Monthly Archives: July 2015


Threshold Mapping

Word: Threshold mapping

Definition: The mapping of default or normal states of a user to better understand what happens when a person leaves her normal state and crosses the line into an alternative condition. When a person crosses this metaphorical line, or threshold to be exact, she tends to think and act differently.

Reference: I first learned about the concept of threshold mapping in the book Hidden in Plain Sight by Jan Chipchase. Chipchase is the founder of Studio D Radiodurans, a research, design and innovation consultancy, and SDR Traveller. In his book, he uses taking a shower as an example to illustrate a threshold map. Many people feel clean for about a day and therefore do not have the urge to shower more than every 24 hours. In this case, a day would be the threshold. If this person, with a threshold of a day, goes three days without showering, she has crossed her cleanliness threshold and will most likely think and act differently until she gets back into her normal state by taking a shower.

Thoughts: So what does this have to do with user experience design? Good question! Understanding user thresholds provide a significant window into user decision-making. When a user researcher understands why and how someone performs an action, she can create better experiences based on those decision patterns.

Chipchase explains the effects on design research in Hidden in Plain Sight:

“For designers to understand what lies within the boundaries of acceptable use and what lies outside those boundaries, they need to understand the contexts in which things will be used, and the range of likely conditions that will change that context in some way… design research helps us understand the boundaries of normal behaviors.”



Word: Microinteractions

Definition: Contained product moments or details that are only responsible for one small task.

Thoughts: One of the absolute best examples of a microinteraction is Facebook’s “Like” button but these small interactions can include anything from a progress bars, to navigation animations, or even a simple mute button. The beauty of a small interactions is that while from afar they seem less significant, it is the small details that elevate user experiences to new levels.

Microinteractions are not always the headline-making features, but at the end of the day separate good products from great ones. These small interactions are best utilized when they turn a difficult or dull moment into an enjoyable one. Basically, this small if you want big results.

Questions: Can too much attention to microinteractions ever take away from the larger product goals?



Word: Minimalism

Definition:  As it pertains to web design, minimalism is a design style typically identified through the use of flat textures, limited color palettes, and vast negative space. In addition to aesthetic decisions, minimalism can help prioritize content and focus design to simplify user tasks.

Thoughts: Minimalism in web design began in the early 2000s and barrows philosophies from previous art movements. This style is not just an aesthetic trend however, it actually plays an important role in user experience in the way it can guide and assist the user through a site or application. Nielsen Norman Group describes the impact on UX,

When employed correctly, the goal of minimalist web design should be to present content and features in a simple, direct way by providing as little distraction from the core content as possible. This strategy often involves removing content or features that don’t support the primary goals of the interface or its users.

The debate over minimalist design in user interfaces argues both usability wins and shortcomings. On the positive side, designers argue that minimalism reduces clutter and information overload as well as providing a visually appealing look that users respond positively to. On the flip side, minimalism can run the risk of poor discoverability in that the user can have a hard time understanding page hierarchies or finding the happy path.

Question: In our current world where flat design is key, is there ever a point where minimalism goes too far and hurts the overall user experience?



Anticipatory Design

Word: Anticipatory Design

Definition: When decisions are made and executed on behalf of the user, thus eliminating the need for choice.

Thoughts: The goal of this type of design, as stated by Aaron Shapiro in a recent Fast Co. article, is to essentially relieve the user of any decision making because the choices are instead made for her. The elimination of decision, reduces steps, and thus reduces task time. The key here is automation through machine learning.

Anticipatory design is based on previous knowledge of user behaviors. Think about the future of buying airline tickets. The idea being that you will no longer need to fill out long forms and enter in personal information. Instead, the application will see on your calendar that you are attending an out of town wedding and book your tickets for you based on previous purchasing habits like preferred airlines and travel times.

Question: How much of user experience is based on the notion of user decision-making? How does automated choices change our mental model as UX designers?