Interface is a link between the user and software. Modern desktop and web applications that lack user-friendly interfaces can be hardly competitive. Indeed, a solution’s functionalities are top priority, but nobody wants to spend months on investigating and mastering new tools. The simpler the working process is, the better.
Syntax is a part of grammar that studies the way parts of speech are arranged in sentences and other linguistic units. If syntax is free from excessive elements, the text is easy to comprehend. This approach applies to texts in application interfaces as well.
What is interface syntax and how does it help to create efficient text for UI?
Interface is the way of communication between software and the user. This is a language and if you break its syntax, it will complicate the comprehension and make the interface inefficient.
Interface syntax is a complex of principles that allow to create handy interfaces with intuitive elements. Artem Gorbunov’s design studio developed this approach; however, it is not a common standard. The main idea is that you can transform any part of the interface into a sentence with a subject and a predicate. Subject is an item that makes an action or with which an action is made. A predicate represents an action. For instance, the title “Message” in the message sending form is a subject; the button “Send” is a predicate.
Interface is a form, while the result of the interaction with it is a meaningful sentence or a text.
Users interact with a form to fulfill a specific task. If the form of the interface is a text, and the form’s elements are parts of sentence, then editing is an integral part of the development process. Designers need to create an environment that is easy to work with. The principles of interface syntax are here to help choose proper elements and provide them with clear notes.
The element’s function defines its type, role in a sentence, and the part of speech. If the element’s function is running the command, the button is a likely choice. In this case the button serves as a predicate. There can be numerous element variations, but developers should remember the main principle of interface syntax – the result of the interaction is a sentence that informs about the user’s actions and the corresponding results. Here are some examples of functions and elements:
|Element type||Function||Part of sentence||Part of speech|
|Icon||Application launch||Subject|| |
|Button||Status change||Predicate|| |
Noun, adjectiveSpam, Favorite
|Running the command||Predicate|| |
|Checkbox||Property selection||Definitive|| |
Noun, adjective, adverbColor: - Green - Red
AnyMain page, Contacts
How does it work?
Elements cohere in interfaces in a similar way as parts of speech concord in sentences. The “What to perform in case of a conflict?” title somewhere in the settings menu is a question to the user. It means that this user should select a particular action. The answer to such a question is an infinitive, so options like “save” and “redefine” make sense. On the contrary, it is easy to make the readability of interface worse by providing nouns “saving” or “redefining”.
If a question is put, make sure there is a way to give a consistent answer.
Avoid duplications, as they complicate the interface reading. Let’s say that the emailing service’s filter creation form’s title contains only one word “Filter”. There is no necessity to write “Filter creation” since such a form implies the “Create” button at the end. However, designers must pay attention to the peculiarities of a particular form – if it is rather big and it does not fit in a single screen, the duplication might be a suitable solution. Such option allows users to see a reminder right away, so they do not need to scroll all the way up. The button gives both the clue and the information.
Bear in mind the conditions of the interface usage. They define how brief or detailed the text should be.
Companies tend to use their custom standards for coding conventions and documentation style. There are no strict rules that limit these ways of creating notes or tooltips, so similar control elements in different apps vary. For example, many users take ellipses in button names as means of transiting to the successive menu rather than instantly sending and invoking a command. The printing button in Word 2016 does not have ellipses, while the similar element in the graphic editor GIMP does. “Print” and “Print…” in both cases open the menu with print settings and printer selection, instead of sending an undefined format to a random printer. None of these options is incorrect – the developers were guided by different standard.
The “Print” button in other Microsoft products does not have ellipses as well due to the consistency ensured by following the standards. It is important for specialists to stick to the interface syntax rules adopted in the company.
The set of rules allows to take advantage of the approved standards and avoid wasting time on decision making. The style of UI texts is unified, so users do not wonder why the same functions were named differently.
The interface syntax is not a firm set of rules. This is a complex of principles for creating handy work environments. A unified look and feel, the absence of ambiguity, and clear texts make it possible to explore the software functionalities faster. Get rid of interface complexities to help users master new tools.