With examples from Dropbox, Gmail, and more, here’s a no-nonsense guide to creating user experiences that are so natural, they feel invisible.
When you examine the most successful interaction designs of recent years, the clear winners are those who execute fundamentals flawlessly, like Gmail’s autosave function and Uber’s credit card entry form. They feed off natural human behavior, then quietly remove barriers without us ever noticing.
When we talk about invisible design, we aren’t just describing minimalism. Minimalist interfaces are certainly a way to achieve invisible design, but they are not the goal.
The goal is to create an interaction system that naturally aligns with the user’s mental models. Simple user flows, clear visuals, and forgiving design help create the illusion that the user’s abilities, not the designers’, allowed for a seamless experience. Remove any sign of your ego from the interface, and the user will start to feel like the hero.
Simplify your user flows
A simple user flow doesn’t always show off your design skills, but it does help users achieve their goal. Here are some ways to get users to their goals faster:
Fewer steps — List out the steps required to complete a task, then remove redundancies. For example, to log in a user (1.) clicks in the username field, (2.) types their username, (3.) clicks in the password form field, etc. You can see how, if you make the default cursor position start in the username field, you shave off an unnecessary step. Try listing them out backwards for a fresh perspective.
Simpler steps — The goal is not to make as few steps as possible, but the simplest steps. Make an interface that’s self-explanatory, and don’t bog down users with too many decisions . Don’t obsess over the three-click rule , the idea that users will leave your site if they have to click more than three times, but recognize the spirit behind it.
Map user flow — Jessica Downey has a helpful method for mapping user flow. Ryan Singer of Basecamp has a similar but faster approach .
User testing — Guesswork is unreliable. Test at least five users to see how they instinctively try to complete a task. This gives you more informed data when applying the other steps above.
Let’s look at three examples of simplified user flows in action (as further detailedhere):
Credit cards are notoriously tedious to enter, especially on a mobile phone, but Uber lets users snap a photo of their card to capture all of the information.
Uber They’ve shortened the payment user flow from:
Type in First Name
Type in Last Name
Type in all digits of credit card
Type in security number
Take photo of credit card
For a user, the experience isn’t just useful, it’s nearly magical.
Dropbox’s entire service is a simplified user flow of the otherwise tedious task of uploading and downloading a large number of files individually.
Dropbox Dropbox created a much faster shortcut by introducing system folders.
Going in, most users are already familiar with how folders work, so this is simpler for them. But more importantly, they can upload/download all their documents in one or two folders. Add to that a simple drag-and-drop functionality.
3. Oscar Insurance
Other insurance sites typically have multiple form fields with information that’s not always relevant. Oscar Insurance brings the industry up-to-date with a modern—and simple—form entry.