When faced with a blank canvas, it’s tempting to pick up a brush and just start painting. That is, unless the canvas is Airtable, and you’re building an interface for someone else to use. Then you’ll want to think carefully about who that person is, and how you want them to use the interface.
In a recent Table Talk (Airtable’s weekly livestream), our host Aron Korenblit sat down with some of the creative and developmental forces behind Interface Designer—including one of chief product designers, Emily Sermons—to dive deeper into the product. Below are Emily’s best practices for tailoring an interface to your users’ needs.
1. Start with two guiding questions
Before you jump into Interface Designer, ask yourself two important questions:
1. Who am I building an interface for?
2. What do they need to do with the interface?
"Keeping these in mind throughout the building process will help you make really good decisions along the way," Emily said.
Your answers to these questions will guide how you build your interface, from choosing a layout to adding and arranging your elements.
For instance, if your audience is a designer who needs to approve digital assets, you might want an interactive interface that facilitates inline edits and feedback. If you’re creating for a C-level executive, on the other hand, you’re likely providing them with an overview of things like company-wide goal progress, or product launch updates.
2. Pick an interface layout to support your workflow
Interface layouts are essentially templates that connect directly to the data in your base, each of which has been optimized for specific workflows.
There are currently four layouts available:
- Record review: A layout for when you need to skim through multiple records (like triaging data or approving work)
- Record summary: A more narrative-driven layout optimized for when you need to focus on one specific record at a time
- Dashboard: An overview for individuals who need to relay a lot of high-level information (like feature roadmaps or OKR reporting)
- Blank: A blank canvas for those who have a clear idea of the specific workflow they want to customize
Record review is an ideal layout for the designer we previously mentioned, because it allows them to parse through several records and take specific actions on each one. Dashboard is the right choice for reporting on metrics to org leaders. If you know exactly who you’re creating an interface for and how you want them to interact with it, choosing a layout is a cinch.
3. Use “elements” to give your interface hierarchy
Elements are building blocks you can drag-and-drop to fill in your interface, and the way you lay them out is more important than you’d think. When you organize data with elements, you’re letting users know where to focus and how they should interact with the information.
"We were really intentional about that idea of hierarchy when we were building Interface Designer," Emily said. "We came up with all of these different mechanisms and levers you can pull to create that hierarchy on the page."
Here are some ways you can use elements to help people navigate your interface:
- Group similar elements together: Show users what information goes together by grouping things spatially. Consider putting related elements side by side in columns, split up sections with the divider element, or give similar elements the same background color.
- Give emphasis to specific fields: Let people know where to focus by displaying your records in visual, digestible ways. Create a chart, lay things out on a timeline, or drop in a grid.
- Use text to guide users through the interface: Provide context for your more visual elements with text. Use the text element to create titles, share calls-to-action (CTAs), and don’t be afraid to use an emoji to give your interface some style—anything to help orient users.
Keep these best practices in mind the next time you head into Interface Designer to make sure your interface suits your users’ needs—and gets them to do what they need to do.