Like You Did Nothing At All

Sometimes the surest sign you did a good job is that nobody noticed.

Several years ago, I helped to develop a multi-day boot camp here at Qlik where we taught best practices, tips & tricks, and general advice on app development. I mentioned how good design often goes unnoticed and how we tend to notice when something is broken more than when it is working. There is an episode of Futurama where God, represented as the Universe itself, says “when you do things right people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

When we are focused on a task, anything that hinders the completion of that task is a problem. When you are driving somewhere you tend to notice the potholes in the road more than the smooth portions because the potholes are slowing you down. You don’t usually really appreciate a smooth road because, well, a road is supposed to be smooth - it’s just doing its job.

Perhaps one of the most memorable user experiences is the poorly designed online form. Rare is the site that gets it right. We have all encountered horrible forms that can wipe out all of your completed fields after you hit submit because of an error in one input box, or where a country dropdown isn’t in alphabetical order, or a calendar input field that is almost intentionally confusing about the formatting it requires, etc. If we didn’t have to complete these forms, we would never use them and it’s because of the frustration they cause that they are memorable.

A good user experience is one that lets you effortlessly do the task you came there to do. A good user experience can be forgettable, and that’s okay. Very few user experiences are so good that they are memorable, such as an experience being exceptionally cool or being exceptionally easy to work with. Most of the time however user experiences help us complete a task and we move on.

So, when you are designing an application, a dashboard, a report, and you think of adding some “flair” to spice up the design, remember that the thing people want the most is ease of use. People want the design to work more than anything else. If you have done your job right people may not notice you did anything at all.

What makes for a good user experience? In his latest post, Michael Anthony describes why seamlessness and ease of use are important.

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