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Principles of Intuitive Design

Sonal Panse,

To begin with, let us understand the meaning of intuitive. It is something that you do more or less automatically, without too much conscious effort. You aren't born with intuitive skills, you learn them. You may have learned how to perform a particular task by having being taught it, by watching someone do it, by reading how to do it, or by experiment, and once the process has been understood, you begin applying the knowledge in similar or different situations and the more you use it the less you have to think about how to use it. It becomes intuitive to you.

When we speak of intuitive design, it isn't the design that is intuitive, but rather the user. People will look for already known design conventions and use these to pick up newer conventions, which will then eventually become part of the intuitive knowledge, and the design interface will as a result be deemed 'easy to use'. With limited attention spans and unlimited business competition, it is necessary to have website designs that people can readily access and efficiently navigate. This is the reason that intuitive designs - designs that are easy to use or can be easily learned how to use – are in growing demand.

As with most things in widespread use, we have come to have certain principles of user interface design. These are intended for designing convenience. By no means should these principles be taken to be 'set in stone' concepts. For one thing, the digital landscape is constantly changing and reshaping; what seems de rigeur now may not be as relevant tomorrow. For another, design principles should serve as guides, not be stumbling blocks in the way of innovation. Use them if they work for you. If not, invent something better.

Let's take a look at some of the main UX design principles:

Be clear about the purpose of the design. What is it to be used for? What is it going to convey? Once you know the end-result you want, the design process becomes relatively smoother.

Understand how the design is likely to be used and who is likely to use it. Since interface design is user-centric, do consider the viewpoints of potential users – experienced as well as novice - when designing; some field research might be necessary here.

Functionality and design are both equally important. Since the design interface is meant to help users carry out their specific tasks, it is essential that all the interface features operate correctly and efficiently. At the same time, the aesthetics of color, spacing, type, etc. are necessary for enhancing user experience. You will have more takers if, along with streamlined operation, the design is easy on the eyes as well as comprehensible, so the users can find what they are looking for at once, without confusion, without being bewildered.

Be consistent in your interface design – links, buttons, menu features, etc, - throughout the site. The user shouldn't have to wonder how to get on at every new page.

Meet user expectations, to an extent. This means, unless absolutely essential, don't reinvent widely accepted digital/online conventions that users are already accustomed to (for instance, clicking, dragging, copying, cutting, pasting, and saving), and do re-adapt familiar /similar real life objects to make the transition to the online world smoother (for instance, camera and printer icons). This said, accepted conventions should not stand in the way of innovative ideas that might need more of a learning curve; just add visual guide cues or text tips where necessary, since many users seem to find these more convenient than having to plough through a detailed user manual.

Use responsive features - like a turning hour-glass and help/error messages – that inform the users whether a designated action is taking place, has finished taking place, or is not taking place, the reasons for this, and what to do instead.

Use responsive layout design that adjusts to the device being used. Given the widespread proliferation of different digital devices, it is no longer feasible to create different designs for each of these. A 'one design to fit all sizes' approach makes more sense, although, of course, there are content and space issues that you may have to certainly consider.

Allow for user mistakes. If the user clicks on a wrong icon or page, it should be a simple matter to undo and go back to their previous step or steps. Knowing that a wrong click doesn't automatically entail digital banishment makes it easier for users to explore the site and to pick up newer UX conventions.