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The words that a user sees on your application's menus and labelsare often as important as the code that drives the application. Using thewrong word, or a term that is ambiguous or hard to understand, can oftenmake the difference between an application that is easy and fun to use, andone that is just plain irritating. This article discusses the importance ofinterface text and offers tips and advice to help you create clear, usableand easily comprehensible text for your application's user interface.

  1. The Importance Of Interface Text (part 1)
  2. Form Versus Function
  3. The First Date
  4. Cheat Sheet
  5. Matching It All Up
By: Deepa L, (c) Melonfire
Rating: starstarstarstarstar / 6
March 19, 2003

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The process for developing all interface text is a largely iterative one, especially since, in real-world situations, there is only progressive understanding of the customer's demands. However, I believe the following ideas on both resource requirements and development process are fairly helpful:
  • At the time of capturing requirements, an effort should be made to acquire a set of internal documentation used or referred to by the users. This would be your best source for the vocabulary the users are familiar with.
  • Usually, a discussion of the manual processes that the application is supposed to automate or replace is done at the time of capturing requirements, and is a part of the requirements specification. Study this comparison to figure out which tasks/actions are going to change and how. Once you have ascertained this, you need to figure out how to word the changed tasks/actions so as to retain association for the users in the application.
  • Understand user profiles, especially the types of applications they have been working with in the past. This will give you a great idea of the terminology and jargon they are already familiar with.
  • The initiation of the interface development process is when the interface design team is asked to deliver an interface template for the prototype. This comprises:
    1. A template for the different kinds of screens in the application - the search screens, the forms, the confirmation screens, the configuration screens, and so on.
    2. Samples of buttons and control bars to be used across the interface.
    3. Fonts and decisions regarding the styling of the interface - typeface options, font sizes and colors to be used.
While developing the template for each kind of screen, the interface designers may pick up the most important ones and develop them fully, complete with control buttons, user input boxes and field labels. This, obviously, requires the interface text pertaining to those particular screens to be delivered in full prior to prototype completion.

The essential thing before you get down to making any deliveries, however "prototype" they may be, is to get your arms around the conventions to be followed for your interface text. The attempt should be to deliver something that is as well-cooked as possible, so as to exemplify in detail how the rest of the text is to be developed. Once this is done, developing the rest of the product will be streamlined and hassle-free.

Also, since the prototype is something the customer normally takes an interest in, this is a great opportunity to get feedback on the interface text - so again, the more refined the deliverable, the more real the feedback. Otherwise, whatever you deliver in the first shot is probably what you - and your users - will live with for a long, long time.

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