Human interface guidelines

Human interface guidelines

Human interface guidelines (HIG) are software development documents which offer application developers a set of recommendations. Their aim is to improve the experience for the users by making application interfaces more intuitive, learnable, and consistent. Most guides limit themselves to defining a common look and feel for applications in a particular desktop environment. The guides enumerate specific policies. Policies are sometimes based on studies of human-computer interaction (so called usability studies), but most are based on arbitrary conventions chosen by the platform developers.

Human interface guidelines will dictate a set of rules for general usability. They often describe the visual design rules, including icon and window design and style. Frequently they specify how user input and interaction mechanisms work. Some describe the language style.

A HIG will sometimes also define standard terminology and semantics related to certain elements or actions. In general this is restricted to the semantics of the desktop environment or the file system. As the majority of user problems come from the semantics of the applications, this is a drawback to most HIGs.

The more important version of HIGs are those done for groups or applications. In this case the HIG will build on a platform HIG by adding the common semantics for a range of functions.

The central aim of a HIG is to create a consistent experience across the environment (generally an operating system or desktop environment), including the applications and other tools being used. This means both applying the same visual design and creating consistent access to and behaviour of common elements of the interface - from simple ones such as buttons and icons up to more complex constructions, such as dialog boxes.

HIGs should be taken at face value; their recommendations and advice are meant to help developers create better applications, but developers are naturally free to break them if they think that the guidelines do not fit their application. The only repercussion for doing so may be that the organisation publishing the HIG does not give the application its blessing. Mozilla Firefox's user interface, for example, goes against the GNOME project's HIG, which is one of the main arguments for including Epiphany instead of Firefox in the GNOME distribution. But such departures should only be taken when there is evidence from usability testing that the interface is improved. Fact|date=August 2008

Cross-platform guidelines

In contrast to platform-specific guidelines, cross-platform guidelines aren't tied to a distinct platform. These guidelines make recommendations which should be true on any platform. Since this isn't always possible, cross-platform guidelines may weigh the compliance against the imposed work load.

Examples of HIG

* [http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/Aa511258.aspx Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines]
* [http://developer.apple.com/documentation/UserExperience/index.html Apple Human Interface Guidelines]
* Guidelines for the GNU/Linux platform:
** [http://developer.gnome.org/projects/gup/hig/ GNOME Human Interface Guidelines]
** [http://usability.kde.org/hig/ KDE Human Interface Guidelines]
** [http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Human_Interface_Guidelines OLPC Human Interface Guidelines] OLPC
* [http://www.indiehig.com/wiki/ Indie HIG]
* ELMER (guidelines for public forms on the internet)
* [http://java.sun.com/products/jlf/ed2/book/index.html Java Look and Feel Design Guidelines]
** [http://java.sun.com/products/jlf/at/book/index.html Java Look and Feel Design Guidelines: Advanced Topics]
* wyoGuide, a cross-platform HIG
* [http://wiki.eclipse.org/User_Interface_Guidelines Eclipse User Interface Guidelines]

See also

* User interface
* Usability
* Common User Access


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