How interfaces change with frequency of use

Some software (e.g. a calendar) is used every day, and some software (e.g. a marketing website) is used once and then never again.

Here are some ways interface design changes if the interface is used more often.

Plainer visual design

We get tired of expressive visual design if we see it every day. It’s like a loud room. So if an interface is meant to be seen often, plain visual design is better. You might have noticed a lot of productivity software uses a plain visual style, with few colours or other distracting elements.

Higher quality

Small problems (sometimes called paper cut problems) might feel acceptable on their own. But even the smallest bug or interaction design issue will be experienced many times, if a person uses an interface often. So it’s important to address even the most trivial issues.

Better task flows

A person who uses an interface often will probably do the same tasks over and over again. These should be as quick and easy as possible. But the less-common tasks also need to be designed well. Otherwise that once-a-month task will stick out in the person’s mind as a bad thing.

Encourage mastery

It’s natural for a person to get better at something when they do it often. Interfaces should encourage this. Features like keyboard shortcuts can speed up someone’s work. Advanced features that are not suitable for beginners can help someone be more efficient or effective, when they’re ready.

Density increase

Interfaces should make things easy to find. One way to do this is to show less things to a person. But if someone uses an interface often they’ll quickly learn where things are. They might prefer if the interface shows more things at once, so they don’t need to change the view as often and can do things faster. This means higher density can be useful.