UX Series 01: Obstruction in Design
Dec 10, 2016
It’s an over touted phrase, parroted by developers, project managers, and other non designers alike; “Everything should be just three clicks away”. This disaster-tastrophy of a phrase has led to many an over cluttered dashboard and overly shallow site architecture. Yet, most dangerously, it takes credibility away from the ever important obstruction between the user and tasks they should never trust themselves with.
A Bit Cynical Huh?
I’ll say it now. I’ll say it again. I don’t trust my users. I never have and never will. This includes myself as well. Even the most confident of us at some point in our lives come to terms with the unavoidable fact that we are human and make mistakes. At least, we should.
With this in mind, there are certain tasks I do not trust my fallible primate mind to do unassisted, or at least without another pair of eyes over my shoulder.
- Purchasing bank breaking and expensive equipment.
- Making a decision for my company that may add hundreds or thousands of hours of labor to the queue.
- Signing any legal documentation that may end up with my soul now residing in the seventh circle of hell.
- Destroying any sensitive or valuable information.
Yet, when we build enterprise applications, we often automate these very things.
In the case of the home automation industry, mistakes may result in unexpected visitors in your home or an overly expensive utility bill. In the case of photo and document storage, the click of a single button could destroy mountains of information. As a fledgling intern at UCF, the single press of a button caused me to delete well over 30GB of content from a nursing course. Luckily there were backups, but full recovery of that particular course took days.
Now tell me again, why should everything be within three clicks?
To combat our mistake prone human nature, it is often common to add a sort of virtual roadblock between the user and their destination. The goal is still attainable, but the extra disruptive steps ensure that the user has thought about the process and is ready to commit to it.
We often see this in a few different ways.
- Adding confirmation dialogs
- Adding multi step, reversible, processes ( checkout systems )
- Burying content several pages deep within an application
- Keeping emphasis on a given UI element low, causing the user to hunt for the material
- Keeping content hidden behind a togglable, in line, menu
In summary, we want to encourage the user to think about their decision instead of blindly clicking a button. Alternatively, we may have a business need to retain users or uploaded content we otherwise may not want deleted.
When Not To Obstruct
Keeping these guidelines in mind can also be helpful in identifying when we may be unintentionally obstructing a process. This is often a side effect of an organically developing UI, when no designer is present. Ask yourself, does a feature commonly ignored by your users meet any of the above criteria? It may not be that the feature isn’t valid or useful, just that the number of obstructions in front of the user is way too high.
All of the value in the world will not save you if your users can’t get to it.
Use of obstruction is a tool that when used correctly, can prevent your application from enabling terrible decisions from being made, but when used incorrectly, can damage the user experience beyond repair. Great care must be taken when approaching the topic of user obstruction, but your users will thank you for preventing them from emptying half of their bank account on expensive electronics. Always keep in mind not just how we organize our site components, but the level of risk associated with each new feature we introduce.