A widget-based interface – What makes the difference?

There’s nothing new in a widget-based interface. The need of having a lot of information at a glance, in one single screen following a Dashboard pattern has been a frequent demand and a solution that we can see form many providers. So, what makes the difference?

The metaphor of a widget is translated in different systems sometimes as a small display area showing updated-information and other times as quick access to a specific application. Although we could absolutely ignore the important gaps between these two approaches, the key factors that are common and creates the most important distinction between widget-based interfaces in Healthcare are the Information Design, the Visual Design, and the Interaction Design.

The overall usability and utility in healthcare applications currently relies in the features, the performance, and the efficiency – as any other productivity tool – and is letting the User Experience (UX) aside. Understanding the most common misconceptions about this discipline, the UX has to recover its position, not to be the brightest star, but to be the leading one. In this sense, widgets – as part of a solution – are the interaction and meeting points between the user and the system, and they have to be designed to contribute to the global UX at the same time that cares about the user needs in a specific context.

Some example of solutions that make use of widgets can be found in the website Healthcare Scene (examples 1, 2, 3). I’ll let the readership to judge the real difference among them. I encourage you to pay attention to two elements: a widget (one single widget) and the ‘desktop’/screen as whole.

Is the Widget the right metaphor?

Is this the discussion? Maybe not. Widgets are a flexible and powerfully component. However, looking the design approach of Windows 8 Tile/Live Tile, I’m afraid that the simplification of a complex requirement into a read-only and low-interactive display areas is still beating the challenge of creating a full-productive tool for clinicians; the no-ui conversation is also present. However, I strongly believe that widgets is a perfect solution not for product requirements but also for user needs, and as said above, we only need to put special attention to the visual design of the UI components to get an elegant distinction, to the interactions with widgets to empower users and the right design of the information displayed in the widget content to let them make the right decisions.

…And do not forget it: may the technology be with you.