useful during interaction because it defines the confinements of the information that will be shown or hidden from the user’s view.
A constructor is a default section in a web site or app. Generally, these three constructors apply to all web products: Masthead, Content, and Colophon. The Masthead contains the name of the web product, the main navigation and search functionality; the Content, well, contains the main content; the Colophon contains additional information of the web product.
One example of a sub-constructor is a sidebar which attaches to any of the three constructors. Sidebars are denoted by the HTML tag <aside>. It contains and supplementary information, widgets, and plug-ins.
A view is an instance of the web site or app. Usually this is also the name of the current page or screen container the user is in. It basically answers, “What page or screen is the user currently viewing?”
Each red label in the illustrations above can be used as official names of the objects and components. Team members working on the same project will now have a standard name for components and this could lessen the confusion when referring to the said components.