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The Myth of Intuitive Design

The Myth of Intuitive Design - Sachs Marketing Group

If you’ve been in web design and digital marketing for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase intuitive design. What does it actually mean?  I’m here to tell you why this phrase doesn’t make sense and ways we can better approach design solutions.

What’s the Definition of Intuitive?

According to Merriam-Webster,  intuitive means, “known or perceived by intuition: directly apprehended; readily learned or understood.” And according to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is defined as: “based on feelings rather than facts or proof.”

Based on the dictionary definitions, intuition is something associated with gut instinct or feelings that enable us to make decisions without proof of reasoning. While this does help in various life situations, our intuition doesn’t necessarily provide us with the function to guide ourselves through digital interfaces.

The truth is the intuitive behavior that designers aim to create relies on familiar design patterns that users have experienced before. In this context, intuitive design interactions aren’t grounded in unconscious reasoning but in familiarity.

While many clients say the design needs to be intuitive, it’s not something that is easy to define or measure. Many of us have experienced intuitive or gut feeling about a decision. I’ve had intuitive feelings about my children where I feel like something bad has happened and thankfully I’m not always right. However, it still feels like a bad impulse at tapping into my emotions. This demonstrates how intuition can behave for us and a particular moment and it’s hard to imagine having those kinds of instinctive feelings when interacting with an interface on a website or within an app.

Why Intuitive Design Isn’t Real

In reality, what’s intuitive for you or your client isn’t the same as what’s initiative for their clients, or your parents. Interfaces can feel familiar if you as the user have experienced something similar before and it’s the familiarity that we often call intuitive.

The first time I saw a nondescript menu on a mobile app, there was nothing intuitive that called out and said “Tap on me, I’m a menu. It was only because I tapped around and I discovered that the three bars gave me a menu when I tapped. Now, when I see a menu like that, I know what it does. I don’t know what it is because of intuition, I know it because I’ve done it before; so there’s nothing instinctive about it.

We know that intuitive design isn’t the real thing, but we know that familiarity with certain interactions we have experienced before is easier to understand. For users to have some technical experience, designers can make use of those already familiar interface patterns when it comes to making decisions about design patterns. UI Patterns defines design patterns as “recurring solutions that solve common design problems.” The UI Patterns website is a great resource for designers to see various patterns to use in new designs.

What are Design Patterns?

Design patterns are essential because they provide recognizable interactions. This ensures users spend less time trying to understand how to interact with something and more time interacting with it. Keeping things as simple as possible helps to minimize the time spent on achieving an outcome and thus creating a better user experience.

Common Design Patterns

Should You Deviate from These Patterns?

Any design that deviates from the well known and recognized design patterns is unfamiliar. When users have to learn something new, this can adversely affect the overall user experience. Designers are constantly striving to minimize and eliminate that learning curve so it can be hard to balance the need to create new Innovations while presenting a contextual experience that makes sense.

That’s where considering business outcomes and conducting user research for a good market fit along with user testing your design with the intended audience comes in. If you find you’re dealing with an audience that is not particularly technologically savvy and needs to keep things as simple as possible, you know it’s not the time to deviate from the familiar and understood

User testing ensures that you can validate your hypothesis as much as possible to help mitigate additional risks that are inherent in executing designs for products or services. Ideally, you should design to incorporate interactions that measure a user’s level of comprehension while also allowing them to personalize their path to achieving the desired outcome in the unknown environment.

Artificial Intelligence and Design Innovation

AI technology is continuously innovating, but companies still managed to design good user experiences using these advancements. For instance, Pinterest uses AI to understand the intention behind a simple search and deliver personalized results. Research shows that 80% of users are more likely to make a purchase if their experiences personalized.

Below, you’ll see an example of a search for vegan. Pinterest uses artificial intelligence to return a slew of related topics to make it easy for users to discover new content. These related topics are displayed as text across the top of the page.

As we continue to integrate AI into products and services, we can use it to create notifications for a user to take a specific action or not. This creates a more passive user experience as tasks that used to be manual are now automated behind the scenes.

Gmail for instance has a spam filter to automatically move suspicious emails into your junk folder without you needing to do anything. Google has been using rule-based filters and AI for many years but we continue to see innervation because Google AI now recognizes the weekly newsletters you may not be interested in and moves them directly to the spam folder. The spam filters are now able to identify and respond to individual preferences.

The Future of Interface Design

As we move to a world where voice assistants remove the need for a screen, we are starting to rely less on visual user interface design and more on the overall user experience. We can now talk to our devices and ask for what we need and we can ask for it to be given at exactly the right time. However, we still have a long way to go in terms of what virtual assistants can do. As technology continues to advance, we will see great improvements to the understanding of how people naturally speak. this is particularly like changing for older people who are not tech-savvy.

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SEO virtuoso, CEO @Sachs Marketing Group. Focused on being of service to business owners - helping to better position them in the eyes of their audiences.