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Is Easy to Learn the Enemy of Easy to Use?


UI Design: Easy to Learn vs. Easy to Use

Designing a good user interface (UI) is key to the success of any software application. While people may expect products to be easy-to-learn and easy-to-use, this isn’t always the goal of an effective UI. In fact, the two concepts are more often than not in direct opposition to one another.

So what’s the difference and how do you decide?

A strategic UI will sacrifice one over the other, for the right reason: to meet the needs of the intended user-base.

Easy to Learn: Great for novices or occasional users.

These users may have limited capability when it comes to using a web or mobile app, or you may have designed your app to be used sparingly by your audience. Apps that are easy-to-learn often have usability features that feel intuitive to users.

Easy to Use: Important for expert or frequent users.

These users will have to learn how to use your app, likely through in-app training that’s prompted upon initial sign in. With an in-app tutorial, the concept of easy-to-learn is less of a concern and certainly is worth sacrificing if it means a better UI for the expert driver.

You can think of UI as a sliding scale, as shown below.

expert vs novice UI Design Sliding Scale

There is always a tension between easy-to-use and easy-to-learn. Where you place the UI marker depends entirely on the application and the intended user. This is why we create personas and run UI interfaces through user testing.

Whether you’re designing an app that’s easy-to-learn or easy-to-use, there are universal factors important for any UI design:

  • The intended user must understand the user interface; it must feel logical.
  • The app must be consistent in the use of design patterns.
  • Users must always feel in control.
  • Users should always understand where they are, how they got there, and how to get back.

Having a good user experience ensures your audience won’t move on to another product.

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