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Experience Design

Good UX Design is Not a Buffet of Choices

A recent frustration I’ve been feeling can be summed up very nicely by a quote from UX designer Leisa Reichelt—“Don’t design for everyone. It’s impossible. All you end up doing is designing something that makes everyone unhappy.”
It’s been a recurring request on the last few projects I’ve been involved with. Somewhere along the way the client says, “This user group does X this way, but this other group does it Y way, so we have to accommodate for both workflows.” We do now, do we?
I subscribe to the philosophy that the fewer choices the user has to make, the better. This is especially true for applications, Intranets, CRMs or any system that is primarily task-driven. The more ways you offer to do the same thing, unless those ways are constructed VERY carefully and with very specific purposes in mind, the more confusion you introduce—this is sometimes called “choice paralysis.” The user starts to wonder which way they should accomplish the task or whether any differences between the two paths actually exists.
In Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think, he posits that the less a user has to think about what is necessary to achieve a goal, the more likely it is that he’ll be successful at achieving it. This is often in direct opposition to what users think they want—users (or even clients) may say they want more choice, but in reality, studies have shown that an abundance of choices leads to anxiety, uncertainty and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
If we do indeed muddle the user experience with a bunch of ways to accomplish the same task to try to appease everyone, aren’t we actually failing everyone? Or course, there are ways to make an intuitive interface with multiple ways to accomplish the same thing (for instance, most software programs employ the use of menus as well as icon shortcuts for accomplishing tasks, and they do so without cluttering or getting in the way of the user experience). Before we go down the route of creating multiple paths, it’s crucial to understand why group A does it this way and group B does it that way.

  • Is it because they have different needs for what it should do? If their needs vary so greatly, perhaps breaking it up into two distinct pieces of functionality makes the most sense. We often get trapped into poor user experiences because we try to cram eight pounds of features into a four-pound bag.
  • Is it because they, as a group, have different preferences for how they like to interact (e.g., one group is very data-driven and wants lists, while the other likes to browse and explore)? If so, is there a way to incorporate personalization or customization into the system to account for these personal/group preferences? And it’s also important to realize that just because someone prefers to do something one way doesn’t mean they won’t be successful doing it another way—IF that other way is easy and intuitive.
  • Is it because they were trained to do it that way? This is often the root cause—users do something a specific way because they were taught that way. This, in my opinion, should never be the reason to continue a poor user experience. The goal of an intuitive system is that it doesn’t have to be “taught.” From my experience, this is the most common rationale clients have for wanting multiple paths to accomplish the same thing—the users are “used to doing it this way.” This is when you remind them why they hired us in the first place.

So when a client asks you to present the same task in two different ways, it’s important to first stop and ask why it’s necessary. And then try to find a unified path that accomplishes the goals without muddling the user experience.
Some additional reading on the subject:

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Natalie Kurz

For the last 10 years Natalie Kurz has helped clients navigate the rapidly changing digital landscape by guiding them through the process of creating a cohesive user-centered online presence. Her work has included branding and voice definition, digital and social media strategies, integrated marketing campaigns, mobile application design, copywriting, user interface design and Intranet development for clients in the financial, health, consumer product, education and advocacy sectors. She’s had the pleasure of working with industry leaders including Express Scripts,, Stifel Nicolaus, Protective Insurance, Northwestern University, Washington University, State Farm, Jiffy Steamer and Purina. She holds a masters degree in journalism from NYU.

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