UX & Understanding Digital Competency

by | Mar 5, 2017 | Editorial

If you asked practitioners or non-practitioners, what they believe UX really is, you will get many definitions and references to a variety of practices. This is partly due to the fact that so many fields saw the value in user experience, and adjusted their approaches to accommodate it. Putting aside for now, the fact that the details will change, depending if the product is entertainment, utility or enterprise, the core of UX is to: Align products to people’s internal/external needs, while taking in account their digital competency.


Is there therefore nothing, that can’t be assumed in advance?



A problem I personally have with these tools (the ones I worked with at least), is that they are reactive. We need to gather data as if it is “new” for every product and market. But is this true? What if we had data that could be used proactively shape the design, before you get to testing? Designers first designs tend to copy existing popular products, but we don’t have context of their design decisions and their products aren’t necessarily better. If you do UX long enough, you do see patterns emerge; patterns of interaction with which users consistently struggle with or find easy. Is there therefore nothing, that can’t be assumed in advance?

Is there maybe something that is consistent in this dynamic between user, the device/software/app and the context of use? It isn’t the product, because with products we are always testings new products or features. It isn’t users on a “personality” level, because people all have an unique personalities, due to experiences. We create 5 personas to generally capture these differences. It isn’t context, because people use products in many context variants (which should be captured in good personas).


…the brain follows the “path of least resistance”



Is there anything consistent inside people? What is consistent, is how the brain works. The brain does many wonderful things, but consistently the brain follows the “path of least resistance”; we try to do the least amount of work to get a task done¹.

In “Thinking, Fast & Slow”, Daniel Kahneman explains how we move tasks that requires a lot of thinking, to become automated tasks (which requires no thinking).

This is a also common underlying theme if you look at “100 Things Every Designer Should Know” by Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.: (i) People don’t want to think or work more than they have to, (ii) People have limitations, (iii) People make mistakes, (iv) Human memory is complicated, (v) Attention challenges, (vi) People create mental models, and (vii) Comprehension is gained from the visual system.

Every time we add another feature, it changes the app’s processes to work differently, to what users expect or require users to remember data in order to do something. We are forcing them to “actively” think (active thinking requires a lot more effort than passive thinking). If you look at how much information the human brain has to process every second (the subconscious brain handles 11 million bits of information per second), you can’t blame it for trying to find “shortcuts”, but these shortcuts unfortunately create problems for people.

So what can be done in order to limit or address these “challenges? What follows is not a complete list of “tools”, but a start in trying to discover this “path”.

How to build a “Path of Least Resistance”

  • Mental & Physical Limitations
    Your product’s design needs to overcome people’s physical & mental limitations.
  • Scarce Resources to evaluate “Simplicity”
    Dave Rothschild gives a good breakdown for the six factors by which simplicity is evaluated(taken from BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model), as used in the JTBD framework. The six factors are: Time, Money, Physical Effort, Brain Cycles (Cognitive Load), Social Defiance & Non-Routine.
  • UI is Communication
    I love Everett McKay’s “UI is Communication” in which he states, that “we should design intuitive user interfaces by focusing on effective human communication. A user interface is ultimately a conversation between users and technology.”
  • Discoverable Paths
    What are the best path to take and which path are users taking? If it isn’t the same, then maybe your design isn’t obvious or communicating clearly.
  • Customer Data & Devices
    What do we have already access to, that doesn’t require user input?

    • The Device
      Using data/functionality from the device e.g. gps for address
    • Shortcuts
      Asking for one thing, can give you numerous other data e.g. if you know the customer’s postal code, you can pre-fill City, Province, Country or your Credit Card number, which already identifies if it is VISA, MASTERCARD, etc.
    • Existing User Data
      If a user is signed in, we already have data available for him. Don’t request data you already have. Rather pre-fill it.
    • Automation
      What can be automated with controlled risk? E.g. Email an automatic sign-in token for a user to complete things like product reviews, feedback, etc.
    • Interaction
      Which interactions are less intrusive e.g. Give users an “Undo” option instead of requiring “confirmation”, every time.
  • Basic vs. Advance Functionality
    Know you user’s computer literacy and focus on making basic functionality visible and advance features available through exploration.

For me, “Path of Least Resistance” is a start in order to explore users’ digital competency, which is what needs to be tackled, once you have identified their needs and shaped your product’s content in order to address it.


  1. We do make conscious choices based on other factors e.g. benefit of the app/device outweighs the effort, but getting people to internalise “your benefits” or perceive your app as “cool” is a lot more challenging.

Links & References

  1. Context of design decisions” UX Myth #20
  2. Thinking, Fast & Slow”by Daniel Kahneman
  3. 100 Things Every Designer Should Know” by Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D
  4. The subsconscious brain handles 11 million bits of information per second 
  5. Six factors by which simplicity is evaluated” by Dave Rothschild
  6. Jobs to be Doneframework
  7. BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model
  8. UI is Communication” by Everett McKay
  9. Digital competency” by the Nielsen Norman Group


Bertus Kock

Bertus Kock

Bertus is based in Cape Town, South Africa and is a User Experience Designer at Konga Online Shopping Ltd, and guest blogger for the CUXA.


He is passionate about improve the experiences people have with digital products, with a special interest in Healthcare.

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