Mark Johnson

    Good design is intuitive

    Tuesday 2nd July, 2019 - 3 min read

    User error or design error?

    I was on the Luas on the weekend and someone’s phone was ringing and wasn’t being picked up. I turned around to see a middle-aged woman tapping the answer call button on her phone to no avail. I saw from the subtle UI hints that the answer button actually needed to be held and swiped upwards to answer the call, but this woman hadn’t noticed this, and her call was about to go to voicemail. I leant over, put my finger on the screen and swiped up on the phone to help her answer the call. She laughed and thanked me, and I caught a few grins from other passengers laughing at this strange situation.

    How did we get here?

    How did we get to this point where we can’t answer our own phones anymore? You could argue this woman wasn’t technically savvy, but she probably represents 30% of users; this isn’t an edge case. My mum would probably do the same if she got a new phone. This woman just wanted to talk with whoever was on the other end of the phone. A big green answer button which would answer the call when tapped was all that was needed. But that’s too simple, too boring.

    We sit down in our office with our 32” 4k displays and mock-up beautiful UI, incorporate the latest design frameworks and painstakingly slave over icon weights and pixel distances. There’s an in-joke when we stumble across a poorly designed feature at Microsoft that “someone got promoted from this”, and there’s normally some truth to it. Our design often serves our own needs for professional development, not our customers needs.

    Complex design

    An example answer call screen

    This is a different design to the one described above but it illustrates the same point. If I want to answer a call do I tap the green button in the middle, the green button on the right, or do I hold and swipe from the middle to the right? How many users will understand this? And how many users will be able to perform this action reliably?

    Also, what happens if I was used to swiping up on my old phone and I accidentally swipe up here? Am I greeted with a text message, perhaps even pre-populated with “Can’t talk right now”? I was just trying to answer the call. How confusing.


    Let’s remember that good design is often simple and intuitive.

    Enjoyed this post? ❤️

    Subscribe by email or RSS.