Intentionality and user intent. Create easier user experiences

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.

These actors are assigned roles that are shaped by their intentionality.

As we can see, there’s no escaping it!

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

Article Takeaways

  1. Intentionality and User Intent in UX: “Intentionality” and “User Intent” are fundamental concepts in UX design, emphasizing the understanding and alignment with users’ intentions, goals, and desired outcomes.
  2. Goal-Oriented Design: UX design should prioritize aligning a product with users’ specific intentions and goals, reflecting the principle of “Intentionality.”
  3. Simplicity and Decision Making: Simplicity in design, in line with “Intentionality” and “User Intent,” can lead to better user experiences and quicker decision-making.

Intentionality and Goal-Oriented Design

Goal-Oriented Design is an approach that prioritizes aligning a product with users’ specific intentions and goals. In essence, it means designing with the user’s desired outcomes in mind.

Take, for instance, when a user registers with a site, service, or application. The user’s intention is straightforward: to use the site or service. Conversely, our internal user or stakeholder may aim to collect data about the user.

Herein lies the problem: we’ve already achieved user engagement, which is no small feat. Yet, we then start requesting more and more information. However, the user may not be willing to provide that information unless they are certain the service is useful.

In this scenario, what often occurs is that approximately 50% of those hard-earned users abandon our service or application. Of the remaining 50%, up to 80% may use the application only once because it didn’t meet their expectations.

Some individuals, especially marketing executives, find user-provided information extremely valuable (and it certainly is). However, the hard reality is that if 100 registered users cost us $100 each, suddenly they become $1000 each.

Of course, the previous case is just one of many. And it’s what we call User Behavior Analytics. User behaviour analytics involves the analysis of user interactions and choices within your product. It provides valuable insights into how users’ intentions align with the design. Then, in turn, this data can inform decisions about simplifying options and reducing cognitive load.

To see intentionality in action, consider a real case where we tested a well-known yoga-related application: First, the user had to answer a series of questions before the service’s cost was revealed. Yet, even at this point, users had no idea about the application’s purpose or how it would benefit them.

Introducing Information Scent

Information Scent refers to the cues or indicators users rely on to assess whether a link or option will lead them to their intended information or task. It’s like the trail of breadcrumbs that guide users through a digital experience.

In this scenario, the lack of information scent becomes evident. Users are uncertain about what the application offers based on the initial questions. Providing clear indicators of what to expect, even before answering questions, can align user intentions with the application’s purpose.

One simple and common way to understand how, when, and where to provide these clues is through the use of a technique called User Path Analysis. User Path Analysis involves examining the actual paths users take through a website or app to identify patterns and deviations in their intentions. It helps us understand how users navigate through our product and where they may encounter obstacles.

By analyzing user paths and interactions in this simplified process, you can further refine the design to ensure it aligns perfectly with the user’s intention and minimizes any potential distractions.

User Path Analysis can be researched after we compile a stack of information about a cohort or group of users, or we can use artificial intelligence to analyze information in real-time and respond on demand, such as in the case of Quantum UX.

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

So … how do we use intentionality or user intent?

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

Let’s suppose the user case is to “pay an account.” There’s no debate: 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.

Additionally, a high number of options can increase cognitive load, making it more challenging for users to decide, especially if their primary intention is a straightforward task like paying a bill.

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).

Going deeper into user intent

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.

Information Scent: In essence, a clear and straightforward user path helps users follow their intention without confusion. It’s about providing a scent that guides them directly to their goal.

Picture of a straight road representing an easy goal-oriented design for user intent
A straight path is always the simplest path

What can we do then? It’s as easy as this:

welcome -> what do you want to do? [presents options] -> enter your data -> your balance is $$$ -> choose payment method -> pay.

And that’s it. Anything else is noise and should be avoided.

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

Summarizing: User intentions are key for better user interfaces

Recognizing the user’s intentionality will allow us to generate more confidence for users. We’ll keep them 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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