14 Behavioral Patterns for User Interface Design


One of the greatest books for User Interface designers is called, not a surprise, Designing Interfaces and it was written by Jenifer Tidwell. In the first chapter, Jenifer describes 14 behavioral patterns to improve your design. Follow and respect those patterns and your application will have more chance to find appreciation from your users — it will be useful!

1. Safe Exploration

This one is about the freedom for the user to explore one interface without suffering any consequences (erros, lost files, lost typing,…). With this in mind, the person will be likely to learn more. Example: on Gmail you can explore things and even recover deleted files. You have the power to UNDO stuff — and you don't usually get this in real life.

2. Instant Gratification

Reward your user right when he arrives in your interface (app, website). Make his first task REALLY easy to accomplish — this way he will feel he is on the right track (and so the interface) and that's gratifying! The very first experience is really important, so rethink that "tutorial screen" you were planning before — does it deserve to be the first experience?

3. Satisfacing

Don't make people think about your interface — you already did that! You probably heard the word Satisfacing before: it is the sum of satisfying and sufficing. This means that people will accept the "good enough" instead of "best", if it does not takes time and effort. For instance, an user opens an yoga app for the first time and he needs to find a button for videos. He'll likely scan the interface and go for the one that he thinks it "might be the video one". The user won't work hard to find the right button and there's a good chance that he'll leave your application if he doesn’t find it (or he will try wrong buttons until he finds the right one). Example: When you open Buffer App and it is empty (no links to share), it shows a prominent button that asks you to create some content. That does not make me think at all.

4. Changes in the midstream

Basically, you need to give opportunity for the user to change his mind during a task. It's important to make it easy for someone to start a task, stop in the middle and come back to it later to continue from where he left off. Example: an online store that keep your items on its cart even after a long time of inactivity or when you close the website.

5. Deferred Choices

Don't ask too much from your user in the beginning (or any time). If you have a form that needs to be filled by the user, try using good defaults, make things optional and think whether you really need that information or not. Also, ask for things with timing: don't ask where the user wants to save a file if he just created it, that's not priority in the moment. Example: Thankfully, most of the login interfaces don’t ask to re-type a password when he chooses one of the first time. That happened a lot in the past years, but now we know it is not necessary anymore.

6. Incremental Construction

Interfaces that allow users to build things, need to support creative work that is done by different steps in a different order. Don't force your user to follow a creation line — unless that's your total intention. Example: Photoshop, Sketch, Illustrator, Google Docs — they all leave it up to you to find the best order to begin your work.

7. Habituation

If your interface has a pattern inherited from other interfaces (a like button, a save command, …) don't change it — because if you do, it is no longer pattern, it is a new kind of interaction that your user needs to learn. Example: Cmd + S for most applications means save, but for Microsoft Word it means underline. That's not very helpful for users.

8. Microbreaks

People often have some tiny pieces of time that they use to check email, Facebook or Instagram. So if your app fits inside those microbreaks, make sure your user actually can perform a task whithin that time. Make that activity easy and fast to reach. Example: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp.

9. Spatial Memory

Most of people usually remember objects related to its spatial location rather than their name. You'll remember that you saved a file in the uper right corner of your desktop, even if you don't remember its name. It's the same with your users, so don't re-arrange your interface once your user learned it. That applies for a change during a task performance. It is ok to change your interface as an update, where the user expect changes. Example: your desktop and the icons you left there.

10. Prospective Memory

This is when you want to do something later and want to set a reminder for yourself. You should help your user to leave some hints to finish a task later, but never change it without asking permission. Actually, don’t change unless the user asks for it (or changes it himself). Example: Pocket. When you save an article and open it later, Pocket never marks it as read before you say so — you can open it a million times and it will never disappear from your list.

11. Streamline Repetition

When it is not possible to avoid task repetition, help the user make it easier. Create shortcuts for the task and smart defaults. Example: Photoshop lets you record an action, then it repeats it as the user wants.

12. Keyboard only

That's pretty straightforward: let the user choose to use the keyboard instead of the mouse. Create again shortcuts, smart defaults, use the tab to provide focus on forms… Example: Google Forms lets the user create a form using only the keyboard (tabs + arrows).

13. Other people advice

I'm almost sure you already read online reviews to check if a product is good or not. Reviews are a powerful tool to help your user find more information from real people and make up his mind about buying that new phone or not in your website. Example: Amazon reviews, of course.

14. Personal Recommendation

This one is similar to the number 13, but the difference is that the recommendation of a product comes from someone familiar to the user. If a friend share a link on Facebook, that means this person really think the product is cool and your user will believe, because it is a personal recommendation. Make it easy for your users to share content throught social buttons and with a URL. Another option is an icon to send via email, since lots of recommendations are really personal and don't deserve to be shared publicly — respect that when designing your interface. Example: share icon on iOS, where you usually can share on social networks, and via email or copied link as well.

This article is a summary of the first Chapter from the book Designing Interfaces, by Jenifer Tidwell. I'm writing about the things I'm currently learning because I found out that it helps me a lot — it means I wrote this for me, but if you find it useful, that's great!

Image from Sauerlaender.

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