Creating Intuitive UI: An evening with UXPA Chicago and Everett McKay

Tuesday evening, SIM Partners hosted a MeetUp for the User Experience Professionals Organization (UXPA) Chicago chapter. Everett McKay, author of UI Is Communication: How to Design Intuitive, User Centered Interfaces by Focusing on Effective Communication, presented a wealth of material to over 80 Chicago-area user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) professionals. I wanted to touch on just one of the many points I found particularly interesting — creating “intuitive UI.”

One of the top goals for any UX project is to have an “intuitive UI.” As UX professionals, we strive to achieve this goal. McKay began his talk by saying, “describing a UI as intuitive is among the highest praise users can bestow.” He challenged that if we were to actually ask our clients what their interpretation of “intuitive” is, we would get answers ranging from “it just is” to “it just works” to “it’s simpler,” but would find no actual clear or consistent definition. (I have to admit as a long-time UX professional, I was having trouble coming up with words to describe “intuitive” myself.)

McKay posed his own dictionary definition of “intuitive UI” as this:

“UI is intuitive when users understand its behavior and effect without use of reason, experimentation, assistance, or special training.”

He went on to say “intuitive UI” should include an appropriate combination of the following:

  • Affordance: The UI provides visual clues that indicate what it is going to do. Users don’t have to experiment or deduce the interaction. Affordances are based on real-world experiences or standard UI conventions.

  • Expectation: The UI delivers expected and predictable results with no surprises. User expectations are based on labels, real-world experiences, or standard UI conventions.

  • Efficiency: The UI enables users to perform actions with minimal effort. If the intention is clear, the UI delivers the expected results the first time so that users don’t have to repeat the action (perhaps with variations) to get what they want.

  • Responsiveness: The UI gives clear, immediate feedback to indicate an action is taking place, and was either successful or unsuccessful.

  • Forgiveness: If users make a mistake they need the ability to fix or undo the action with ease.

  • Explorability: Users can navigate throughout the UI without fear of penalty or unintended consequences, without getting lost.


As a UX/UI professional, I was inspired by McKay’s presentation as well as the discussion among the group. I walked away thinking a bit differently about UI and expect other attendees did as well. Thanks to the UXPA Chicago and the People Foundry for the opportunity to co-host the event, as well as to Everett McKay and all those who attended.

Here’s a link to the photos from the event.

Tricia LoPiccolo

Author Tricia LoPiccolo

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