Conveying Information

by Michel Joanisse / Dec 20, 2020

The goal of this article, is to highlight the importance in relaying information back to users. Whether it be for someone with a disability or not, good UX avoids ambiguity and makes as few assumptions as possible.

Stop assuming a user will intuitively guess what you were thinking or what your design pattern is trying to accomplish. It's ironic how in UATs or QA evaluations, our aim is to catch and highlight anything that is misinforming or lacking thereof to the assumed common denominator user.

Too often I see reports that evaluate *by design*. As in, if something like important information is missing or not clear, it's assumed intuitive and *by design*. The designer knows best, right? No! Not necessarily.

A designer is only human. Your designer should try to expand his / her horizons. Good designers will in fact do that, but they can't take into consideration *every* scenario, it would be crazy to assume they can. And so, they're bound to miss things.

Good design is a methodical process. Design choices, especially design composition ones, aren't arbitrary.

If something seems wrong, awkward, omitted, challenge them! Ask for justifications. If you were confused, or have a mere concern of any sort, it's worth bringing up.

A good designer (or a good creative team) will embrace this kind of feedback. They'll either admit not having thought about that fact, or give you rationale of sorts. If that rationale feels inadequate, challenge it!


You're likely by now asking “Ok, how exactly is this relevant to your article title?”

Let's start with an example, take that little moon and sun icon on my site. I'll be willing to bet, most of you had no idea what it was or served to do until you interacted with it?

Often, you'll see these ambiguous toggle icons, *without* supporting information. Therein lies the problem.

Why is that? Because sometimes designers make rather naive assumptions.

1. First of all, even those who of us who know what these toggle buttons serve to do don't know how it applies or affects this site.

2. The design pattern I'm using, is a standalone icon. Even those of us familiar with what the icons are and what they serve to do, can get mixed up here. I see a Moon icon, does that mean I'm in dark mode? Or, does it mean I'm in light mode and by selecting or activating the icon I will enable dark mode?

3. Third, anyone who isn't in the technology / design industry or isn't super tech-savvy, has only the slightest clue (if any) as to what it means or does.

All to say, those icons alone that toggle when selected are ambigious.

Which is why I didn't stop there. These icons *inform* the user in a rather explicit manner, which *removes* a lot of ambiguity.

In the example illustrated here (sun and moon icon), I consciously made the choice to initially rely on intuition and curiosity alone. As soon as someone shows interest though, it's my job to explicitly inform them about what that is, and what it does.

Those already adept with what that icon is supposed to do, get a good experience nonetheless. But more importantly, those not so akin will now also understand.

That's, universal design. it's about avoiding assumptions and removing doubt by conveying information explicitly.


It's worth noting that even this solution, isn't a perfect one.

In this context, that action (of switching colour modes) changes *only* the main body content. That fact *should* be clearly expressed or I run the risk of misinterpretation. Likely, someone will click on it and assume it's dysfunctional.

For now, I'll have to settle on informing the user about what mode is "ON".