The standards and trends we tap into today haven’t always been standards; they were once innovative user interfaces. Consider the introduction of windowing, the introduction of a pointing device, to the introduction of mega-menus, breadcrumbs, and reductive filtering – all considered innovative and dangerous. Why did these conventions become so ubiquitous, while other interfaces fell to the wayside? Intuitiveness.
I’m a firm believer that the most intuitive interfaces and user experiences eventually become standard & ubiquitous. If a user can understand your UI within 5 mins of interacting with it, there’s a good chance it’s intuitive enough to catch on.
I’ve been working in the advertising/ marketing field for a while & have a unique perspective on innovation & intuition: Many clients equate intuitive interfaces as being proven, while equating innovative interfaces as being risky. This is a generalization, not all clients (marketers) think that way; some reward innovative thinking with bigger budgets. The clients that consider innovative interfaces as being risky are often misunderstood; they’re often considered difficult, or less appreciative of innovative thinking. This is generally not true. Many risk-adverse clients just want to be assured that an innovative interface will work. Convincing a client that an innovative interface works is just a matter of testing. Even if a client isn’t wiling to fork-up the money to pay for testing, you could consider using a ‘labs’ budget to build & refine a prototype and test it on real users. It’s been my experience that the more innovative a user interface is; the higher the fidelity of the prototype required to sell it will be.
Designing for the lazy
In a world where excellence is rarely expected, helping a user achieve his goal quickly often out-weighs helping him optimize his decision making process.
Consider: I want to buy the new Clay Shirky book. I type “cognitive surplus” into Google and find the Amazon link. I get the book detail page and read the description. I’m prompted for a quick 1-click checkout. From Amazon’s perspective, they’ve just sold me a book. But from a decision making standpoint, did I get the book that I really wanted? That depends; what if I wanted a book that talked about the linear nature of the majority of content we consume? If my goal was to get the best book on the linear nature of media & content consumption this book might not fulfill my need. The Amazon interface makes affordances to help users find the book they really want, but the functionality required to do an advanced search is hidden to users who don’t want to interact with it.
Completing interactions perceived as being tasks are often expected to be quick and easy. The more complicated the interaction is perceived as being, the more time a user is generally expecting to take to complete it. This means, if you’re an online bookstore, a user is expecting to have near-instant access to a book summary; quick access to a check-out; and would be willing to spend more time on advanced search & comparison shopping.
Additionally, users often expect elegance and functionality to increase proportionately with the perceived complexity of an interaction. This means that an average person would expect to spend more time completing a complicated interaction, but would expect more elegance or functionality than he would with a less complicated interaction.
As I alluded to above, users value their time above almost anything else. Many users would be willing to skip 30% of the content they require if they can complete a task in 1/2 the time.
The fact of the matter is, most people don’t want to optimize their decision making process. They want to satisfy their current need and move on. This time-saving mentality is what the majority of UX architects & strategists have to consider when creating online experiences.
An understanding of cognitive sciences can help shed light on how to communicate complicated messages through visual cues, audio cues, text and interactions. This will allow users to skim information without missing portions they perceive as being important.
Exploration and discovery have been fundamental user behaviours since the beginning of time. Now that we’re interacting in a virtual space, with virtual tools and virtual people, we’ve adapted how we explore and discover things. The fundamental rule of exploration and discovery still holds true however:
If the risk of interaction outweighs the probable reward, don’t interact with it.
With the invention of the undo & back buttons, users often feel open to interacting with page elements because the worst perceived outcome is that the user might have to hit a button to return to the page he was just viewing. This obviously isn’t true when it comes to user inputs; when a user has spent significant time entering personal information or customizing an input, the user will be reluctant to navigate away from that page without knowing how to retrieve said information. Also, task completing prompts (i.e. submit, buy, upload) often require a greater understanding of “what will happen” prior to engaging.
Most elements that can be interacted with, have some instant feedback built in. For instance, links within a browser usually change the cursor from an arrow to a pointing hand. This feedback indicates that the text can be clicked on; and a user would generally expect to be taken to a different web page. This type of interaction is often built into page elements (i.e. a hover state) but can be effective as element-based work flows (i.e. a quick-purchase button that asks for confirmation and provides a tracking number).
Many users who interact with websites everyday still don’t have enough knowledge to actively explore a content-rich site. Even if the IA of a site was architected exceptionally well, a user lacking confidence could still find it difficult to use. This would likely have to do with perceived risks associated with interacting with extraneous page elements. Understanding this principle is what makes sites like google so popular and user friendly.
Although there are some legitimate examples of malicious activities being carried out by accidentally interacting with page elements, the biggest reason users dislike interacting with elements they’re not confident about, is that it could cost them time. Remember, time savings is at the forefront of many users minds. If interacting with a banner could cause the brewer to crash, it would be better to avoid banners. If scrolling down a page causes my mouse to unintentionally expand a bunch of drop-down lists, it would be better if I didn’t have to.
Stop being chained to conventions. Lets assume 3 things: 1. You know who your user is. 2. You know what you want your user to do, in a prioritized list. 3. You’ve read this article. With these assumptions, you can start doing something important:
STOP FOLLOWING EVERYONE ELSE
This post represents a foundation of understanding user needs & applying cognitive sciences to user experience. With some of the techniques I’ve talked about, you can think about revolutionizing how users interact with your brand online. Remember, before the introduction of the mouse everyone was interested in optimizing keyboard input.
Final thought – If designing for the lazy allows us to access the masses; lets figure out a way to make the lazy even lazier.
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