Intuition is a powerful perceptual tool that we utilize daily in unfamiliar terrain. Our intuition is mainly based on prior experiences in similar situations that we create assumptions from. When it comes to interacting with a digital interface for the first time, intuition is key. “Intuitive” is often used to describe a software UI that users find comfortable and easy to use, but what are the underlying factors that make an interface intuitive?
When approaching a user interface for the first time, we will rely on a mental model created from these “intuitions.” This model allows us to semi-accurately predict how to interact with the UI. When it comes to designing an “intuitive” UI, the designer must consider usability of their interface in regards to the general user’s mental model. Aligning a designer’s mental model of the UI’s workflow with the average user’s mental model of how that workflow should operate will result in an intuitive interface.
Now that we know we have to design an interface with the user’s preconceived mental model in mind, what attributes of an interface actually contribute to creating the conceptual model of the interface? In a previous blog post I discussed "affordance", a term used to describe easily perceivable actions when navigating an interface for the first time. Without having to click on anything, the user should be able to infer potential actions simply from visual cues. These cues could be as simple as a consistent icon like the ellipsis "…" indicating there is a drop down menu if clicked, or a tooltip popup that explains what an unfamiliar button does.
These premeditated actions (affordances) are based on expectations from the user. They expect a button to do a certain thing depending on labels, past experiences in similar UIs, and standard conventions. Playing into these expectations creates consistency when it comes to general layout of your interface, use of icons for specific actions, and use case workflow.
Intuitiveness can make or break a software program and is one of the most important things to take into consideration when designing any piece of software, yet it is often the most overlooked. You can have the most functional product in the world, but if users have too much difficulty understanding and learning that product, you’ll narrow your scope of audience greatly, and your tool won’t be as broadly utilized.