“Frog, Golden Eyes, Macro”​ by Josch13, Pixabay, used under CC0

Favor the Familiar

When designing experiences, favor what users already know.

Looney Tunes | One Froggy Evening

The Curse

Our familiarity with products can lead us astray. We have a cognitive bias, where we sometimes believe that everyone knows what we know. This “curse of knowledge” was first described by Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein, and Martin Weber. Although their research pertained to economics, the curse of knowledge affects everything from classrooms to mobile apps.

Our desire to innovate outpaces a user’s need to merely catch up.

Users adopt technologies according to a bell curve. First expressed by Everett Rogers in 1962, a small fraction of users — about 2.5% — adopts new technologies initially (see Figure 8–1). They are innovators. Over time, these innovators lead to early adopters, which grow to early majorities (34%). To reach the early majority of users, we must first cross a chasm.

Figure 8–1. The small fraction of early adopters leads to early majorities


Familiarity takes many forms. In The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, James Gibson describes his theory of how creatures see their environments. For example, the environment could be a swamp, and the creature, a frog. Weighing less than an ounce, a common frog will happily sit on a lily pad. The pad holds the frog’s weight, whereas the water surrounding it would not. We can describe the lily pad as “sit-able.” It affords the ability to be sat upon by a frog. Gibson calls this ability an affordance.

Figure 8–2. Several interface guidelines, including Apple Human Interface Guidelines, Google Material Design, and Microsoft Windows Design



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Edward Stull

User experience designer and researcher | author of UX Fundamentals for Non-UX Professionals http://goo.gl/o1KuYF