Learnability… Make is Easy. Make it Consistent. Make it Enjoyable

By: Melissa A. Stewart

A critical element of Usability is Clarity, which signifies a website’s simplicity and clearness. A website that is simple and clear does not require users to spend significant time and effort to decide and select the correct action. Clarity requires a high level of learnability or intuitiveness which allows a user to understand and easily learn the process and correct choices. Exceptional learnability enables any user to immediately understand how to use the website and results in feelings of satisfaction and success.  Learnability qualities include:

 

 

Make it Quick and Easy

A website that has great learnability has an intuitive design so that the users can perform a task quickly and easily without great effort.  In addition to simplicity, learnability includes the effectiveness of a website, which is measured by task completion rates. A website that is not learnable will result in the user spending many attempts to perform the task resulting in failure.  For example, if a user needs to purchase an item, the website should have an easy and seamless purchasing process. If the user must spend much time to perform the task, then they will simply abandon the task and find another website.  A more learnable system is designed with an intuitiveness that allows the user to understand and learn the website with a graceful flow requiring little to no effort.  An intuitive website design can be done by understanding how users think and process information. Users process information more quickly in small chunks and users want and need to categorize information.

Chunking and Clicking.  Users process information better in small bite-sized chunks.  Limit the choices or chunks to 4 items because chunking information into groups help users stay focused. [1] By chunking choices, users will have many smaller less complicated choices which result in many clicks. More clicking means less concentrated thinking. “People are willing to click multiple times. In fact, they will not notice they are clicking if they are getting the right amount of information at each click to keep them going down the path.” [2] Users prefer mindless choices. “In general, users don’t mind a lot of clicks as long as each click is painless and they have continued confidence that they’re on the right track.” [3] Many effortless choices makes the website feel more intuitive and thus more learnable.

Organize and Categorize. Users inherently create categories because it makes it easy for them to identify and choose.  A website that is well organized and structured will improve learnability. When information on a website is organized and grouped into categories it improves recognition and understanding. “People naturally create categories.  People love to categorize.  If you don’t provide categories, people will create their own.” [4]

When designing and organizing the website, divide the sections into clearly defined topics which allow the user to easily determine which topic they need.  Use grouping and nesting to create a clear visual hierarchy. [5] When a website does not have a clear visual hierarchy everything looks equally important, which requires the user to spend more time to determine what category or group meets their needs. Omit needless words and minimize clutter which will reduce distractions for the user. [6] In addition, the labels and descriptions of the sections and categories are most important. Create a simple and meaningful title that will provide the user with the most information with a few amount of words.  A familiar and meaningful description will guarantee a more learnable website. For example, the label ‘Place an Order’ is simple and familiar to the user and promotes certainty and eliminates hesitation and doubt.

A website that has great learnability has an instinctive design that provides a clearly defined organization of categories and choices which guarantees an automatic and unthinking progression to task completion. This unthinking progression allows the user to perform tasks quickly and easily without effort.   Having an understanding and appreciation of what users expect when using a website will greatly improve learnability. Users want quick and easy.

Make it Consistent and Familiar

Users want a website design to be familiar and comfortable.  A website should perform and function the same as other comparable websites.  A consistent design produces a predictable and memorable user experience which improves website learnability.  A website designer must understand the psychology of design or how users think, remember and feel about a website.  This means a user’s mental model of how a website should look and function.  Also, learnability can be maximized through the use of standard website conventions that users would expect to function in the conventional manner.

Mental Model. Users have a mental model or preconceived beliefs of how a website should look and function.  A mental model establishes the user’s approach to problem solving and decision making when using a website. This mental model is an explanation of a user’s thought process about how something works, their cognitive reasoning and decision making.  Mental models can set an approach to solving problems and doing tasks.  A user’s mental model is based on past experiences and intuitive perceptions which lead them to predict and expect how a website functions.   A conceptual model is the actual website interface and how it functions. If a user’s mental model is different from the website’s conceptual model this will result in the user having difficulty learning and using the website. [7] “The secret to designing an intuitive user experience is making sure that the conceptual model of your website matches as much as possible the mental models of your audience.  If you get that right, you will have created a positive and useful experience.” [8]

For example, a user would expect a consistent process to place an order, such as the familiar Amazon shopping cart. A user wants a familiar and recognizable process of placing the item they want to purchase in a shopping cart and then completing several fields such as name and address and then lastly click the ‘process the order’ button which finishes the task of purchasing a product.  If a website design deviates from this simple purchasing process it will provide the user with feelings of confusion and concern.  The user will be unsure if they purchased the item, or worse if they purchased the item twice.  “When people are visiting websites or using applications, they don’t spend their time analyzing or admiring the design. They focus their attention on the task, the content, and their own data or documents” [9] Understanding how users think and feel will improve learnability.

Standard Conventions. Website design that is familiar and comfortable to the user will follow standards. By using consistent concepts of design, you help your users complete the task and reach their goals quickly and easily.  “People love a design when they know the features and can immediately locate the ones they need. That is they love a familiar design” [10] Using a familiar layout helps the users to quickly navigate the website.  A familiar website design follows the conventional standards using common icons and usual labels and descriptions.

In order to maximize learnability, a designer should make best use of standard conventions.  These include conventions such as logo placement, link styling and button functionality. A simple example is making what looks like a button act like a button. Conventions are valuable and do not need any instruction because they are usual and recognizable to the user.  Conventions allow a user to assume the same meaning from website to website. Some designers want their site to be exciting, new and different, but they end up simply confusing and frustrating the user when the standard conventions are changed. [11]

Users want a website design to be familiar and recognizable.  A website design should not change standard conventions unless the new design drastically improves ease and functionality for the user.  A website design that improves website learnability through the use of familiar and standard conventions will produce a memorable user experience. Understanding how users think, or their mental model will ensure learnability success. Users want consistent and familiar.

Make it Engaging and Enjoyable

A website that has a measure of high learnability is designed so that the task completion is so smooth and graceful the user never realizes that learning has occurred. This ease of learning produces feelings of satisfaction and confidence that the task was completed correctly.  A website that has a high degree of learnability is effortless and produces feelings of confidence and success as well as comfort and satisfaction.

Effortless Flow. Learnability relates to how easy and pleasant the website features are to use.  A user that is satisfied with a website experience will feel encouraged and inspired if task completion is processed with an ‘effortless flow’.  This effortless flow or seamless processing produces a feeling of enjoyment and fulfilment which results in a sense of learning success.  Errors or bugs will erode the confidence a user has with the website’s design and stability and interrupt the effortless flow.  The effortless flow is important because if the task is completed with much effort and decision making, the task completion process is tainted with concern, worry and frustration.  This worry and frustration will lead the user to abandon the website for another.

Progress and Confidence. The state of ‘effortless flow’ can be achieved through the continuous completion of small tasks and goals without distraction.  These small continuous tasks, or ‘chunks’ must hold the user’s attention but not be difficult so that it requires much thought and decision making.  This stream of progression provides the user with feedback that they are on the right track and are progressing toward their goal which is task completion. “Research shows that you need to feel that you have a good chance of completing the goal to get into and hold onto the flow state… And conversely, if not challenging enough, then you cannot hold attention and the flow state will end. “ [12] The ‘effortless flow’ motivates the user that they are making progress and mastering a new task. A proven way to provide the user with a progress indicator is to include a progress status bar which shows the amount of time until goal or task completion. Users are encouraged and inspired as they approach their goal. “Because mastery is such a powerful motivator, even small signs of progress can have a large effect in motivating people to move forward to the next step in a task.” [13]

Comfort and Satisfaction. When a website is learnable is allows the user to easily master the process and complete the required task without difficulty, struggle and effort.   This ease in learning produces a comfort to the user as well as a confidence with the performance of the website.  The overall result of high learnability is increased user satisfaction, successful learning and a feeling of trust and confidence in the website.  This feeling of trust and confidence is critical to attract and retain the user and guarantee their reliance and loyalty.  Without it the user will simply go to another website to complete the required task.

Make is Easy. Make it Consistent. Make it Enjoyable.

Learnability can be considered one of the most important of all Usability objectives.  Learnability is how easy it is for users to accomplish tasks and use the website features, and is measured by task completion rates. An intuitive website design ensures an effortless ease in learning which produces the user with a feeling of learning success and trust. A website design that maximizes learnability will be easy, familiar and enjoyable.

Additional Sources

 

References

  1. Weinschenk, Dr. Susan. 100 Things every designer needs to know about people. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2011), 48.

  2. Weinschenk, Dr. Susan. 100 Things every designer needs to know about people. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2011), 63-64.

  3. Krug, Steve. Don’t Make me Think. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2006), 41.

  4. Weinschenk, Dr. Susan. 100 Things every designer needs to know about people. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2011), 82-83.

  5. Krug, Steve. Don’t Make me Think. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2006), 31-32.

  6. Krug, Steve. Don’t Make me Think. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2006), 45.

  7. Weinschenk, Dr. Susan. 100 Things every designer needs to know about people. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2011), 74.

  8. Weinschenk, Dr. Susan. 100 Things every designer needs to know about people. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2011), 75.

  9. Nielsen, Jakob. “Fresh vs. Familiar: How Aggressively to Redesign.”NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. September 21, 2009. http://www.nngroup.com/articles/fresh-vs-familiar-aggressive-redesign/.

  10. Nielsen, Jakob. “Fresh vs. Familiar: How Aggressively to Redesign.”NN/g Nielsen Norman Group. September 21, 2009. http://www.nngroup.com/articles/fresh-vs-familiar-aggressive-redesign/.

  11. Krug, Steve. Don’t Make me Think. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2006), 34-35.

  12. Weinschenk, Dr. Susan. 100 Things every designer needs to know about people. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2011), 91.

  13. Weinschenk, Dr. Susan. 100 Things every designer needs to know about people. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2011), 127.