top of page
  • Writer's pictureRob George

User Interface: Optimizing for Intermediates + Orchestration and Flow (Week 5)

This week is on chapters 10 and 11 of About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, David Cronin, and Christopher Noessel.



"One of the eternal conundrums of digital product development is how to address the needs of both beginning users and expert users with a single, coherent interface." -About Face

To summarize this chapter, About Face talks about how a designer can go about creating an interface that easily explains how to use features to beginning users without giving non-beginners the unwanted extra time to go through a step by step walk-through of the new features.


The majority of users of a product tend to be intermediate users. Meaning they are not beginners and they are not experts. Or that the beginners and experts don't stay on those ends of the user spectrum very long. They tend to gravitate towards being intermediate because they start to learn and forget based on how often they use the product, fluctuating between intermediate and expert as shown in the diagram provided by About Face below.


Inflecting an interface means to organize it so that most frequently desired functions and controls are in the most easily accessible spots and that the less used are placed deeper in the interface where the user will not get confused by them. This helps with not scaring the beginners or insulting the intelligence of the experts. Creating a good balance for all types of users.


Commensurate effort is when a user will work harder for something that is more valuable if it relates to their goals. When adding features to an interface it is important to take consideration of this because you don't want an interface to be complex for simple tasks, but it can be complex to achieve complex tasks.


Progressive disclosure is when advanced or less frequently used controls are put in a window that acts as a tab that a user can toggle open or closed. This tab also stays open once the user opens it to provide an easy window for those features that were stored away.

An example is Adobe applications and their side panels. As provided in this example from the book.


Three attributes for organizing controls and displays as explained by About Face:

1. Frequency of use means how often the controls, functions, objects, or displays are used in typical daily patterns of use. Items and tools that are most frequently used (many times a day) should be immediately in reach. Less frequently used items, used perhaps once or twice a day, should be no more than a click or two away. Other items can be two or three clicks away. Rarely used facilities shouldn’t be removed from the product if they provide real benefits to your personas, but they should be removed from the everyday work space.

2. Degree of dislocation refers to the amount of sudden change in an interface or in the document/information being processed by the application caused by the invocation of a specific function or command. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to put these types of functions deeper into the interface.

3. Degree of risk exposure deals with functions that are irreversible or may have other dangerous ramifications. Missiles require two humans turning keys simultaneously on opposite sides of the room to arm them. As with dislocating functions, you want to make these types of functions more difficult for your users to stumble across. The greater the ramifications, the more care you should take in exposing the function.


Although the majority of users are considered intermediate users, the designer must accommodate all levels of experience. Below is a summary of the needs of beginners, experts, and intermediaries and how to design for them.


- They must quickly understand the product's concepts and scope. The designer must make sure that the product reflects the mental model of the user during tasks.

- Extra help shouldn't be mandatory for the user. It should know when and where to pop up when the user needs it.


- "Experts want shortcuts to everything." They are the ones using the product for hours so they want solutions to be quick and easy.

- Experts are knowledge and like to learn more. Providing information on new tools is important to them.


- "Need fast access to the most common tools." They don't need anything explained to them because they use reference materials and dig deeper to learn through online help.

- They appreciate the expert features are there for them to learn if they need them.



FLOW: "When people concentrate wholeheartedly on an activity." - About Face

In other words this may be called the "zone" as mentioned in the most recent Disney Pixar movie Soul, it's where someone is in deep focus, almost a "meditative involvement", for what they are currently doing and where they tend to lose track of time. It is the designer's job to create an interface that doesn't disrupt the user's flow and to provide a product that doesn't make them feel they can do their tasks without it.


"It is vital that all the elements in an interface work together coherently toward a single goal." - About Face.

This is all about organization or "harmonious organization" which is "what we should expect from interactive products." There are no set universal rules but logical organization that is best for users.

Harmonious Interactions

Important strategies to note for effective user interactions:

Follow users’ mental models.

Less is more.

Let users direct rather than discuss.

Provide choices rather than ask questions.

Keep necessary tools close at hand.

Provide modeless feedback.

Design for the probable but anticipate the possible.

Contextualize information.

Reflect object and application status.

Avoid unnecessary reporting.

Avoid blank slates.

Differentiate between command and configuration.

Hide the ejector seat levers.

Optimize for responsiveness but accommodate latency.

Motion, Timing, and Transitions


- "Motion is a powerful mechanism for expressing and illustrating the relationships between objects."

- Animated transitions - help create mental model of how things in one view relate to what was previously viewed.

- Should help achieve the following:

Focus user attention in the appropriate place.

Show relationships between objects and their actions.

Maintain context during transitions between views or object states.

Provide the perception of progression or activity (such as through progress bars and spinners).

Create a virtual space that helps guide users from state to state and function to function.

Encourage immersion and further engagement.


Short, sweet, and responsive

Simple, meaningful, and appropriate

Natural and smooth

Thank you for reading!

View my User Interface Page for more!

17 views0 comments
bottom of page