The simplest way to define UX is as the overall experience a user has when interacting with a product, system or service. This experience covers the entire user journey, including before, during, and after using the product. It encompasses perceptions, emotions, and changes in attitude that a user undergoes at each stage.
So, how can we ensure the best possible user experience?
The answer lies in making user interactions seamless, without requiring users to second-guess themselves. In today’s fast-paced world, asking for patience is too tall an order. Everything must be accomplished within seconds, and it must be intuitive.
So, What Exactly is Intuitive Design?
You can say that intuitive design is an approach that leverages users’ instincts and prior knowledge to create familiar and easy-to-use interfaces. It draws from established design principles to build a sense of familiarity, thereby enhancing user navigation and interaction. The more familiar a design feels, the easier it becomes for users to navigate.
The Subjectivity of Intuition
However, there are challenges associated with the concept of ‘intuitiveness’ in design. The first challenge is its subjective nature. What seems intuitive to you may not be intuitive for the client you’re working for, and for their customers it may be a whole different thing. This subjectivity becomes even more apparent when considering different target audiences, each possessing varying levels of familiarity with specific design patterns or mental models. Therefore, when crafting a design, we must carefully consider our specific user base, conduct thorough user testing and research and, based on this information, strive to deliver the best possible user experience.
Is There Room for Innovation?
The second challenge in prioritizing intuitiveness, familiarity and adhering to established mental models is that it practically impedes innovation.
If everything is solely grounded in past experiences, where does innovation fit in? For example, what do you do when a client asks for something superior to the competition, but rejects your solution as “not intuitive?”
The answer may lie in subtlety. Clients typically seek interfaces with only marginal differences, yet these minor changes must somehow bring about significant improvements. If you’re lucky, the original design will have a major flaw or two that you can identify and rectify, making your task relatively straightforward. However, if luck is not on your side, you may find yourself at the mercy of your clients’ spontaneous “Eureka!” moments and their unique interpretations of intuitiveness.
Is “Intuitive” the Right Term?
Let’s delve into a bit of philosophy here. Does “intuitive” truly capture what we attribute to it?
After all, intuition is also that gut feeling you have when your child is late coming home from a night out. Fortunately, it’s usually neither accurate nor based on past experiences.
The first time any of us encountered a new design, we likely clicked and clicked until we figured out how to achieve what we were trying to do.
Take, for example, the use of a computer mouse, often described as “intuitive”. Back in the day, many people, when handed a mouse without instructions, lifted it in the air when they wanted to move the cursor upwards. It was only through experience that they realized the mouse should be used on a surface.
So, in reality, all this time we were saying “intuitive” and what we actually meant was “familiar”.
So, how can you balance innovation with user-friendliness? How can we prioritize innovation when even conventional wisdom suggests otherwise?
Experienced developers know that it all boils down to taking a user-centric approach, welcoming feedback, and finding the right balance between familiarity and innovation. Meeting user expectations while pushing the boundaries of improvement is key.
As a designer, you have a challenging task ahead. You must thoroughly understand your target audience, conduct usability tests, and gather user feedback to craft designs that are user-friendly.
While staying true to familiar mental models increases UX satisfaction, there should also be room for subtle, clever innovations that gradually expand the boundaries and improve your product’s overall quality.