Logic isn’t enough. Design for the way users think

Paul Boag

As web designers we endeavour to design logical interfaces that make sense at a glance. However, users are not always logical.

Good user interface design is primarily about organising information in a clear way and taking users through tasks in a logical manner.

However, if you want to be a truly great designer you need to be more than clear and logical.

Users are not always logical, at least not on the surface. To be a great designer you need to look a little deeper into how people think and act.

Dig deeper into user behaviour

Take for example the process of managing the tasks we have to do. One of things we all do when managing tasks is defer them to later. We want to be reminded at a later date that this task now needs dealing with.

Omnifocus on the iPhone deals with this very logically. If you wish to defer a task, you click it and edit the start date, changing it to whatever you want. They have even put a nice little feature that allows you to set the date forward a day, week or month.

Omnifocus date selection
On the surface deferring a task in Omnifocus is very logical and clear. However, when compared to Mailbox it falls short.

On the surface this looks great. However, when you compare it to Mailbox for the iPhone the difference is startling.

Mailbox have recognised that we don’t think in terms of deferring tasks to a specific date. We think about putting a task off until tomorrow, the weekend or next week. This is a different way of thinking and leads to a different user interface.

Mailbox on the iPhone
Mailbox understands that users defer a task until tomorrow or the weekend, not until a specific date. They have therefore developed a much more user friendly interface.

With Omnifocus if I decide I don’t want to deal with a task until the weekend, I have to work out the date and select it. With Mailbox I simply hit the appropriate button.

Do you see the difference? Omnifocus provides a perfectly adequate experience, but Mailbox makes that repetitive task just that little easier.

Don’t become obsessed with edge cases

You maybe thinking that Mailbox makes it slightly harder to select a specific date, because they have hidden it behind a button. If so you are correct. However, the vast majority of people will use the shortcuts.

Edge cases (such as users who want to set a specific date) often trip us up as designers. We become obsessed with providing these users a good experience. That is no bad thing as long as its not at the expense of the majority. Personally, I believe Mailbox has made the right decision in making selecting a specific date just that little bit harder in order to give the majority a better experience.

So next time you design an interface, take the time to consider how real users behave, rather than just doing the logical thing.