It needs to be obvious. This is the defining principle of UX (User Experience). As someone who is tech literate, I sometimes take this for granted. I’m pretty good at picking up most applications and figuring how to do the basics. The intermediate stuff, however, is a different story. For the most part, this is because the UX designers did their job perfectly. For instance, I happen to think that Adobe Illustrator has a fantastic User Experience, with most things seemingly obvious to me when I started out with it. However, by contrast, I consider Audacity to have an awful User Experience; I figured out how to use it fast enough but that was more so from taking random guesses rather than intelligent guesses.
And that’s an important distinction.
Intelligent guesses are when you are able to rely on the information immediately presented to you and subsequently draw fair conclusions.
Random guesses are when your immediate information is too lacking to draw conclusions from, so you instead build unfounded conclusions. (Most of these conclusions will be wrong, but if you do this enough then you’ll probably learn the basics of most programs. This is how using Audacity worked for me).
The line between these two types of guesses is razor thin. In fact, I didn’t notice how thin this line is until I tried using my phone while tripping.
Quite a while back when I was at the peak of my acid trip I found myself lost. I couldn’t locate my friends. I decided that it was time to call them, so I picked up my phone and was immediately faced with a problem.
My phone felt like alien technology.
Despite the fact that I had owned my phone for 1.5 years, and had been using Android phones for five, I was completely out of my depth. I felt powerless as I stared at my screen. It took an embarrassingly long five minutes to unlock my phone, navigate to my contacts, and find the names of my friends.
Why? Because I could no longer rely on my immediate information, it wasn’t obvious anymore.
UX and psychedelics
While trying to figure out my phone, I kept asking myself: ‘why doesn’t this feel natural?’ I had completed far more complex actions throughout that trip. I had walked, I had shaved, I had eaten food. I think it’s fair to say these three things require much more intricacy than making a simple phone call.
The difference is that using my phone did not feel natural. For me, most electronics feel unnatural to use while tripping, so this is no surprise, and no UX developer should feel obliged to make tech that is easy for trippers (we’re too small of a demographic), so what is my point?
Nature needs to be considered
Once I sobered up, using my phone felt natural again. I could, once again, comprehend the information presented to me. My experience taught me that the key to a good User Experience relies in making things feel natural. If it feels natural then it feels obvious.
Let me take you to one of my favourite questions on the User Experience Stack Exchange. Why do people clear the screen multiple times when using a calculator? And let me take you to my favourite answer. Essentially, the person here is saying that people clear multiple times because there is no clear indication of a blank slate. Many times there is no visible reaction to pressing the Clear button, leading people to press it multiple times.
This echos the physical world. Action and reaction is expected within this life. It is a basic principle of physics, and it is ingrained within our existence. I actively think about moving my legs, and then as a reaction my legs move. This makes walking feel natural. It feels unnatural to press clear on a calculator (or ctrl-C on a PC) and experience no visual or audible reactions. It goes against what we have learned throughout our lives. We need reactions when we take actions.
User Experience needs to be obvious, and psychedelics taught me that obvious = natural; however how the word ‘natural’ is interpreted is up to the designers and developers themselves. Your applications need to mimic and echo the way the natural world works. I used ‘action and reaction’ as an example; another example would be how nature seems to equate ‘red’ with danger. An essay by Katy Beinart titled ‘Red: the Colour Currency of Nature’ goes into detail about this. A fair conclusion to draw is that, it makes sense to use red as a colour to depict errors, or to use it to even signify the ending of a program (which is what both Windows and MacOS do).
I’m making this sound simple, but it’s obviously hard to actually do correctly, or else everybody would be a great UX designer.
To me, a fantastic User Experience is created when developers communicate in the design language of the world itself.
For further critical discussions on the psychedelic experience, visit my website. I am currently crafting a magazine comprised of topics just like this one!