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Keeping the Magic Alive

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Something I've been thinking about a lot lately and discussing with clients, is keeping the magic in their applications. I don't mean card tricks and disappearing rabbits… but also I kind of do.

Let's say you were to watch a magic show. Brandon Copperfield is performing. He's David's younger less flashy brother who's only just switched to magic after being a VCR repairman for many years. He pulls out all the standard tricks and occasionally you see a wire, mirror or secret compartment during the performance. All to the tune of the Final Countdown. These glimpses into inner workings of the tricks really ruin the show. It's not entertaining, you have no respect for the illusionist and you sure as heck aren't going to return for encore performance.

I believe a bulky, overly complex interfaces can be a lot like this terrible magic experience. When we try to make our apps too flexible or offer too much choice for users, as opposed to letting the app do the heavy lifting, we're destroying the magic.

Here's a small example of what might look like in practice. How often have you seen a text input field that requires some sort of formatting? Take a phone number for instance. We could ask the user for any number of different formats. With or without parens or dashes. Our input field should accept them all. It will require a regex but it's one less thing for the user to have to think about. In the end it will remove visual clutter and streamline the process. 

Another example might be that your app requires an email address and a unique username for creating separate subdomains. When the user goes to sign in it asks for their email address. Guess what? A lot of your users are going to try and sign in with their username. How about it just takes both. You give us one of those two things and valid password and we'll just sort it out for you. It's magic.

Those are 2 very simple examples but over the life of an app will add up to a lot. There are of course larger examples. Maybe you have a powerful search function. You could either force the user to sort through a series of selects to narrow the search or put extra work into the logic of the search under the covers. Depending on how critical this feature is to your business the magical user experience and extra work might be worth it.

My hope is that this forces us down the path of more focused and intuitive applications. Less choice and decision making during a workflow will result in a much more magical experience. And if it helps, you can design to the Final Countdown. 

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