In User Experience (UX) we establish users’ needs through research and looking at product usage (where do users struggle with the use of the product – context of use), through the process of user testing. We establish user needs, help the product owner clarify his MVP and expose user problems, so that the product owner, in the end, can create a better product.

One problem with these tools, is that they are reactive. We need to gather data and it is “new” for every product and market. What if we had data that could be used proactively to shape the design, before you get to testing? The first designs tend to copy existing popular products, but we don’t have context of their design decisions and their products aren’t necessarily better.

Is there maybe something that is consistent in this dynamic between user, the device/software/app and the context of use? It isn’t the product, because with products we are always testings new products or features. It isn’t users on a “personality” level, because people all have an unique personalities, due to experiences. We create 5 personas to generally capture these differences. It isn’t context, because people use products in many context variants (which should be captured in good personas).

Is there anything consistent inside people? What is consistent, is how the brain works. The brain does many wonderful things, but consistently the brain follows the “path of least resistance”; we try to do the least amount of work to get a task done¹.

In “Thinking, Fast & Slow”, Daniel Kahneman explains how we move tasks that requires a lot of thinking, to become automated tasks (which requires no thinking).

The “Path of Least Resistance” is a common underlying theme if you look at “100 Things Every Designer Should Know” by Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.: (i) People don’t want to think or work more than they have to, (ii) People have limitations, (iii) People make mistakes, (iv) Human memory is complicated, (v) Attention challenges, (vi) People create mental models, and (vii) Comprehension is gained from the visual system.

Every time we add another feature, it changes the app’s processes to work differently, to what users expect or require users to remember data in order to do something. We are forcing them to “actively” think (active thinking requires a lot more effort than passive thinking). If you look at how much information the human brain has to process every second (The subconscious brain handles 11 million bits of information per second), you can’t blame it for trying to find “shortcuts”, but these shortcuts unfortunately create problems for people.

So what can be done in order to limit or address these “challenges? What follows is not a complete list of “tools”, but a start in trying to discover this “path”.

How to build a “Path of Least Resistance”

  • Mental & Physical Limitations
    Your product’s design needs to overcome people’s physical & mental limitations.
  • Scarce Resources to evaluate “Simplicity”
    Dave Rothschild gives a good breakdown for the six factors by which simplicity is evaluated (taken from BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model), as used in the JTBD framework. The six factors are: Time, Money, Physical Effort, Brain Cycles (Cognitive Load), Social Defiance & Non-Routine.
  • UI is Communication
    I love Everett McKay’s “UI is Communication” in which he states that “we should design intuitive user interfaces by focusing on effective human communication. A user interface is ultimately a conversation between users and technology.”
  • Discoverable Paths
    What are the best path to take and which path are users taking? If it isn’t the same, then maybe your design isn’t obvious or communicating clearly.
  • Customer Data & Devices
    What do we have already access to, that doesn’t require user input?

    • The Device
      Using data/functionality from the device e.g. gps for address
    • Shortcuts
      Asking for one thing, can give you numerous other data e.g. if you know the customer’s postal code, you can pre-fill City, Province, Country OR yourCredit Card number already contains if it is VISA, MASTERCARD, etc.
    • Existing User Data
      If a user is signed in, we already have data available for him. Don’t request data you already have. Rather pre-fill it.
    • Automation
      What can be automated with controlled risk? E.g. Email an automatic sign-in token for a user to complete things like product reviews, feedback, etc.
    • Interaction
      Which interactions are less intrusive e.g. Give users an “Undo” option instead of requiring “confirmation”, every time.
  • Basic vs. Advance Functionality
    Know you user’s computer literacy and focus on making basic functionality visible and advance features available through exploration.

Notes

  1. We do make conscious choices based on other factors e.g. benefit of the app/device outweighs the effort, but getting people to internalise “your benefits” or perceive your app as “cool” is a lot more challenging.

Links & References

  1. Thinking, Fast & Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
  2. 100 Things Every Designer Should Know” by Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D
  3. The subsconscious brain handles 11 million bits of information per second 
  4. Six factors by which simplicity is evaluated” by Dave Rothschild
  5. Jobs to be Done framework
  6. BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model
  7. UI is Communication” by Everett McKay