If you see two user experience designers talking to each other, the topic of discussion would most probably be revolving around "intuitive user interface". For any design project these days, the foremost criteria is probably on how to make it intuitive. In fact, intuitive has become the most common adjective of the user interface.
Given this, it is reasonable to ask what it means for a UI to be intuitive. Although every other designer uses this term, it’s hard to find a specific and meaningful explanation that defines intuitive UI properly.
In this post I will try to shed some light on the hidden facets of intuitive user interface.
A user interface can be called intuitive when users understand its behavior and effect without the use of reason, experimentation, assistance, or special training.
For example, if something looks like a button, we know that if we click on it, it will prompt some action. Similarly, if there is a link, we know that clicking it will result in either opening another web page or take to a different site.
However, if we come across a UI, which is not only difficult to navigate, but also contains triggers that sound unfamiliar to us, then that UI is possibly non-intuitive.
Imagine that you are looking to buy a luxury car. You head to a showroom. The salesperson takes you to the car, and you take a step forward to get in it while admiring its beauty. Just as you try to open the door handle, you realize that there is no door handle and instead of admiring the car, now your primary focus is figuring out how to get into the car.
A non-intuitive design is similar to this scenario in that it obstructs the focus of the user with an unfamiliar situation, with no obvious solution. When it comes to website design, the design is intuitive as long as the user is able to complete the task without any interruption. On the other hand, unintuitive design shifts the focus of users to elements that are not related to their task.
Now that we have a little understanding of what intuitive really means, let us go through the different aspects of creating a familiar and intuitive UI.
Creating a Familiar and Intuitive UI
It is a known fact that humans always correlate things in the virtual world to those of the physical world. When it comes to a web interface, they always look for patterns in order to understand how certain things work.
This is something that UX designers could leverage upon — the human tendency to seek patterns.
1. Don’t Reinvent Patterns
Usually, we do not like changes to common patterns. For example, a Windows user may find it awkward, after moving to OS X, that the Minimize, Maximize and Close buttons are on the left side, of the window. The same is true vice versa.
We are accustomed to certain patterns, and moving away from these patterns is just not user-friendly.
2. Be Consistent
One cannot focus enough on the aspect of consistency when it comes to creating an intuitive design. While designing a website, there is a need to have consistency between pages.
There is an expectation of how things on a website works, and if those things change from one page to another, it doesn’t only create confusion, but also frustration.
Flipping between using a top navigation bar for one page while using a sidebar with navigation links on another page is an example of how to cause needless distractions and frustration that will ultimately drive your visitors away.
Even a small decision like lacking the discipline to be consistent with the position of navigation bars is crucial in making your site design intutive.
3. Ensure Minimal Steps are Required for a Task
Nobody wants to spend a whole minute to create an account. This is why you need to streamline the signup process and ensure minimal steps. Simplification and the reduction of redundant steps are key to retaining and converting visitors.
This is one of the most critical aspects of an intuitive UI. The fact remains that it is difficult to create a universal UI. While for some users your UI might be intuitive, there might be others who would disagree.
To counteract the latter, you can incorporate tooltips or integrated help messages that would guide users how the website works.
It is a seamless way of offering help while someone is actually using your website. This doesn’t only saves them time, but also makes the entire user experience more pleasant, less confusing and more effective.
The way the adage goes is that if you give the customer time to think, they will most probably not buy. The same holds true when it comes to website design. If a page takes "too long" to load, then there is a huge possibility that the user will won’t wait it out and will just move to another website.
This is why, when it comes to heavy web pages, it is always advised to display a part of the content or a loading bar to keep users on the page.
In the end, the fact remains that a website that is difficult to figure out or has several distractions will never become intuitive. Other than keeping an eye out for usual design issues like picking the right color scheme, or the perfect content structure, you also need to ensure that your design is intuitive.
User experience is often mistaken as visual appeal; in fact that’s only one part of it. The other significant factor is how well your product gets adopted by users. If you fail to effectively offer an intuitive UI that is easy to understand and can help complete intended tasks, then your visitors will probably move to a competing product that does.
Editor’s note: This post is written by Manish Bhalla for Hongkiat.com. Manish is the founder and CEO of FATbit Technologies, a web agency that builds cutting-edge ecommerce solutions for startups. Manish counsels businesses on technology, online marketing tactics and help startups formulate the right strategy for their individual needs.