Intentionality in User Experience. Empathize with your users

Decission path and intentionality

(Note: this note has nothing to do with the concept of intentionality used by self-help or personal improvement sites)

One of the most common words or concept when we are creating a user case or flow is intention, or intentionality. Of course, this is completely logical since every time we create a user case model (for example, using UML), we will consider actors.

And those actors will have roles that will be determined by their intentionality.

As we can see, there is no way around it!

However, it is very common to see how the user’s intentionality is ignored in favor of a supposed (or real) benefit that the user may not be aware of.

What do users want?

A concrete example is when a user registers with a site, service or application. The intention of the user is to use the site or service. And the intention of our internal user or stakeholder is to collect data about said user.

So, here comes the problem: we have already achieved user engagement, which is very difficult. Then, we start asking for more and more information. But the user may not be willing to give that information unless she’s sure the service is useful.

In said scenario, what will probably happen is that approximately 50% of those users that cost us so much to acquire, gives up using our service or application.

And of the remaining 50%, up to 80% will use the application only once, because it was not what they were looking for.

For some people, especially marketing executives, the information provided by the user is very valuable (and of course it is). But the concrete and effective fact is that if 100 registered users cost us $ 100 each, they suddenly became $ 1000 each.

And if the acquisition cost increases 10 times, we are in serious trouble. All because we didn’t care about intentionality.

Of course, the previous case is one of many.

To see it in a real case, we have tested a well-known application related to yoga: first the user must complete a series of questions. Cost of the service shows up only after answering those questions. But even at this point, we have no idea what the application is about or what will it do for us

Image depicting confusing paths to illustrate bad intentionality. Used for decorative purposes.

So … what do we do with intentionality?

If you know the processes of Decision Theory, or UML or similar models, you will realize that intentionality will simplify everything in an almost incredible way. A kind of Ockham Razor of the User Experience.

The Ockham Razor or parsimony principle says:

Other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones

In our principle of intentionality, we could say:

All things being equal, the simplest action or desire is usually correct.

To be clearer: the actions, intentions and desires of a user can be almost infinite in a round of UX discussions. Those who use Agile methodologies will know what I mean.

Let’s suppose the user case is to “pay an account”. There’s no discussion:the shortest and most direct way to perform such action is … to pay an account.

That way, additional actions related to this process will not be divergent, but convergent.

If we take Hicks Law:

The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of the options.

It is easy to see that the more options we have, the more time it will take for the user to make a decision.

Going deeper on user’s intentionality

Moreover, according to studies that dive between the relationship of Hick’s Law and the IQ index, the decision will not only take more time, but the chances of the user making one or more mistakes will be higher (again, this is used by some as a dark pattern unfortunately).

But we don’t want to generate dark patterns or cheat our users. What we want is to generate the best possible experience so as not to frustrate our users and eventually lose them.

Let’s return to the example mentioned above: pay a bill. The user only wants to pay a bill. She does not need to do anything else, and she certainly does not want to buy another service. There’s a lot of cognitive load and friction involved in paying an account. So, it is very difficult for a user to increase it by spending even more money.

Picture of a straight road
Straight roads are beautiful
What can we do then?
welcome -> what do you want to do? [presents options] -> enter your data -> your balance is $$$ -> choose payment method -> pay.

And that’s it.

As we can see, presentation of options helps us determine the intentionality. And now we can present the user a linear process without complications or cognitive load.

Simple? Well, a vast majority of remote processes or even some face-to-face fail to succeed with this simplicity.


Recognizing the user’s intentionality will allow us to generate more confidence in such user. We’ll keep her for longer. And we’ll save time and money by not developing unnecessary, ineffective complex processes with an easily demonstrable negative charge.

Do you want to understand and empathize with your users? Let’s talk about what we can do for your business!

Disclaimer: This content was translated to English from the original we wrote in Spanish, available in UXpañol

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