Foundations of UX: Logic and Content
Illustration by John Hersey

Foundations of UX: Logic and Content

with Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Video: Logic problems in UX: Solutions

When we started our journey, I laid out some I already addressed the linking of social media The concept of No UI interfaces is rife with logic problems.

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Watch the Online Video Course Foundations of UX: Logic and Content
1h 45m Beginner Dec 02, 2013

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Foundations of UX: Logic and Content looks at how designers, developers, and content creators can use the ancient art of logic and reasoning to improve user experiences and facilitate communication. Morten Rand-Hendriksen looks at the principles of logic, how computer logic and human logic differ, and how these differences can be used to improve communication.

The core idea of logic is to create a system in which communication is clear, precise, and unambiguous, which is (or at least should be) the goal of any website or other communication.

Topics include:
  • How humans communicate
  • Comparing human and computer communication
  • Speaking logically
  • Using logical arguments
  • Understanding the limits of computer logic
  • Formatting information for humans
  • Communicating with logic
Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Logic problems in UX: Solutions

When we started our journey, I laid out some examples of logic problems and user experience for you. Links to single posts on social networks, closing modal boxes, No UI interfaces, unclear messages, and unintentional misinformation. Now we can use what we've learned about logic and human communication to pick these problems apart and find solutions. I already addressed the linking of social media postings in the previous movie, but it's worth repeating.

The direct link to any item on social media whether it be a post, an image, a video, or a comment is hidden under the publishing date and time of that posting. Historically this makes sense. But it is neither intuitive nor logical. The reason this convention is so prevalent is as I explained earlier likely due to a combination of acquired behavior and tacit knowledge in the mind of the designer and developer. The key issue with these links is that they are not obvious.

And as we've learned, you can't assume the user knows what to do from previous experience. In other words to solve this issue we have to add explicit indicators that these are in fact links. That could be in the form of a small icon like an arrow or a globe as you see in the Facebook example. Or making the links look like actual links or even moving the functionality to its old dedicated button. Modal boxes are prevalent on the web and in apps, and the method for closing them differs from solution to solution.

In most cases, there will be a close button with an x symbol in the one of the corners. In some cases, you can also use the Escape key on your keyboard to close the modal box. And most solutions today allow the user to click anywhere outside of the box to close it. Here the main problem, from a logic standpoint, is the instruction provided for users using non-standard interaction methods. Let's say you were controlling your computer using your voice. How do you close the modal box? Voice control typically allows you to interact with links by reading out the title of the links.

But as with most links on the web, these close buttons rarely have the title attribute defined, which leaves the user guessing. To further complicate matters, the close button is not actually a close button, but rather a return or collapse item button. When no prompt is given, the natural tendency is to say something like, close box, or close window. But this results in the actual browser window closing. Not at all what was intended. The solution here, as before, is to be explicit.

The action intended is to return to main content. So the title and instruction for the button should be return to main content, or something equally descriptive. This description uses logic to imply that the current content is secondary and can be removed without at the same time closing down the entire experience. The concept of No UI interfaces is rife with logic problems. So let's just look at the main issue. The term No UI itself is an oxymoron.

A user interface is by definition an interface. A No UI interface would be an interface with no interface, otherwise known as a logically unsound statement. And just like the term is an oxymoron, so is the idea counterintuitive and logically unsound. No UI manifests itself in user experiences where the user is expected to intuitively know how to perform actions, usually thru swipes and gestures. Because there is no actual visible UI to interact with, the user is usually presented with a training program, at first use that shows the intended use.

Once the training is complete, the user is then expected to be able to interact with the application without interference from the UI. And in many cases this works as long as the user remembers the training and uses the application frequently enough that for this information to not be forgotten. The problem occurs when the second user, who did not get the training, starts interacting with the application. And because there is no user interface, there is nothing to help her figure it out. As a result, the well-intended goal of giving more room and less distraction to the content can easily end up making the content unusable.

The way out of this is to reintroduce the user interface in a subtle but intuitive way. This could be as simple as revealing the user interface any time an interaction is made. Or even revealing the interface if there is no interaction from the user for a certain interval of time. Both these approaches provide the necessary user interface to enable an uninformed user to actually the application while they still meet the goal of putting the focus on the content. Speaking of content, you'll remember this example of a tagline for a charity.

Nourishing young minds, building a platform for the future. You'll see these taglines all over the web usually on websites for companies or organizations. And you'll also see them in printed materials. And while these taglines look great and sound profound, they are terrible at communicating what the organization or company actually does. When you read this sentence, can you tell me what this organization does? I don't think you can because it doesn't actually tell you. As we've learned in this course, when you want to communicate something to someone, you have to make sure you spell it out to them so they understand the idea you're trying to transfer to them.

In this case that means actually spelling out what's the organization does. So in place of saying nourishing young minds, building a platform for the future The message could be feeding children to provide a healthy learning environment. Reading this sentence, you can clearly tell what the charity does. They provide food and nourishment to children, so they're able to learn things in school. It's the same exact message, but this message is clear, concise, and explains what the charity does.

The logic problem in the two last examples, the headlines, largest salmon run in decades quells fears over declining population, and vikings win home opener should now be obvious to you. As I said earlier, the first is an error in universality. The second is one of ambiguity. A single anomalous jump in salmon population is no more an indicator of a return to old numbers than an unusually warm day in December is an indicator of summer starting early.

This headline is sacrificing accuracy for spectacle, and leaving logic by the wayside. In place of Largest salmon run in decades quells fear of declining population, which indicates that due to this salmon run populations will now start increasing, which is not something that's true. The tagline could be something like, largest salmon run in decades, a welcome reprieve from declining population. Now you are stating, there is the largest salmon run in decades. It's a welcome reprieve, meaning people are happy.

And it's a reprieve from the declining population. What you're not saying is that the current salmon run, that's bigger than before, is an indicator of things to come. Because you simply don't know. As for the Vikings winning their home opener, the identity of the sports team is left undefined. One could assume that this headline was published in the vicinity of a sports team with this name. But published on the web, we can make no assumptions about the geographic location of the reader. Readers in Minnesota, Cleveland, and Portland and many other places can all assume this headline is about their team and the true identity is left for the reader to uncover.

Again, logic is left by the wayside in a hunt for a catchy title. This illusion here is as simple as it gets. Be explicit about which Vikings won their home opener. As you can see, by applying the rules of logic to our content, designs, and creations, we can ensure that the user understands and can interact with the information presented. And that, in the end, is what we set out to do.

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