User friendliness and intuitiveness are the kinds of qualities that rank highly in the design of an application’s user interface, yet time and again I’m frustrated to discover various applications and web forms, the creators of which seem to have not been able to keep their creativity under control; there is a line, after all, between creativity and usability that one should refrain from crossing when designing an interface.
Let’s use as an example a web page where a user can customize some sort of profile. A basic necessity is making clear what a user can and cannot click on. Usually, if there is an option that the user can click on, it will take the form of either a button or a link which can be told apart from regular text by being underlined or distinctly colored and causing the mouse cursor to change. Some web forms, however, will go against this by employing something that acts like a button but doesn’t look like a button. The result: confused users. “Where do I click to sign out? Oh, I guess it’s that little picture of a door that’s tucked away in the corner and isn’t properly distinguished from the background of the page, but depresses once I click on it.”
Creative developers, I can hear you all the way through the Internet. “But it’s fun to design and code my own customized version of a button. Surely, the added creativity will be appreciated by my users.” Not always. You could have the coolest custom forms, but if they’re not intuitive, they will just annoy people. A fancy, button-like object may differentiate your website from others and be fun to create, but it’s not worth sacrificing usability. That’s not to say that creativity in interface design is bad. In fact, it’s necessary, but it must be carefully balanced with clarity and user-friendliness.