Slightest Effective Difference in UX Design

User animation teacher and prophet Edward Tufte is known for saying that when the UX designer wants to call attention to something on the interface, the smallest effective difference — that is, the smallest possible change — that the user will see is the only one you need.

This is known in UX as an ‘indicator’ — something that tells the user what they can or can’t do on the screen, or something that indicates how or where they can find more information about some subset of what they are looking at.

We think about difference often because it defines who we are, what we want, what we desire is contoured by the boundary of what we are and what we are not. Too often our instincts are to accentuate the difference but this typically confuses the user as it creates an anxiety experience.

In a digitally native world your successful enterprise will understand and capture on the information wave that is intuitive interactive design. 

The subtlty should not be understated: too much difference creates cognative confusion for the user. Humans subconsciously strive for internal consistency. Experiencing inconsistency leads to psychological discomfort. Thus, when things are aligned we experience happiness. 

There are three basic ways we deal with cognative dissonance: 

  1. Ignore/deny it
  2. Justfy the dissonance by rationalization
  3. Change something

On a user interface, it’s hard to ignore/deny a large cognative or display problem. Typically users will attempt to understand the conflict by understanding the intentions of the application (#2), or they will attempt to change something by clicking around (#3).

The smallest possible difference or slightest effective difference means the smallest amount we can change that will get signal the meaning for the difference to the user. 

Sometimes a smallest change can make all the difference for your visitor’s experience of your application.

By Jason

13 thoughts on “A Small Difference That is Effective”
  1. Hi there, I discovereed your web site by the
    usee oof Goohle whhilst searcging foor a comparaqble topic, yoiur
    webb site got hesre up, it appears great. I have bookmarked it
    in mmy goiogle bookmarks.
    Hi there, siomply bercame awaree of your weboog thru Google, and fopund tat itt
    is really informative. I aam going tto bbe carewful for brussels.

    I’ll apprfeciate shouild you proceed thiis in future. A
    lot oof oter peokple wwill be benefited fdom ykur
    writing. Cheers!

  2. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who has been conducting
    a little research on this. And he in fact bought me dinner simply because I discovered it for him…
    lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!!

    But yeah, thanx for spending time to talk about this
    matter here on your website.

  3. Hello there, I found your web site by way of Google while
    searching for a similar matter, your website got
    here up, it looks good. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

    Hi there, simply become aware of your weblog via Google, and found that it’s truly informative.
    I am gonna be careful for brussels. I’ll appreciate in case you proceed this in future.
    Numerous people might be benefited out of your writing.

  4. You can definitely see your expertise within the article you write.

    The world hopes for even more passionate writers
    like you who are not afraid to mention how they believe.
    All the time go after your heart.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *