How We Design Intuitive Experiences


Sadly, there is no magic switch to turn on. What is easy to one person, is a rage-click to someone else.

Making Experiences Seem Intuitive

One of the core goals for all UX-ers have been to help craft experiences that won’t require people to need special training. As much of a head-nodding, and potentially obvious goal this may seem to be — it’s a really difficult request to execute well. Mostly because what one person believes to be “intuitive”, isn’t as obvious to another. Think about the last time you, or another person talked about jumping between a Windows and Mac operating system, or an Android phone to an iPhone.

When someone confirms an interface to be intuitive, what they’re really saying is that they, themselves, can understand or instinctively work it out based on their experiences. It’s the same for our own personal use case. When we provide feedback saying something needs to be more intuitive, we’re really saying “I want something I find intuitive”.

Making Designs Seem Intuitive

One of the biggest challenges in making an experience seem intuitive to any user is learning where the average current + target knowledge boundaries are. Said differently, what digital experiences is the average user currently familiar with, and what’s the expected or needed pattern of understanding from them. Answering “What do they already know to do their job?”, and “What do they need to know to do their job?” becomes critical.

How we go about answering these questions reside within our Design Thinking process. However, to better understand how we make use of all the information we obtain from these activities, I’ve outlined a few tactical processes that could be used by a UXer in working toward crafting an intuitive experience:

Shadowing users

  • Observing users in their natural environment allows us to become familiar with what knowledge they currently have, and how they navigate around the current interface. In addition to gaining an understanding of how they use other software interfaces they interact with while completing tasks for their job.

Designing for blank states

  • When crafting the actual UI designs, we can ensure we apply equal attention to detail on blank or empty states (e.g. first use experiences, user cleared tables, data population failures, etc) to help educate, delight, or prompt unfamiliar users without punishing experienced users with heavily aided UI interfaces.

Usability tests

  • Facilitating these tests allows us to validate assumptions, and test the knowledge bounds for new users, and the expected knowledge of a more experienced user. In addition to ensuring the users are able to complete their tasks, we’re looking for any potential knowledge gaps from users when interacting with any UI element or interaction that immediately highlights their being unfamiliar.

Scaling Intuitive Designs

Once we’re comfortable with how our users are perceiving the experience to be intuitive, it becomes easier to continue crafting great experiences for these users. However, what worked for one core set of users, doesn’t always translate for another.

The experiences one set of users have when they start interacting with a new design (current knowledge), what they’ll need to actually complete desired tasks (target knowledge), and what the design experience needs to communicate are the key ingredients for identifying knowledge gaps, and then making learned behavior patterns seem like an ‘intuitive experience’ for different users.