Application Design

Mission Critical Design – When Seconds Really Matter

By May 29, 2015 December 18th, 2017 No Comments

Great user-centered design is important for every transaction — not just in life or death situations.

Emergency response call centers, military installations, and operating rooms all require mission critical interface designs because seconds really do matter. While we know how to design for clients in these industries, the same level of attention to detail can also move the needle for your business.

Customers should arrive at your site or application and quickly understand where to go for the information and features they want. Most UX designers know that to do a good job of user-centered design, we need to include end users in the process to validate. Even though you might not have the time, budget or expertise to do a complete job, the process usually includes user research, information architecture, interaction design, and usability testing to create a mission critical design.

User Research

Medical students accelerate learning by observing patients in clinical settings to gain practical knowledge and insights they don’t get elsewhere; this is required before they are ‘hands-on.” Web and application user research often includes observing how users move through their daily tasks with the tools, software, and websites they use in their office environment (as well as your application) to provide insights into your design requirements. Conducting this research objectively and collecting results in a way that designers can use it in a timely manner requires skill and patience. It’s not all about you, so keep quiet!

Research can also build rapport with your customers and show them that you care about their business. Watch how your users navigate with keyboard, mouse and on touch screens and take noteof any instances where they move back to a previous screen or menu without finding what they’re looking for and what they say when this happens. This signals that specific elements of the interface may be confusing or laid out poorly. For your design team, this specific research can be used to create a better user interface and improve your application user experience.

Leverage Design Patterns

Using consistent layout, visual cues, familiar labels and symbols, button styles and controls, similar colors, icons and hierarchical structures can help make your interface more intuitive and easy to navigate.

If you’re looking for the home screen on a smartphone, you instinctively know to press the button in the center at the bottom of the device. It doesn’t matter if you’re using an Android or an iPhone; the button for the main menu is in approximately the same location for both platforms. This is because so many phones have previously placed their menu buttons in this general area that it has become a standard design element.

Similarly, you know to look for the power button on your laptop along the area just above the keyboard but below the screen. When you buy a new computer, it will only take you a few seconds to familiarize yourself with the new layout because many elements of the design will be determined by standards derived from user research.

Interaction Design

This is the mechanics of how a user views stuff and does stuff. Should it be a multi-select pull-down menu or a carousel? Do we optimize for phone and tablet users with robust gestural design (e.g.: swiping, touch and hold, double tap, etc.)? Clear delivery of information saves time and reduces frustration. Using intuitive interface mechanics and messaging increases efficiency and overall ease of use. Clear labels, easy selection methods, and success messages speed up transactions.

It’s important to consider the interaction a user will have with your website or application so you can place the appropriate design elements in the most intuitive place. Mapping out the interaction expected of a user allows developers to place information and tools in the correct location for each interaction.

Usability Testing

Validating your design with users before you invest in development and “final” QA is a good idea. Research, planning, and design are only the beginning. Even after the first version of an interface is created, there may be some tweaking to be done. Usability testing with representative audiences helps identify elements that should be changed, re-positioned or adjusted in order to improve the user experience.

While user validation is an ongoing process that helps a website or application evolve over time as user behavior changes, any new design should include a few rounds of usability testing from the beginning. This will help make a good design better and increase user acceptance.


When seconds really matter, it’s important to have your design carefully thought out and tested. After user research, thoughtful interaction design, and usability testing can an interface achieve mission critical design for repeatable results. We would all like to say that our website or application is laid out in the most intuitive way for users to navigate quickly and find what they need in less time, but it’s more valuable when it actually is.