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Intuitive Design

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Most designers at some point have been faced with the phrase “intuitive design”. What exactly is intuitiveness and what can you do to make your designs seem more intuitive? The definition I like most is “spontaneously derived from or prompted by a natural tendency”. Basically the less conscious thought that goes into an end-users interaction with an interface the better.

Of course the “natural tendency” of some people may differ greatly from that of others so how can you decide what is an appropriate design? The most important step is to know your audience. Some information can be determined through the content you provide. If your content is geared towards developers chances are the technical experience level of your audience would allow for a greater amount of complexity. On the other hand, a site primarily targeting senior citizens would induce a whole different set of “best practices”. Regardless of your target, it is never a good idea to over-complicate things. Even highly competent web users can quickly become frustrated by confusing navigation. It is a natural tendency for designers to want to show off their elaborate design skills but even the prettiest design can be counter-productive if it slows users down.

These days, more and more emphasis is placed on accessibility. What would happen if images were disabled or if the end-user was blind and using a screen reader? It is easy to disregard the minority but in the competitive market of web design it is essential to be well-rounded and aware of the different consumption scenarios.

Many principles working together make up an intuitive design… color, contrast, placement, etc. Below are a few best practices that will aid in intuitiveness.

  • Stick to standard visual identifiers, consider Windows, popular software and major websites as the standard. They are what people are accustomed to and are already trained to operate.
  • Minimize the gap between the users’ current experience level and the required experience needed to operate your website.
  • Keep all site text on the same level as the audience.
  • Poll users often and conduct field studies for important projects.
  • Keep things as simple as possible, using wizards when appropriate to break up otherwise confusing information.
  • Contrast should directly reflect information relevance. A users eye should immediately be directed to the most important parts of a page when visiting.
  • Keep colors in harmony by designing with hue, saturation, and luminosity rather than RGB. Try and pick two primary hues and 1-3 complementary highlight hues.
  • Physically print out all screens and create a hierarchy so you can easily see how you might improve website flow and depth.
  • Keep instructions inline when possible.
  • Design methodically… define your users, create use cases and storyboards.
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