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The Usability Blog
A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

The Futurama Principle of User Experience

The animated show Futurama, from Simpsons-creator Matt Groening, brought us absurd comedy and heartbreaking sadness, with nuggets of wisdom throughout. One such tidbit, which generally applies to life, philosophy, and other lofty ideas, has also seemed to me to be very fitting in this field of user experience. In the episode “Godfellas”, God tells Bender, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

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If a user buys a product from a site and thinks that it was generally easy to use and they had no problems, then that’s a good user experience. But, if a user buys a product and the site was so natural and intuitive that the user didn’t even think about their experience and behavior, then that’s a great user experience. And the difference can be critical. A good user experience may be returned to, but a great user experience definitely will be; and it will be recommended to others: friends, parents, grandparents.

One of my favorite examples of this is Amazon’s hover menus. Ben Kamens worked this out and has an excellent write-up in a bit more detail but, in short, rather than using a simple hover menu with all the problems they come with, Amazon analyzes your cursor’s position and velocity in real-time to determine where you’re moving your mouse and show the relevant menu for your purpose. This all but eliminates menu lag and accidentally selecting a different item. And it’s entirely behind-the-scenes; Amazon doesn’t need to tout this as a benefit, nor do they need to call any attention to it on their site with instructions or explanations. That’s not to say that instructions, help text, and tooltips are problematic or uncalled for; this design is so good, it doesn’t need any. It simply works. You quickly forget that you’re not having to compensate for delays or accidental mouse movements; this is intuitive and, quite frankly, how you’d expect all menus to function.

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The goal in any design shouldn’t be to be the flashiest, or have the most minimal interface, or be the most interactive. It should be to have the best experience; one that is so good that it is overlooked. The user experience should not be the product, but the delivery method. And you should strip away any stumbling blocks, big or small, even if it means rethinking something as simple as a hover menu. The user experience should simply be so glaringly obvious that, in retrospect, any alternative is laughably convoluted. Because when you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.

Matt Daughtry, Senior User Experience Analyst, Usability Sciences

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