Usability & Accessibility

When should information design disrupt the flow?

By Nicholas Gracilla  ·   April 2, 2021  ·  2 minute read

The typical job of information design is to present information in easily consumable ways. But sometimes, you've got to stop the train.

Sometimes information design needs to stop the train, interrupt thinking, and disrupt the flow. The usual job of information design is the art and science of presenting information in usable, easily consumable ways. In disrupting this, I don’t mean flashing text or modal popups — I mean presenting information in an unexpected way, one that catches the brain’s attention as “that’s odd, needs closer attention,” and interrupts the standard behavior path.

For example. I typically give clients links to work in progress like this:
Password: simplepassword

From a reading perspective, this makes sense: click the link, enter the password. But from a user experience perspective, it’s entirely different. The user — perhaps excited to see the new work — clicks the link, expecting to see the new web app. Instead, there’s a password prompt. “What!? That’s not what I was expecting,” s/he thinks, and quickly emails back, “the staging server is asking for a password!” Here, the critical piece of information, the password, followed the action. After the click, the password is hidden behind windows as the page loads, and the password prompt takes over.

So, how do we fix this? By presenting information in an unexpected, disruptive way:

Password: simplepassword

Here, the very first thing the user sees is the password — “huh,” the brain thinks, “that’s unusual, better tuck this one away as odd and pay attention!” Prompting the user first that a password is required means that, even if s/he doesn’t copy the password, s/he won’t be surprised when s/he clicks on the link and see the password request. Indeed, it all comes together at that point. “Oh! Here’s where that password belongs”.

All these interactions and thoughts take just microseconds and happen subconsciously. Using information design in simple ways like this helps people to have a better experience, feel more competent, and get work done.

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