Keep It Natural: Design Philosophy Concept #1

The innateness of natural skills and behaviors makes them immensely powerful as we can wield them without significant effort.

Noticing Design

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The best tools fit us, extending and enhancing our skills in ways we understand instinctively. We say things are ‘a natural fit’ when they work perfectly together. When we talk about ‘natural’ we aren’t talking flora and fauna, it’s about intuition and making use of the skills we inherently have, rather than demanding we acquire new and esoteric ones. Many of these natural skills and behaviors are not front of mind, they happen on a semi-conscious level.  Their very innateness makes them immensely powerful as we can wield them without significant effort.

Part of our mission at Qlik is to enable everyone to make better decisions through the use of data and analysis. To do this it’s essential to put people and how they behave at the heart of the tools we design. By keeping things natural we can design to be more inclusive; making our software more accessible to a broader range of people, not just the experts.

In the past we’ve spoken about ‘Natural Analytics’. This is one of the ways the natural concept has influenced our thinking. By identifying and working with our innate analytical behaviors such as association, comparison, anticipation and narrative, we can enable people to easily explore complex data. This is one of the ways we practice people-centric design. Rather than relying on a prerequisite knowledge of the ‘dark arts’, we ask “what do people already know how to do?”

This natural thinking has long been at the heart of people-centric design. A great example of this is ’affordance’. It’s a phrase coined by Donald Norman (Nielsen Norman Group) and it means that a person has an innate understanding of how use a thing by the way the thing manifests itself. It's the same way we naturally recognize a pattern, we naturally recognize that a chair is to be sat on and a lever is to be pulled. This understanding is a blend of both learned behaviors and intuition. It is reinforced in the positive that this is indeed what it is for and how it works. Using affordances based on expected behaviors increases the intuitiveness of an interface, it simply makes it feel more natural.

Gaining an understanding of what’s natural is about observing people. Watching how they reach out and their first touches to understand their emotions and reactions. By observing people using our software early and often we can ensure this natural ease of use is deeply rooted in the tools we create. If it feels right, then the path to sophisticated and habitual use is much smoother.

By keeping it natural and rethinking the steps needed to work with data we aim to smooth the learning curve for analytics. Making it a little more human, a little less daunting and a lot more accessible.

It’s a journey that builds on the confidence and natural understanding of those first touches. It’s what leads to the ‘flow state’, which I’ll talk about in the next post.

Photo credit: anikki* / Foter / CC BY

For an introduction to all four concepts take a look at “Our Design Philosophy at Qlik” that I posted yesterday.

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