Understanding the technology framework for building your product’s user interface

If you are designing the user interface for an application, you will likely begin with rough conceptual sketches, but at a certain point, in order to create detailed designs and high-fidelity prototypes, you will need to know what software framework or technology will be used for building the user interface.

The user interface framework will provide user interface controls or “widgets” — buttons, text fields, drop-down boxes, and so on. Knowing what set of controls you have to work with and what they look like is obviously important for design and prototyping. For the purposes of visual design, it is also good to know the degree to which the look-and-feel of the controls can be adjusted and customized, and what mechanisms are used for managing the page layout.

The technology framework that will be used for implementing the user interface can impose constraints on your designs. In particular, different web application frameworks can vary widely in their capabilities. For instance, some frameworks offer the ability to present modal popup dialogs, while others do not; older frameworks may not support partial page refreshes, requiring entire pages to be reloaded to show new data. The Oracle ADF framework, as of the current writing, does not offer any means for disabling or hiding options in pull-down menus.

If the framework chosen for your product has limitations, you will need to be aware of them and find ways to work around them — but these workarounds can often impact usability. If the problems are serious enough, you may need to reconsider the choice of framework, and it’s better to discover and decide this early on in the project, rather than later, after most of the product has already been built. Thus getting a good understanding the framework and its capabilities and limitations is a critical early step in user interface design.

In some projects, UX designers may have some input into which user interface framework will be chosen for the project. But in most projects, technical architects choose the technology stack — the set of frameworks that will be used to develop the software, including the user interface layer — based on technical considerations, cost analyses, political factors, and sometimes, personal preference. The UX designer, who is typically brought in at a later stage in the project, is then left to design interfaces that are implementable with the chosen technology.

The choice of user interface framework should be decided upon careful consideration of the requirements, or at least the best known understanding of the requirements at the early stage of the project, and ideally a user experience designer should be involved in determining those requirements.

This entry was posted in Office Politics, Requirements Engineering, Uncategorized, Usability, User Experience Design, Visual Design. Bookmark the permalink.

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