I haven’t yet found a design that’s just intuitive to use first time. But I don’t think I’d want to and I’m not sure anyone else does either.
My favorite doors are unintuitive
Back in the 90s I was meeting some friends in a bar near St. Pauls in London. This bar was amazing. It had a gothic style and the attention to detail was beyond any bar I’d been in before. It was like if Disney made a goth bar. I needed a ‘slash’ as we called them back then, so I was looking for a toilet. It took some finding, and I needed to ask for help, but the trick was to pull a specific book on the bookshelf. The bookshelf opened to reveal a secret passageway to a toilet, I went back to that bar many times because of its character. It was the most amazing bar I’ve ever been too until two years ago, A local showed us the secrete to find The Last Barricade bar in Kiev. If you’re ever in Kiev make sure you find this place, you’ll need some help from a local tho. My two favourite bars share one thing in common, they have complicated doors that need help to use for the first time.
Also back in the 90s Don Norman was updating the second edition of his book, The Design Of Everyday Things. You know the book on your compulsory reading list back in design school, I hope you read it. Don had noticed something pretty huge since the first edition. Don noticed people love their cars, and it has nothing to do with how easy to use they are. Car love is about the sounds, the feelings, the experience. Don Norman coined the term User Experience Design to describe this, but a large part of the book is still about something called Human-Centred Design. HCD involved watching people using products and seeing where they had difficulties or how they expected it to work. A HCD designer would watch someone try to learn to surf and design them a boat. A UX designer would interview the surfer and declare that although a surf board is unusable and unintuitive, it’s a great experience to many of its users. Right let’s get back to my door example.
What is a Norman Door
The first edition of The Design of Everyday Things (the one that’s all about usability and didn’t yet account for experience) talked about usability of doors. One side of a door has a handle to signify that you pull and the other has a panel so you know to push. Some doors have the handles on both sides meaning that you might think you’re supposed to pull on the side where you’re supposed to push. In this situation you feel a little silly for a fraction of a second and then push the door and never think about it again. Most people don’t worry to much about this minor nuisance. Therefor every day we come across doors that make us feel silly for a fraction of a second, this is a Norman Door.
Do yourself a search for Norman Door and you should see hundreds of pictures of handles that say push next to them. People will write some comment about how it’s a bad user experience (I love searching for the ‘#badux’, I always have a great experience. It is clear no one has ever written those six characters and had any idea what they’re talking about). A product or service or door can’t BE a good or bad experience! A person can HAVE a good or a bad experience of using them but the product is always just a product. When someone uploads a picture of a door they found confusing, they clearly loved the experience of finding it and adding it to their twitter feed. And I love reading it. No experience is so binary that you can describe it as simply good or bad. Let’s take a look at what Don Norman did after he updated his book.
Powerful Experiences Beat Usability
Don went on to work at Apple. This was around about the time Apple revolutionised the phone amongst a few other things. The iPhone is a huge milestone in the design world and caused a spark in design for technology. Everyone started asking, “why is software ugly and horrible to use?” The iPhone isn’t exactly intuitive, it’s pretty much impossible to make something with that much functionality intuitive. Go to YouTube and search for ‘how to change the brightness on an iPhone’, there are hundreds of videos with thousands of views, we’ve all looked up videos like these in the past. Where the iPhone was a revolution is that people loved the experience of using it, you swipe and pinch to control the thing like you’re a god. In fact there are even dating apps where you swipe the faces of people who aren’t worthy off your phone screen and out of your life. These gestures make people feel good, they even make people feel powerful, but they’re anything buy intuitive. Apps have ‘on-boarding’ screen to teach you the gestures to swipe these faces from the screen. The gesture is also completely redundant as there are buttons at the bottom to perform the exact same function.
If you ask five people to perform a task on a website they’ll all find different ways to click through and get lost in their own unique way. If five people swipe faces aside like a god, open the secret passage to find the toilet in a bar or glide across the waves on a beach they’ll be back for more. Having a design that everyone finds intuitive is a futile goal. Having a design that more people find more intuitive that another design is a much more real goal. But people don’t love a product or service if it’s just usable and doesn’t make them feel anything. They may even tolerate it to get the job done. When you focus on usability, you’re only focusing on making a product less despised, when you focus on the experience you’re making something they will love.