We all value what we think of as intuitive design: experiences that just ‘flow’ because they are so easy to understand and use. But how do you ensure an app or website is intuitive to users? It’s not as simple as it sounds.

When we talk about intuitive digital experiences, what we really mean is a familiarity that means we can quickly achieve our goals, because the interface works as we expect it to. Successful digital design creates familiarity by using mental models and patterns that people have seen before. Anyone who habitually goes online recognises that when they arrive on a webpage, three short horizontal lines at the top left or top right will open out into a menu. A Union Jack in a similar position indicates we’re on the UK site, using English, while clicking on a brand logo will take you back to the homepage. A circle with a head-and-shoulders within it is going to lead to an account log-in or sign-up, and if we do so, that icon may be populated with our own photo. 

Those of us who spend our lives online instinctively ‘know’ all of this, it’s become so natural that we don’t even think about it and the mental effort or cognitive load involved is low. Web designers use these familiar mental models to make life easier as we cruise around the internet. But someone who’d never been online before wouldn’t find it so easy, they would have to ‘learn’ these concepts before they could have something that felt like an effortless experience. It’s always worth remembering this simple fact, because sooner or later a project may come up where the shortcuts might not be so simple for a significant part of the audience. During the pandemic for example, some elderly people were using the internet for the first time – or more commonly, starting to use it for things like banking and shopping, whereas before they may have only used it for keeping in touch with friends and family. 

There are things we can do to make life easier for new users who aren’t so familiar with these mental models, and there are other ways we can ensure digital experiences are intuitive and easy to use. Here’s a checklist of some of the most important considerations. 

  • Make it easy to navigate around the site or app

If users can’t work out how to achieve their goals when they land on a page, they’ll be gone in a matter of seconds. Make it easy for them. This means a logical structure, a decent search function and clear labelling for menu items. Sometimes clients and copywriters will try to steer away from labels that are too ‘obvious’, but most of the time, simplicity equals clarity and a better experience for everyone. According to HubSpot76% of users surveyed said that ‘easy for me to find what I want’ is the most important factor of a website’s design.

  • Direct users so they focus on the task at hand

If a page isn’t single-minded and there’s too much other information, users may get distracted rather than focusing on the main task. If this happens it’s worth going back to the UI, perhaps splitting the content and moving some of it into other pages. There should be a clear hierarchy of information so people will understand what the most important task is. When a design is intuitive users will instantly understand what a page is for and what actions they need to take. Too many different call to actions may lead to confusion and clicking off the site.

  • Use human, clear and jargon-free language

Plain language aids clarity and a friendly tone humanises the experience. It’s worth paying particular attention to error text. This often isn’t considered earlier in the process and ends up being written by developers, resulting in copy which may be technically correct in describing the problem, but that seems cold and robotic, or includes jargon that not everyone understands. It’s always jarring to find that a welcoming tone of voice suddenly becomes abrupt, almost rude, because you didn’t put enough digits in your phone number. 

  • Fill the knowledge gap

A knowledge gap is the difference between the knowledge users bring when they arrive on a web page or app, and what they need to know to successfully complete their task. This gap needs to be as small as possible, preferably non-existent. But what do you do to fill a knowledge gap, or when many users are highly digital savvy, but some aren’t? The answer is to provide unobtrusive help, easily accessed by whoever needs it, without slowing down the experience for everyone else. This may include onboarding screens and walkthroughs as well as tool tips and inline help text. 

  • Carry out usability testing

Designers will use their knowledge of best practice, but subconsciously to some degree they are also designing for ‘people like them’. The only way to find out if the target audience of users really find an experience intuitive is to talk to them and get them to think aloud as you watch them interacting with it. Users may stumble over things that seem obvious to a UX designer, revealing places where the design doesn’t meet their expectations. By solving these issues it's possible to create a flawless experience. 

If you’d like to know more about how The BIO Agency could help you create intuitive digital experiences, contact us here.

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