When a client says make it “intuitive”

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If it hasn’t happened yet… it will.

At some point, you’ll get the client who’s ultra-focused on their thing being “intuitive”. Ya know, like Apple products. And, when you ask them exactly what that means… you’ll get, “I don’t know. I’ll just feel it when it’s right.”


They have a point, though.

And, fortunately for us, there’s a science to this.

There’s a way to systematically create intuitive designs.

And actually, the first part of it is realizing that designs can’t be intuitive. Your application is a collection of 1s and 0s… it can’t “intuit” anything (yet). What we really mean when we say that is that WE can easily intuit how to use the thing.

The design makes the thing’s use obvious.

Now I first read about how to do this from Jared Spool in a blog post on uie.com. I want be sure and give credit where credit is due, because this stuff is gold. It really makes all of this clear.

So, the first principle is what I’d call the “Knowledge Continuum”.

Imagine a line from left to right that represents the amount of knowledge a particular user has about our application. The far left represents no knowledge (ain’t that the truth) and the far right represents all knowledge.

Each user will fall somewhere on that continuum.

Where they fall is called the “Current Knowledge Point”.

And, where they need to be in order to successfully use our application is called the “Target Knowledge Point”. The gap between the two is the Knowledge Gap. And, to make something intuitive you have to close that gap.

Here’s a picture:

You can do that in two ways:

1) Design your application in such a way that the majority of users will already have all the knowledge they need to use your application. This is making the Current Knowledge Point (of the user) and the Target Knowledge Point sit in the exact same place on the continuum.

2) The Current and Target knowledge points are separate, but the design is helping the user figure out how to use it… without the user being consciously aware of it.

Jared uses a hotel phone as an example.

I’ve actually had this happen to me too.

I stayed at a hotel and I picked up the phone to order some pizza. Instinctively, I pushed the number “9” to call out. Most places you go… that’s what you need to do. But, it so happened, this hotel was different.

Someone had decided the number “8” was the number to use.

So, when my first call failed…

I stopped for a second and looked at the phone.

And, sure enough, there was a big placard that said you needed to dial “8” to get out. I saw that and instantly knew what to do.

So, had the “9” been the number…

The “design” of this hotel phone would have met condition 1.

I would have already known what to do.

But, instead it met condition 2.

I was trained how to make a call without me really being aware of it.

I didn’t have to read some long user manual…

Or, attend some seminar.

The “training” was built into design.

That is how you make something “intuitive”.

Had there been no placard…

Or, it was buried in some user manual…

Then, that design would be considered “not intuitive”.

So, the next time some client starts going on about make their thing “intuitive” or Apple-esque… you don’t need to give them a V8 to the forehead. You’ll know exactly what they mean and how to get there.

Of course, if you want to become a UI/UX designer who does this kind of thing for a living (and makes an average of 87K/year in the U.S.), the UX & Web Design Master Class by Joe Natoli is one great way to get there. It’s the right mix of concepts AND implementation so you know what to do AND why… so you can build “intuitive” designs no matter the client or project.

Discount link is here: http://johnmorrisonline.com/ux



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John Morris


I’m a 15-year veteran of freelance web development. I’ve worked with bestselling authors and average Joe’s next door. These days, I focus on helping other freelancers build their freelance business and their lifestyles.

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