Interaction Cost

Word: Interaction Cost

Definition: An interaction cost is equal to the physical effort plus the mental effort exuded by the user per a given task.

In a perfect world, the interaction cost would be zero, in that the user would know exactly what she has to do and how she can accomplish her goals, all without any effort or strain. However, we know that this is an impossible standard to attain, so the point is to get close!

Reference: This term comes from the early days of Human Computer Interaction and is used to evaluate a product’s usability. Tools such as heuristic evaluations directly influence and ultimately minimize the interaction cost for the user.

Thoughts:  Examples of efforts that can be minimized and ultimately lower the interaction cost are:

  • Reading
  • Scrolling
  • Clicking/tapping
  • Typing
  • Page loading
  • Way-finding

Now let’s reduce the abstraction and look at a very basic example! Image you are filling out a form on a mobile app. You are exerting effort every time you read a form field label, click into the field, type a value into that field, and then finally submit the value. When broken down in this manner, that is a lot of effort!

Think about the small things that we can do as UX designers that will help lower this effort. We can automatically display the numerical keyboard on a phone number or zip code fields. We can allow the user to tab from one field to the next without exiting the keyboard display. We can display shortcuts to various form field sections for easy access. The possibilities are endless!

These may seem like small interactions and mundane examples but it is through such details that the larger interaction cost is reduced and the usability of a product ultimately increases.


Faceted Navigation

Word: Faceted Navigation

Definition: A faceted navigation is typically understood by users as a filter system. Faceted meta data is leveraged through its fields and values, which are visible to the user. The user can then manipulate the values to refine and clarify her search query in order to better understand the data.

Reference: Field-leading blog, A List Apart, calls faceted navigation, “arguably the most significant search innovation of the past decade” in reference to The Flamenco Search Interface Project conducted at UC Berkeley’s school of information.

Thoughts: Data is becoming more and more robust with every passing day and it is increasingly important to be able to make sense of it and sort through vast amounts in a meaningful way. While this is easily illustrated through the dynamic filter system of sites like Amazon, refining information is extremely important everywhere from large e-commerce sites to specified enterprise software. Users need and want more control over queries and it is up to UX designers to provide clear options and paths to this desired information.


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?


Infinite Scroll

Word: Infinite Scroll

Definition:  When the content on a page continuously loads as the user scrolls down the page; essentially eliminating the need for pagination. Think Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter.

Thoughts: Infinite scroll has become an enormously popular user interface trend. It requires less precision and much fewer clicks, which typically help retain user attention over time. This UI pattern is extremely useful when displaying a large amount of content, all with a similar hierarchy, like on social media.

However, like most UI patterns, there is a time and a place for everything. It is not always the best option when designing a goal-oriented task, like locating specific objects or comparing products. When there is a goal at stake, an infinite scroll can feel like information-overload and make the task seem more difficult to accomplish.

Moral of this story is that infinite scroll is a trendy and effective UI technique, just make sure that it is used properly and with purpose!

Question: How much does the threat of page loading time effect your decision to utilize an infinite scroll your design?


Top-down approach

Word: Top-down approach

Definition: An approach to information architecture that involves creating a site’s architecture directly from an understanding of product objectives and user needs.

Thoughts: This approach begins with the broadest possible categories for the content and strategy while still accomplishing the strategic goals. From there, the broad categories can then be broken down into more logical and specific subsections.

However, here is your word of warning… when using a top-down approach, important details can go overlooked so be mindful and proceed with caution and thoughtfulness (as I’m sure you already do).

Question: When is a top-down approach an ineffective strategy?


Third Person Effect

Word: Third person effect

Definition: The notion that a person exposed to persuasive mass media communication believes it to have a greater effect on others than on herself. The person will essentially over predict the influence that such techniques will have on others.

Reference: The third-person effect was first introduced by W. Phillips Davison in 1983. Davison’s theory says that people not only overestimate media impact on others, but they also deny that the mass media has an impact on themselves.

Thoughts: The way messaging influences user psychology is important to remember when designing anything meant to effect user decision-making. People do not like to think of themselves as easily swayed because it means that we are not in control or thinking freely. While this does not have a direct effect on a UX research method or a specified UI trend, it is helpful to understand and consider when making design choices meant to influence others.


Persistent Navigation

Word: Persistent Navigation

Definition: Navigation that is present on every page of a website or application, in the same location and format.

Thoughts: The consistency provided by persistent navigation is important for user way-finding and orientation. This navigation should not be confused with “sticky” navigation, that is, one that remains stuck to the top of the page while the user scrolls. Persistent navigation is all about maintaining a dependable and known element from page to page that gives the user the comfort to adventure and explore without the worry of getting lost.

Question: What is the role of persistent navigation in a world where long single webpages seems to be all the rage?