Physical Design

Learn the basics of an interface's physical design.


We studied human cognitive processes, i.e. perception, thinking, and memory, at the very beginning of this course. All these concepts need to be kept in mind while designing a physical model. The details of our design must not conflict with those human cognitive processes. For example, the interface should have all possible operations listed on the screen so the user doesn’t have to remember them all.

All the principles and rules that we have learned must be kept in mind when designing the details. They serve as a good source of information to help the designers design usable products. Let’s discuss some aspects of physical design.

Interface widgets

We use interface widgets to display information. These widgets may include menus, icons, dialog boxes, input fields, toolbars, etc. The design and use of these widgets are commonly documented by a style guide. Style guides determine how the interface should look and feel. There are two types of style guides: commercial-style guideCommercially produced like a Windows style guide and corporate-style guideInternally produced in a company. For example, all Windows products have almost the same look and feel to them. In this lesson, we are going to study a few main widgets in depth.

Menu design

We have already familiarized you with how menus are used, their types, and grouping. In order to see how the process of designing a menu proceeds, let’s consider the shared calendar example again. Requirement gathering for this application revealed some user functions to include such as making a calendar entry, adding contact details, finding other people’s schedules, and arranging a meeting among two or more people.

  • The main task of making an entry has a number of actions associated with it such as add, edit, move, and delete an entry. Adding contact details also has some associated tasks such as add, edit, and delete details.
  • The most suitable menu grouping, in this case, is logical grouping. First, we create menu options of all the main tasks, and then we group all associated tasks under their respective option.
  • After evaluating this prototype, we realize that neither arranging a meeting nor searching other people’s schedules have a subtask, nor do they fit in other group options. Therefore, these can better be represented as options in the toolbar rather than menu options. See the slides down below for a better understanding.

Get hands-on with 1200+ tech skills courses.