It’s Not Your Fault; The ‘Mail’ App IS Confusing

Let’s think about a perfect universe for a second. A utopia for designers, where all the users have IQ score of 180, 20/20 vision, and can read the designer’s mind.

In this world the user would know right away which texts are buttons and which aren’t. They would know black bold texts are the title of the page and the coloured thin ones buttons. (or are the buttons bold? I forget) 
They would know that to go back they need to swipe right from the left edge, to mark as read swipe right but not so close from the edge, to refresh pull down, to undo shake their phone, to delete swipe from right to left all the way, and to archive swipe from right to left but not quite all the way. (and if they do go all the way by accident, there’s always shake to undo)

Now back to reality. If you are a designer and you proposed the top paragraph to a client, they would think either a) you’re joking, or b) You’ve lost your mind. In both cases you would lose your job and be homeless all in less than 5 hours. (if you live in San Fransisco that is)

But not so fast. There is actually an app that uses ALL of those crazy, insane, illogical, unintuitive methods. It’s the Mail app on your iPhone. No, seriously. I’m not kidding. But we’re all so used to it now that we don’t even notice how hard it is to use it.

I have a simple method when it comes to testing ease of use, either I can show my parents once how to use an app, they learn and not bug me anymore, or the app’s UX is broken! (Don’t get me wrong I love my parents, but I hate the designers that make these apps so unintuitive!)

Swipes and edges and gestures and shakes and orientations and a handful of people around us designers who are used to the ecosystem have all together created a mindset for designers that: “It’s ok if it’s hard at first, they’ll get used to this one as well.” But can you blame them for thinking like that? I mean, everyone got used to the Mail app right? “They can surely figure out swipe down with 3 fingers then shaking the phone is how you start a new paragraph. It’s fun!” one might think.

Sure. The user can learn new gestures and swipes until they have no room left in their brain for new information. (I know, that’s not how brains work) But let’s take a moment and think of a user like me who has to teach their parents how to use your app. I the app’s function is going to be very helpful, but because it’s so damn hard to learn I’m gonna delete this and just download an alternative which isn’t probably better, but it’s easier to learn and that’s the gonna be it.

Empathizing with the users and letting go of my ego as a designer has been one of the most humbling experiences for me. I used to think: “I’m the designer and I want it this way! I designed this and so everyone must follow my commands! If you can’t learn to use this app, then it’s not for you! muhahahaha” (evil laughter added for dramatic effect)
But now, being able to put myself in the user’s shoes, (and sometimes watching the users test the app) I finding out where I went wrong, and immidiately recognizing the mistakes I’ve made. I’d say this is one of the most important skills I’ve aquired in the past few years as a designer.