Commandment #7: UI is Like a Joke, If You Have to Explain, It isn’t That Good
Customers use products to solve problems. They desire to be able to use a product without overwhelming themselves in figuring out which problem they are going to solve and how to go about solving it. Some adventurous users might like the sound of exploring a product, slowly discovering what can be done with it and what its limitations are. But more often than not, if users don’t immediately understand how to use our app or website, especially today when attention spans are getting shorter, it frustrates them no end, forcing them to abandon it altogether.
Therefore, there’s nothing better designed than a product that explains itself. But to circumvent this and avoid the hard work that goes into making simple-to-use intuitive products, some designers employ the shortcut tactics of building tutorials and extensive on-boarding modules, without the realization that majority of users skip tutorials when they first download an app. Some new studies now have also revealed that participants who read tutorials perceive a product as more difficult and they don’t show any advantage in terms of success rates compared with people who skip the tutorials. Therefore (except in few cases), the time and effort to design and develop these would be better spent in making the user-interface easy to use, thus alleviating the need for a tutorial in the first place. Even when building a tutorial, there are better alternatives to formal onboarding and polished manuals that provide users contextual help in the exact moment they need.
I am reminded of the fourth principle from the famous ten commandments of good design from Dieter Rams, that stresses the importance of understandability.
“Good design clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.”
This is still so relevant in this day and age, across all design disciplines. Ultimately, one should focus on a clear, intuitive interface that will convey the product’s objective at first glance. Even Apple’s controversial decision to employ Skeuomorphic Design, when it first launched the iPhone in 2007, was done with the objective of creating a small learning curve and make people feel at home with a new piece of technology. Or when Kindle was introduced, swiping the screen from right to left to get to the next page mimicked the flipping of the actual book. In both cases the brands believed referring to older, more familiar versions of a product will help users understand the new one faster.
As technology continues to evolve, enabling new possibilities, we designers are faced with the challenge of creating websites, apps and other products that are innovative, while still being understandable. And when these are executed well, even the most complex products and ideas can be made understandable.