End Users Need to Stop Taking Credit for Good Design

By Koko Wadeson

Whenever I hear a digital interface praised as "intuitive" my eyelids twitch. What’s intuition got to do with it? What end users are really saying is that the interface is so well designed that it’s pretty much idiot proof. I get why we might not embrace that particular expression, but calling an interface intuitive shifts much of the credit due the designer to the user. And that happens because we tend to mistake the simplicity of a well-designed interface for simpleness, discounting the hard work of good design.

What is good—or if you insist, intuitive—interface design anyway? Most essentially, good design requires minimal knowledge and experience on the part of the end user. It allows us to bridge the gap between what we do know and what we don’t know without a lot of cognitive effort—that is, without having to think too hard. And that’s a very good thing because more and more digital tasks are being foisted on consumers, for better or worse. Which means that good interface design essential: when you go it alone, shit-hot functionality is useless without a well-designed interface that makes navigation seem obvious and success practically inevitable.

But make no mistake, good design does not come easy. It requires hard-won expertise, resourcefulness, and perseverance and is achieved through an iterative process of planning, developing, testing, and revising. Good interface design is time consuming and expensive, and the easiest-to-use designs are almost always the result of the most effort. Simplicity is blood, sweat, and tears in sheep’s clothing.

You might feel an inflated sense of accomplishment the first time you make it through the grocery store self-checkout without needing help from the dwindling ranks of human employees, but before you get out your giant “I’m number 1” foam finger to pat yourself on the back for “intuiting” your way through yet another digital transaction, consider for a moment that your success was entirely dependent on a little screen that guided you through the experience step by step with clear, simple instructions and bold, colorful graphics. You have no idea how much effort went into making you feel so competent.