Steward Bot piloting a 747

Most organizations we work with want their website to be intuitive and easy-to-use, but how do you actually accomplish that in a design?

There are two strategies to make a tool intuitive:

  1. Match experience
  2. Remove choices

Match Experience

Imagine that you bought a new car and when you went to drive it off the lot you discovered that the gas pedal raised and lowered the windows. That was my experience when I first drove a swather. If you didn't grow up on a farm like I did, a swather is an enormous lawnmower that chops alfalfa into long rows. To operate a swather, you shift it into gear and then accelerate using two hand controls by the seat. In place of the gas pedal is a pedal that raises and lowers the cutting teeth of the machine. Because it didn't match my other experiences, it took a lot of mental energy to drive it those first couple of times with the teeth bouncing up and down whenever my foot instinctively reached for the "gas."

On a desktop, almost every website places their primary navigation at the top of the page. While it might be creative to shift the navigation to an alternate placement, it adds a cognitive obstacle to users because it doesn't align with their experience.  It's great to be creative with how we display information on a website, but in terms of the function of the site, you want it to be boringly conventional.

Remove Choices

But even if your page organization is boringly conventional, if you clutter it with options and information you can still make it un-intuitive.

For example, consider the difficulty of driving a golf cart versus piloting a 747. When you sit down in a golf cart you have a steering wheel and a gas pedal. When you sit down into the cockpit of a 747, you have hundreds of dials, switches, gauges.... and also a co-pilot.

Your website might be packed with knowledge and features. But if you try to present all of that in your navigation or in the top half of the page, "above the fold," you're going to transform it into that 747 cockpit. The solution is to prioritize and edit. That's hard to do, but just remember that you don't have to tell everyone everything at once. When you meet someone new, you don't introduce yourself by telling them your life story. They can learn more about you when the time and place calls for it. It's the same for your website. The less options you provide in any context, the more intuitive the user experience becomes.

With all you invest into a new website design, you want it to be remarkable. And it should be! But the mechanics of how people use it should be unremarkable. The quality of intuitiveness in a well-designed experience is invisibility. The less you have to think to get what you want, the more intuitive it is.

John Hooley
President, Steward

John is a graduate of 10,000 Small Businesses, a certified Customer Acquisition Specialist, and a Zend Certified Engineer. He speaks and writes on connecting digital strategy to association goals. Outside of work he's an avid traveler, climber, diver, and a burgeoning sailor. He also volunteers with Rotary and Big Brothers Big Sisters.