User Interaction & The ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ Design Principle.

Scott StultsOctober 25, 2007

The ‘Don’t make me think’ design principle comes from the concept that any user interaction should be obvious to a degree that it does not require critical thinking skills to find the secret pop up menu, and presents information in such a way that a user doesn’t have to decipher the information, read glyphs, or call tech support in order to understand it.  Basically, the user doesn’t have to think, because what you have designed is intuitive.

I’m currently Pittsburgh right now, the morning after a red eye flight, because United Airlines had violated the key concept of ‘don’t make me think’ design. Sure it is ultimately my responsibility, since I should have arrived at the airport earlier just in case a situation had arisen and I needed more time. The email/flight confirmation that I had received said ‘United Flight’, there was nothing about the return flight home being provided by us air at a total different terminal on the other side of the airport. In fact ‘us air’ was in small print below ‘United Flight 4264′. There was no indication that the user should log into Us Air’s website or some kind of bold warning or notation that the flight had another provider. Granted this was technically my fault, most users/clients/customer are not going to be as understanding as I am. After all, ‘Time is money’, or at least a very valued commidity that is hard to come by.

In fact when on the flight up, united sent an e-mail reminder with the flight information the day before the flight. There was no such e-mail for the flight home, nor was it on the website, however there should have been some obvious indicator that would lead you to Us Air’s website to let you know who in fact owned the ticket and where you could log in online in order to do an e-checkin.

It is a genius ploy really. United takes the ticket money for both flights, to which it can earn interest on, then at the end of month, it pays Us Air for that passenger’s flight home. The bad part is, its not obvious to the end user, therefore its not a win/win for the air company.

User Interaction, whether by the Interface design or by the nature of the work flow should be done in such a way that the user naturally flows and does not have to apply critical thinking skills to something that should take less time, not more time. Otherwise you’re taking away from the “value added” part of the business, leaving yourself open to competitors to take advantage of this weakness.

This theory also applies to the user interface design of an application. A user should never have to spend 20 minutes to find a button or hidden pop up menu. Everything should have a clear indication of its purpose to the point a user does not have to think, they already know what to do or can easily deduct what to do by using some kind of walk through. Communication is key, so how are you communicating to your users?

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