Some coworkers shared a meme that’s apparently been circulating on LinkedIn:

A USER INTERFACE IS LIKE A JOKE. IF YOU HAVE TO EXPLAIN IT, IT’S NOT THAT GOOD.

The meme is true for some applications, but definitely not for all. For instance, Microsoft Excel features a highly complex interface, but there’s a good reason it’s one of the most utilized business and research tools in the world, and I doubt the interface could realistically be made much simpler while retaining its capabilities.

The meme definitely doesn’t work in reverse: some interfaces require no explanation but are plenty bad regardless. For example: touchscreens are usually considered very intuitive because the user directly manipulates objects on the screen, but they can be difficult for certain people (e.g. those with vision impairment) to interact with in a physical sense rather than a cognitive one. There is an abundance of accessibility cases such as this.

Or, interfaces can require no explanation but be bad because in their simplicity they encourage an unhealthy level of interaction, or any interaction with a product that is unhealthy to begin with; if not for the simple interface, users might interact less with the unhealthy product or avoid it altogether, to their benefit. Think slot machines, social media, etc.

For many of the products I’ve worked on, a balance must be struck between intuitiveness and accommodating power users — those who rapidly learn and integrate into their regular use the non-obvious shortcuts, hidden features, and advanced capabilities of the product. This balance is found through research: talking with stakeholders, listening to and observing users, and learning about the broader context into which the product fits.

It is fun to identify ways a product’s interface can require less explanation — this very activity is what first got me interested in UX, as I suspect is true for many others in my field — but sometimes a simplification that makes a product easier to use for one person makes it less powerful, or in some cases completely unusable, for another.

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