What is Intuitive User Interface Design?
Have you every tried to use a website and just can’t seem to find what you’re looking for? We’re creatures of habit, and accustomed to scanning from left to right, and top to bottom. A website that breaks those rules generally frustrates a user. At Rocket Pop, we’re also impatient by nature, and like to get to the heart of things in as few steps as possible.
For these reasons, we build websites following the principles of Intuitive User Interface Design.
In a nutshell, intuitive design is simply a design that’s easy to use. An individual can associate with it, and immediately benefit from the interaction without having to consciously think about how to use it. The tricky part is that most all designs will not be intuitive to everyone. Designers must use careful consideration on specifically who will be interacting with the interface so they can be sympathetic to the expectations of that targeted end user.
The IUUI (Intuitive Use of User Interfaces) argues that this intuition is not a feature of the design, rather, intuitive use is a characteristic of the interaction process between a specific user and the design. Therefore, intuitive design is pretty much invisible to the user.
For example, someone interested in travel might visit airbnb.com to look for a place to stay while out of town. If designed properly, the website should:
(a) Have an interface that’s easy to understand upon the user’s first visit to the site. The user should be able to move through the sequence of actions to book a stay quickly.
(b) The user shouldn’t have to think about how to reach their goal when using the site. Good design will guide the user through the path of least resistance in order to achieve their objective.
(c) The user should be able to easily remember how to use/navigate the website on future visits. Well executed design allows a user to reserve lodging again just as easily as the first time.
So, what are a few things that can be done to create interfaces that are intuitive?
Well, a portion of intuitive design is based on habituation. When we interact with something day-in, day-out, we get used to it. Human-computer interaction, or HCI, is no different. Design in this area leans on those previous encounters, which means a good design should only ask the user no more than what they already know. In this case, a use of tried and tested patterns makes usability predictable and allows the user to understand all available actions.
For example, it’s a common pattern to place a businesses logo in the upper left hand corner of a website’s header. This positioning serves as a landmark that lets the user know what website they are visiting. Place the logo anywhere else, aside from front and center, and the user will have to consciously scan the site for it.
Another aspect of intuitive design is the use of familiar cues and visual aids. These elements help the user navigate through a product with minimal effort. When on YouTube, or anywhere else on the internet, what do you press to start a video? What button do you press to pause the video? Are both buttons in the same location? Do you have to search to find one or both of them?
Any video interface online places the play/pause button in the bottom left corner, every single time. That right-facing triangle is a familiar object to pretty much everyone on the planet and so are the two vertical lines that make up the pause button. Humans instinctively know what to do and where to look.
A website or system, by design, should be aesthetically clean and efficient. Even so, humans often make mistakes when using a website or an application. This is why a clearly marked “emergency exit” is incredibly important to include in design. It makes the user feel in control by providing a way out of an unwanted situation without having to go through a series of steps. Make these exits easily discoverable by placing them in expected locations (habituation) and use familiar icons (familiar cues and visual aids). For example, if the user is presented with a pop-up and wants to close it, they typically look for an “X” in the upper righthand corner of the overlay. If this “exit” is placed in a different location, then the user has to think/search for it.
Of course, there are several other ways to improve the intuitive nature of an interface . What I’ve noted above are just a few examples. For more information, I encourage you to read Jakob Neilsen’s “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design”.