The UX Path — The Secret to Intuitable Interfaces

Girish Subramanian
Mar 29, 2017 · 5 min read

How can we design ‘Intuitive’ interfaces? How can we make a product or a service ‘User Friendly’? Is ‘Simplicity’ really the key to good design?

Much has been said and written about user experience in the past 30 years ever since Prof. Donald Norman coined the word and became the first ‘User Experience Architect’ in the world.

Here is my contribution to the knowledge base based on my experience as a practicing Experience Designer.

Aesthetics of Experience

When we talk about the need for a User Experience what we are actually saying is the need for an ‘Aesthetic Experience’ for someone who is using the product or the system. The nature of an Aesthetic Experience of any kind has four distinct contributing factors:

1. The nature of the Representation

2. The nature of the Perception/Taste/Judgement

3. The nature of the Experience

4. The nature of the Meaning

Representation is the materiality of the Experience. The Form, Colour, Composition, Notes (in the case of auditory and olfactory expressions) etc.

Perception is a person becoming aware of the experience through the senses. Taste is the perception of an experience and the preference of a person for a certain kind of experience over the other.

Experience is a tricky word, so let me call John Dewey to my rescue. Dewey’s account of aesthetic experiencing focuses on experience as an interactive relationship between the perceiver and the object. Dewey uses the term ‘experience’ in two ways. The first indicates the interactive relationship between the individuals and the world around them. The second way indicates a special sort of the first kind. This special sort Dewey calls an Experience. An experience is any experience that principally has the characteristic of being unified and complete.[1]

This experience is what we are interested in creating for people using any object or a system and I prefer to call it an ‘Integrated Experience’.

Meaning is what the source or sender intended to express, communicate or convey to the perceiver, and what the perceiver inferred in the current context.

For the sake of simplicity, lets assume a linearity of events.

1. A person sees, hears, feels, smells, tastes the stimulus or representation

2. The person perceives it in a certain manner based on memories

3. The person experiences this

4. The person derives a meaning out of this experience.

5. This experience is stored as a memory.

Let me remind you that I am assuming linearity so that we remember the events –

Representation leads to Perception leads to Experience leads to Meaning.

Towards an Integrated Experience

In a good experience, the interface is almost always integrated into the situation and into the act. An interface that sticks out without letting you enjoy an experience or even merely reminding you of its presence is more often than not perceived as a ‘bad’ experience. Bad experiences are often more ‘sticky’ than the good ones.

When was the last time you watched a movie in a theater?. Do you remember ‘experiencing’ the seat while you were watching the movie? If you did it was probably because it was a badly designed seat or a badly made movie or both. (There is always an edge case, where the design of the seat was so good that you remember it).

Most of our interfaces and interactions for applications are like theatre seats. They should never come in the way of experience. If anything they should elevate it.

Familiarity:

Preferences need no inferences. Familiar things look less threatening. ‘Mere Exposure Effect’ tells us that people tend to develop preferences to things merely because they are familiar with them. According to Robert Zajonc, affective responses to stimuli happen much more quickly than cognitive responses, and that these responses are often made with much more confidence.

In the 1960s, a series of laboratory experiments by Robert Zajonc demonstrated that simply exposing subjects to a familiar stimulus led them to rate it more positively than other, similar stimuli which had not been presented. In the beginning of his research, Zajonc looked at language and the frequency of words used. He found that overall positive words received more usage than their negative counterparts. In later years, he moved on to show similar results for a variety of stimuli such as polygons, drawings, photographs of expressions, nonsense words, and idiographs, as well as when being judged by a variety of procedures such as liking, pleasantness, and forced-choice measures.[2]

Coherence:

Sense of Coherence relates to the resources and the mechanisms and interactions involved in the adaptive capacity of humans.

Optimal human performance — at home, in school, in the community or at work — requires that a person experience themselves as having a sense of coherence.

The sense of coherence is comprised of three factors:

1. A sense of comprehensibility

2. A sense of Manageability

3. A sense of Meaningfulness [3]

A sense of comprehensibility:

Do you feel that you can understand things, that things make sense and are not confusing?

Do you feel that things are predictable or can be expected? In other words, do you feel like you know what’s going to happen next, or that you know what’s coming?

A sense of manageability:

Do you feel that things are manageable or within your control, that things can be handled or taken care of?

Do you feel you have the skills or ability, the support, the help, or the resources necessary to take care of things?

A sense of meaningfulness:

Do you feel that things are interesting or fascinating, a source of pleasure or satisfaction?

Do you feel that things are really worth it, that there is good reason or purpose to care about what happens? [4]

Fluency:

When I speak about fluency, I speak about both: Cognitive fluency and the Operational fluency.

Cognitive fluency is the the perceived ease of usage of a system or an object and the Operational Fluency is the actual fluency that is achieved during operation.

The earlier one is necessary for the person to confidently approach the interface and start using it without any fear. This leads to a faster learning cycle. The latter is eventually achieved irrespective of the difficulty of the interface by continuous operation. It is when the Operational fluency is achieved that one feels like an ‘Expert’ and the interface becomes ‘Invisible’. The sign of a well designed interface is that the person using the system or the object reaches this state sooner than later.

Like the previous section, let me again assume linearity for the sake of simplicity and this is what I call as the The UX Path:

Familiarity leads to Coherence leads to Fluency leads to Integrated Experience.

How do we translate these abstract concepts into a procedural reality? What steps should we take to ensure a meaningful integrated experience? How can we truly measure experience? How do we translate this into a set of repeatable actions so that it can be taught and made predictable?

These are some of the questions that occupy my mind everyday. Connect with me on LinkedIn if these questions interest you as well and want to solve these issues in your organization.

REFERENCE:

[1] Fenner, D. E. (2003). Introducing aesthetics. Westport, CT: Praeger.

[2] Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal Effects Of Mere Exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(2, Pt.2), 1–27. doi:10.1037/h0025848

[3] Griffiths, C. A., Ryan, P., & Foster, J. H. (2011). Thematic analysis of Antonovsky’s sense of coherence theory. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 52(2), 168–173. doi:10.1111/j.1467–9450.2010.00838.x

[4] Everyday Psychology: The Sense of Coherence*. (n.d.). Retrieved July 04, 2016, from http://www.everydaypsychology.com/2007/04/sense-of-coherence.html#.V3pB8Vdff0h

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Girish Subramanian

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Object Maker. Experience Collector. Story Seeker. Wikipedia Glutton. Happy Sleeper.

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A new tech publication by Start it up (https://medium.com/swlh).

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