What is Intuitive Design?
The concept of Intuitive Design is one that can be applied to anything and everything that we interact with in our daily lives, from the cars we drive to the coffee machine that helps to motivate us out of bed in the morning.
It is invisible by its very nature, as it refers to the level to which an item or a space is built with ease of usability in mind, allowing users to focus on the task at hand. It functions in the hope that users will hardly even notice it. However, as soon as a design becomes non-intuitive, a user will notice.
For example, imagine that you have just rolled out of bed in the morning. It’s 6:15am and it’s too early to think about anything other than a steaming cup of coffee. You wander into the kitchen and appreciate the sleek and minimal appearance of your new coffee machine (which you just bought in advance of this months pay check, whoops).
However, as you rub the sleep out of your eyes and reach to find the “on” button, you realise that it’s… not there.
It takes thirteen whole minutes out of your one free hour in the morning to finally discover that the button you’re looking for is on the underside and it isn’t even marked. All you wanted was a relaxing cup of coffee before work, but instead you’re an exasperated, sweaty mess wondering why you couldn’t simply have stuck to your Nesquick.
Now, if the “on” button had been located in a spot which immediately caught your eye, this would never have happened. That would have constituted an intuitive design. It was the non-intuitive design which lead you to where you are now, which, frankly, is a place nobody wants to be in the early hours of the morning.
Making sense so far? Cool. Now let’s move from coffee machines to something more pressing: the smooth runnings of your website.
What constitutes intuitive web design?
It isn’t only physical products which can be measured against the concept of intuitive design, however, but online and digital spaces too.
Intuitive Design here refers to the ease of usability which will draw potential customers into your website and keep them there long enough for you to make a successful case for why they ought to choose your services over those of another company.
For example, if a band manager is researching luxury van hire for an upcoming tour, their job is made a great deal easier if the website their search engine directs them to is mapped out in a simple and intuitive manner. Hopefully seamlessly leading them immediately to the most important information they require in order to understand the options on offer and then to book their touring van with them. If the website is clunky and difficult to navigate, sacrificing usability for the sake of aesthetics, you’ve lost them within moments.
This is all well and good, however, the issue with intuitive web design is that every user is different. The reality is that many websites are designed only with the perspective and experience of the designer in mind. As a result, these websites fail to consider the experience of the most critical audience, the user.
As opposed to the web developer, the user arrives to the website in possession of pre existing knowledge (or, “current knowledge”). This is in addition to their “target knowledge”, which is how much the user needs to know to seamlessly use your site.
The gap between the current and target knowledge is what is known as the “knowledge gap”. In considering the design of your website, your job is to minimise this gap between what users know prior to coming to your site and what they must know in order to use it successfully.
So, what can you do?
It’s therefore important to take the necessary steps to anticipate what pre-existing knowledge your potential customers are arriving to your website with. The number one rule according to Peep Laja is to know your user and this can be done one of two ways:
1. Through field studies. This would involve you going to your customers directly and observing them using the web in their natural habitat in order to better understand their current knowledge.
2. Over the shoulder usability tests. This would involve getting people to use your site and observing them as they did so. You would ask them to perform a variety of tasks and request they voice their thoughts on their user experience out loud as they do so.
What’s the goal?
In taking the necessary steps to anticipate the current knowledge of your users, you can create a website so seamless that it collapses the knowledge gap.
This means that when a potential customer uses your website, they either know everything they need to in order to navigate it successfully, or they are provided with prompts that help them learn how to navigate the website in a way that is so easy it’s almost imperceptible.
So, all things considered, maybe it’s time to take a step back from your website and consider how your prospective customers experience it. After all, in our digital age, our web presence is often our most customer facing one, making it our most important.