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    An Analysis of the Three Major Principles of Human Interface Design: User Control, Consistency, and Forgiveness

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    Even if they do not know it, almost every individual utilizes user interface design on a daily basis. It is the oil on which are social and business interactions now run. Human or user interface design is the design of computers, machines, websites, and software applications, drawing focus onto the users interaction with the device. The interaction between humans and computers is currently dominating our society, and it is essential that user interaction is as efficient and as simple as possible. While there are several major principles that go into human interface design, three of the most important and essential principals are user control, consistency, and forgiveness.

    First, control means that users should be able have full control over what they are doing on any given device, while feeling comfortable doing it. The control should be made as easy as possible, and is perhaps the most important principal of human interface design. Second, these same actions should yield and be similar across platforms and devices. This is consistency at its core. Finally, if a system or user error occurs, the user should feel that they should be able to go back effortlessly without any struggle or repercussions. This is ‘forgiveness’ in human interface design. All three of these components work together to bring the best human interface design possible, and each is looked at in more detail below after a brief background of user interface design.


    Many components go into making a well fitting human interface design, and there are many things that can make or break a design such as bugs and a difficult or complicated interface. Today companies go through several different criteria and principles to create the easiest and most efficient user interface design. Specific strategies, such as direct manipulation, which is an implied action that allows users to feel like they are entirely controlling the computer, as well as ‘see and point’ and feedback and communication, where users have the ability to voice their opinion and suggest things, are important components to the principles of user interface design discussed below.

    Components like these have evolved over the years from previous user interface design. While user interface has been a component of system design for years, it was dominated by batch or command-line interface until the 1980s (Green & Petre, 1996). At this time, user interface took on a graphical design component, which has remained one of the most important aspects to this day. In other words, user interface did not always look like it does now, and it has ostensibly come a long way from batch interface.

    In modern user systems, there are more platforms for user interface design than ever before, which are dominated by a graphic, user-friendly design. Now, more than ever, companies have to create a consistent brand that spans across platforms such as cell phones, tablets, as well as computers. There has been a steep learning curve in system design and maintenance, but it takes on increasingly important role as systems becoming an integral part of society, technology, and business. These necessary system changes are reflected in the specific principles of technological business behind human interface design: control, consistency, and forgiveness.

    The Three Components

    User control is one of the most important and major principals in human interface design. It is important that the user initiates and controls actions, and not the computer. As Proctor (2005) says, control “describes how well a product can be used for its intended purpose by its target users with efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction, also taking into account the requirements from its context of use” (p. 48). All three of these factors are paramount to the success of user control.

    Furthermore, the amount of user control should be appropriate for whoever your target audience is. Sometimes applications geared towards audiences tend to sway users towards making certain decisions by offering alternatives deemed good for the user, sometimes to protect their personal information or if they don’t like what they are doing. A flawless app will provide users with the capacity that is needed while guiding them away from making devastating, dangerous, or irreversible action, for example, if a person is about to delete or destroy data, a warning screen is provided so the user must confirm this is what they are intending to do, but allows the user control if that is way they choose. For example, by considering the physical demands of interacting with the web, designers must make a fluid interface to reduce physical strain on users (Proctor &Vu, 2005, p. 51). All of these components of control will leave user satisfied in the long run.

    Another major and important principle of human interface design is product consistency. Consistency allows users to transfer information and skills they have one from app, to another. One of the best companies to look at consistency is Apple. All of their terminology and labels are consistent across all platforms. All concepts all presented in the same way across all of their platforms and the location of these elements is all found in similar places (Hernandez, 2013).

    Apple is constantly displaying consistency and exceeding expectations; they manage to meet the needs of their users in a simple and casual way, so whatever the product is, users always feel comfortable. In other words, an iPhone operates in much the same, intuitive way that an iMac does. Above all, however, the importance of consistency is to enable users across all devices. As Scott Burkin 15 years ago, “Making things look and work the same is pointless if the user can lo longer accomplish their tasks. Consistency is great because people like predictable things. They will feel comfortable when they can rely on different parts of your product to do exactly what they think it will do” (Burkin, 1999, n.p.). This piece of advice has become conventional wisdom in the user interface design world, less than two decades later.

    The final crucial principal in interface design is user forgiveness. By making most actions easily reversible you make users more comfortable and apt to explore the app more. By creating this efficiency you make people feel like they can do things flawlessly without fear of jeopardizing or damaging the system (Risch, 2013, p. 60). It is also helpful to create buttons such as undo or back in case someone does make a decision they need to change back quickly. If a user is in jeopardy of losing or erasing data an alert or safety net should be there to ramify the situation.

    People should feel error-free while using an app, confident that nearly any decision they make can be easily reversed with no pressure. An important aspect of forgiveness is technical support. As Reinecke and Bernstein (2013) say, it is important to “use your messaging as a teachable situation by showing what action was wrong, and ensure that she/he knows how to prevent the error from occurring again” (p. 427). Again, this will ensure user satisfaction in the long run.


    The background of user interface design highlights the fact that there are many components that go into developing and implementing a successful product. However, the above paper shows the most important principles of user interface design. By effectively utilizing user control, product consistency, and user forgiveness, developers and business-owners alike will ensure that their products are successful. Each of these principles addresses a different issue, but utilizes the same framework that the user is the key to system and product design.


    Berkun, Scott. (1999). “How to avoid foolish consistency.” Scott Berkun Blog. Retreived from

    Hernandez, P. (2013). “Apple’s iOS 7: Is it taking a page from microsoft’s design?” E Week, 1. Green, T., & Petre, M. (1996). “Usability analysis of visual programming environments: A ‘cognitive dimensions’ framework.” Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, 7: 131-174.

    Proctor, R.W., & Vu, K.L. (2005). Handbook of human factors in web design. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum Associates.

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    An Analysis of the Three Major Principles of Human Interface Design: User Control, Consistency, and Forgiveness. (2022, Dec 21). Retrieved from

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