The Importance Of Interface Text (part 2)
See examples of interface text for menus, windows, buttons, fields and application messages, and find out how to internationalize your application
| A Matter Of Principle |
Having set the tone (in the previous segment of this article) for using
domain knowledge to its utmost for the interface text, we now come to
certain accepted principles to be able to develop intuitive and indicative
While there are certain characteristics for each of the interface text
components, the following are basic guidelines to be followed at all times:
1. Conform to norms: There is usually never a need to reinvent the wheel when defining interface labels or commands - many common interface elements already have accepted nomenclature, and using it reduces the users' learning curve drastically.
2. Be consistent: 'Tis said that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds...but when it comes to interface text, consistency is critical to the user experience. Consistency here includes consistency in:
* Naming conventions - for example, if your screen titles are prefixed with
the action they enable ("Edit Address"), ensure that all screens are titled
in that manner.
* Usage - if you use "Done" or "Save" to denote submission, do not shift to
"Submit" in some screens.
* Tone - if the tone of your instructional text is direct but formal, do
not shift to using exclamatory and "Yes, you've got it right!"-type
* Font - decide the styles to be used for denoting titles, labels, messages
and instructional text and use them consistently.
3. Mind your caps: Capitalization may be of two kinds, title case and sentence case. In title case, each word starts with a capital letter, except for prepositions and words smaller than four characters. In sentence case, the first word and proper nouns start with capitals. The norm is to use title case for labels and titles, and sentence case for instructional text and messages.
4. Be pithy: Each piece of text should be aimed at giving the user that amount of information that is necessary - not more, and not less. For titles and labels, limit yourself to three words, whereas for messages and instructional text, staccato one-liners or even fragments of sentences will suffice.
Similarly, the messages need to be crisp. Instead of "Your attempt to save
the address has failed. Would you like to try again?", you can also say
"Save attempt failed. Try again?"
Of course, don't take it to extremes - the old DOS-style "Abort? Failure?
Retry?" would be pushing it a bit.
5. Be sensitive to language: Try to avoid getting caught up in programming lingo. It is easy to get caught up in what the system does at the back-end, and to try and bring that out in the interface text. For example, on a search screen, if the user needs to select a parameter that the database will parse or filter against, do not label the field "Select Search Filter", since the term "filter" may not be very intuitive to a lay user.
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