About pleasurable user interfaces

In the last decade or so we’ve seen the level of graphical user interface design grow from merely functional, to reliable, usable and sometimes even pleasurable user interfaces. This means that when we visit a website we have a certain level of expectation. We expect the functionality of the product or the service to work, we expect it to work in every context we need it, and we expect the interface to be not too complicated to use. And if possible, we’d like to be delighted by the experience.

These kinds of interfaces are fairly common for people who rely on visual forms of output, like most people do.

Non visual output

They are uncommon for people who rely on different forms of output, for instance people who use a screenreader instead of a display. The level of expectation that these people have is much lower. They expect nothing, they hope the task at hand can be completed independently. More often than not the task on a webpage can not be completed. All the levels of user’s needs, as illustrated by Aarron Walter in this pyramid[1] are covered for sighted people, yet they are not at all covered for people who are blind.

The pyramid of User’s needs, from bottom to top: Functional, reliable, usable, pleasurable
The pyramid of User’s needs, from bottom to top: Functional, reliable, usable, pleasurable

Alternative ways of input

A big part of the experience of an interface is formed by the interaction. What forms of input are supported, and how does the interaction feel. Again, the level is quite high when it comes to designing interactions for the most common forms of input: a fine pointer, like a mouse or a trackpad, or a more coarse pointer, like a finger via direct touch. With the help of transitions and animations interfaces for these common forms of input often reach a pleasurable level.

Alternative ways of input, like the keyboard or switch buttons, are mostly not considered, and often even actively not supported. Basic support for these types of input should be relatively easy to achieve. Yet again there is not much knowledge when it comes to making an interface pleasurable for people who rely on something else than a pointer.

Inclusive design

When it comes to designing non-visual interfaces, and non-pointer interactions we are not at the same level as we are at designing visual interfaces that can be controlled by mouse or touch. Yet these levels should be equal if we want to create inclusive interfaces: interfaces that work for everybody, regardless of their abilities and regardless of the types of input or output they use. Some catching up needs to be made.

At the moment some research is being done in designing conversational interfaces. These interfaces can be voice controlled, and are much less visual. Input and output can be done completely without the use of screens or classical input devices. Results from research into these types of interfaces may help in getting the expertise of both visual and non-visual interfaces on a similar level.


  1. Aarron Walter, Designing for Emotion, 2011, A Book Apart  ↩