Ease of Use
What is Ease of Use?
Ease of use is a basic concept that describes how easily users can use a product. Design teams define specific metrics per project—e.g., “Users must be able to tap Find within 3 seconds of accessing the interface.”—and aim to optimize ease of use while offering maximum functionality and respecting business limitations.
“Ease of use may be invisible, but its absence sure isn’t.”
See why ease of use is a fundamental part of user experience.
Designing for Ease of Use can be Complicated
Ease of use is a central usability concept. Usability comprises all user experience (UX) elements relating to the ease with which users can learn, discover content and do more with a design/product. In UX design, usability is a minimum requirement for any successful product, but good usability alone is no guarantee of market success. If you create an easy-to-use interface, though, you can partly tap into emotional design and help users fall in love with it, your brand and the service represented.
Ease of use is frequently at odds with functionality – a balance where functionality sometimes wins. For example, a DSLR camera gives users immense control. The “price”, however, is that users need some photographic expertise – unlike with point-and-shoot smartphones. A vital dynamic in user interface (UI) design is users’ ability to achieve goals without having to consider they’re using a website or app. So, ease of use is an integral part of seamless experiences. Designers typically strive to answer “Can users interact easily enough with the interface to complete their tasks/goals effortlessly?” with “How might we minimize the complexity of what users must do?”.
Author/Copyright holder: Bill Bertram. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0
DSLR cameras are usually as simple as possible, for target users.
How to Maximize Ease of Use
Easy-to-use designs are ones which users find so familiar that they’re intuitive. It’s best to start with user research so you can understand your users and the contexts in which they’ll encounter and use your design. When your research helps you gain empathy with users through contextual interviews, observations, etc., you can see what “ease of use” would mean for them. Then, you’ll be able to determine how to map the best functions to their needs. First, you’ll want to consider your users’ goals:
- Overall goals –What your users want to achieve ultimately – E.g., healthier bloody pressure levels.
- Completion goals –What they expect to have happened after using your product – E.g., lower blood pressure.
- Behavioral goals –What they would do to achieve the goal without your product – E.g., manually record their daily salt intake if they didn’t have your app.
A key part of maximizing ease of use is to understand the fine details of how users see their own needs, problems, etc. Helpful questions include:
- What are users prepared to do to reach those goals and any subtasks on the way? – Specifically, what must they do as they progress and why must they do action A before action B, etc.? What expectations do they have at each touchpoint?
- Where would they use this product? – e.g., at home
- How would they use it? – e.g., on a smartphone
- What would prompt them to use it? – e.g., needing to book travel tickets
- What would they expect to find as they move through a process? – e.g., a shopping cart
- What’s going on around them while they use it?– e.g., are they moving around, possibly stressed?
- What obstacles might keep them from using it? – e.g., signal strength issues, other parties must act first.
- What could motivate them to pick your product over a competitor’s? – E.g., they can wear your fitness app and scan food product barcodes with a smartphone.
When you answer these, you can work towards project-specific metrics, such as: “Train users must be able to find travel information within 15 seconds.”
Our homepage features affordances (blue buttons), whitespace and more to optimize ease of use.
Special Ease-of-use Considerations
Here are some helpful things to consider for easy-to-use designs:
- Imagine a “perfect scenario” – When you address questions such as “What if this process magically occurred?” or “What if users had an incredibly knowledgeable helper?” as you begin the design process, you might just discover the easiest path for users to take on their task flows.
- Affordances and natural mapping – Use design principles to make (e.g.) pushbuttons and match users’ expectations for how real-world items work. Instantly recognizable controls should work predictably (e.g., sliders offer smooth adjustment).
- Mobile UX design – When users work on smaller screens and in hectic/uncomfortable environments, they’ll become frustrated far faster than when sitting with their desktops. So, try to discover their expectations, pain points, etc. from using tools such as customer journey maps.
- UI design patterns – Patterns such as wizards, to prepare forms, help reduce stress and hard
- Accessibility – When you maximize ease of use with features that include users of all abilities, your product will likely be more successful among all types of users.
Overall, reality rules – and sometimes you’ll need to make trade-offs for your product to be viable (e.g., avoiding expensive technology to run it on).
Learn More about Ease of Use
We have several courses discussing ease of use: e.g., https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/get-your-product-used-adoption-and-appropriation
Here’s a thought-provoking Experience Dynamics piece examining important ease-of-use angles: https://www.experiencedynamics.com/blog/2020/01/how-explain-ease-use-vs-context-use-your-boss
Discover this Nielsen Norman Group approach to measuring ease of use: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/pure-method/?lm=measuring-perceived-usability&pt=article
Literature on Ease of Use
Here’s the entire UX literature on Ease of Use by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
Learn more about Ease of Use
Take a deep dive into Ease of Use with our course Design Thinking: The Ultimate Guide .
Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and General Electric, have rapidly adopted the design thinking approach, and design thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including Stanford d.school, Harvard, and MIT. What is design thinking, and why is it so popular and effective?
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Design thinking methods and strategies belong at every level of the design process. However, design thinking is not an exclusive property of designers—all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering, and business have practiced it. What’s special about design thinking is that designers and designers’ work processes can help us systematically extract, teach, learn, and apply these human-centered techniques in solving problems in a creative and innovative way—in our designs, in our businesses, in our countries, and in our lives.
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