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GuidesUser experience (UX)What is discoverability in UX design?

What is discoverability in UX design?

Last updated

19 April 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Eliz Ayaydin

Sometimes despite designing products that satisfy specific customer needs, users may not always use the product as you had envisaged—resulting in product failure.

A likely reason for this is that the target customers couldn't easily discover your product’s functionality, features, or content. 

In the e-commerce world, the difference between the success and failure of your product often lies in whether or not your users can conveniently and intuitively access critical functions and features. 

So, how can you highlight important features or content to your users? How can you help users discover that a function exists? Enter discoverability.

In this article, we discuss discoverability in UX design, why it’s important, and how you can achieve good discoverability.

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What is discoverability?

As the name suggests, discoverability is your users' ability to discover features, functionality controls, and even the content as they go through and use your web application or website.

Discoverability enhances learnability—the ability of users to begin using a product, its features, and its functionality quickly. It promotes the overall user experience of a product. 

The importance of discoverability

  • Facilitates ease of use. One of the major benefits of discoverability in user experience design is that it makes it easy for users to find the features and functionality in your product to solve their needs, enhancing user experience.

  • Customer engagement. If your features, functions, and content are easily discoverable, it leads to more customer engagement and satisfaction while boosting business revenue.

Difference between discoverability and findability

Discoverability and findability are often used interchangeably. However, while the two ideas are connected to improving user experience, they’re different terms with different outcomes.

Findability refers to how easy it is for users to find content, functions, or features they believe to be present in your website or application.

On the other hand, discoverability refers to users' ability to notice or find new content or features on their own without prior knowledge that they exist.

Why is it so hard to design for discoverability?

Designing highly discoverable interfaces is challenging for most product development teams since users don’t generally look for new stuff. People interact with a product, and if they don't encounter new content or features, they will not seek them out since they have no idea that such functions exist in the first place.

How to achieve discoverability

Here are some top tips to help your users find whatever they’re looking for quickly and efficiently.

Design familiar interfaces

Often, designers love experimenting and trying new approaches. In the process, they get carried away and forget the essence of user experience design: to make it easy for users. They end up rethinking existing styles and interactions, making it harder for users to understand and interact with your products. 

Always strive to create user interfaces that closely follow universally accepted standards. You can enhance discoverability by using existing design conventions that match users understanding of a web page or application.  

Use familiar strategies and icons your users have previously come into contact with to enhance predictability. 

Prioritize valuable content and features

Deprioritizing or removing redundant content makes more important content stand out for users to notice. As a rule, focus on critical functions and features and prioritize what solves the problem for your users.

Remember that hidden features make users more likely to forget they have them—'out of sight out of mind'. Conversely, good visibility translates to good discoverability. Visible navigation, such as a tab bar, tells users their options and keeps these options top of mind.

The location of your content is quite critical—position buttons and icons where users can easily see them or where they expect to find them.

Use logical grouping

Consider organizing items with strong relationships together in logical categories by grouping elements that complement each other. This rule applies to both features (e.g., groups of filters) and content (e.g., information architecture organizing product categories on e-commerce websites). 

Introducing logical order helps your users to make sense of your pages a lot faster and thus makes it easier for them to find what they want. 

In contrast, when you don’t logically group screen content, it will be far more difficult for potential users to figure out where to find what they need or focus their attention. 

You may also want to conduct tree testing to get insight into target users' mental models before beginning to work on UX. This type of testing involves users going through the site’s navigation links to find specific items. This enables you to better structure content according to your users' needs.

Reduce visual clutter

A common pitfall in UI design is trying to make everything equally easy to discover. Designers often assume that for features to be more discoverable, they must always be visible. Using this approach, designers strive to fix all available functions and information on the screen/web page. 

However, this attempt to make all features and functionality prominently visible can clutter a screen to the extent it becomes unreadable. More often than not, visual clutter creates unnecessary functional and decorative elements that make it more difficult for users to interact with the product.

This clutter slows down users and makes essential features difficult to discover. Prioritize functions and features that are more important than others. When you remove all the redundant content and features from the layout, you enhance the remaining functions and allow the most essential features and content to stand out.

Reduce the total number of options

According to Hick's Law, too many options slow the decision-making process. Thus, you’ll need to perform a balancing act between providing enough features for users and restricting the number of options to the essentials only. 

When you limit the number of user options, the decision-making process becomes simpler for your users and allows them to explore, discover, and experiment with the available options.

Provide visual feedback

Visual feedback is the visible response a user gets from performing an interaction on a screen. For instance, hovering a mouse over a website link gives you a visual response—the color of the link changes. 

This minor visual response is critical since it enhances users' overall experience and removes uncertainty. Visual responses help users understand which elements are interactive and what to do next, making them more likely to perform a desired action.

Use icons with universal meaning

Using unfamiliar icons leads to navigation problems for your users. When users encounter unfamiliar icons, they may be unable to predict what happens when they tap it and may skip the option altogether. 

You can test if users are familiar with a function by asking actual or potential users what the function in question does. If they can't give you a definite answer, replace the icon with a more meaningful alternative.

Also, if your icons are difficult to understand, you can support them with text. Eventually, your users will learn the actions associated with the icons as they use them more frequently. Consider displaying the text as smaller, secondary information alongside a larger, primary icon. 

Use the appropriate size of UI elements

Designers make it easy for users to scan text when they use different styles for regular text and headlines. This same strategy can apply to UI design. 

You can magnify certain page elements to draw users' attention to important information. Any element on your webpage that takes up more pixels than the rest will likely stand out most to your users. 

Give more prominence to the features and information you deem significant. For instance, think of a large call-to-action button on a landing page prompting customers to take a specific path and highlight what to expect when they click the button.

Use colors

Use color to associate, draw attention, and emphasize important features and information. Choose colors matching stereotypes, e.g., red for canceling and green for taking action.

While color is quite helpful, don't rely on it alone. Use along with added text and arrows to help users who may be color blind.

Give visual cues

If you have any extra content, functionality, or features that you wish to provide to your users, use visual cues to nudge your users in that direction. 

You can provide visual cues and guide your users in a specific direction in the following ways:

  • Temporary animation

  • Breadcrumbs

  • Showing part of the next, previous, or additional page

Where you can't use specific buttons or icons, use text to highlight that there are more functions or content to explore. 

Avoid complex hidden interactions

Hidden controls and gestures (such as double tapping, long pressing, and swiping) can cause many discoverability issues for your users. Unless your users know that specific gestures exist, they’re unlikely to try them. 

Use universally recognized gestures for your product category, and don't try to reinvent the wheel by designing new and unfamiliar patterns. Only use complex interactions involving multiple digits when there’s a need to avoid accidental operations or for extremely rare functions.

Also, since most users are still unfamiliar with gestures, it’s wise to highlight the gesture-based interactions when users encounter your product for the first time.

Provide affordances

Even if users discover a function or feature, they may still need help understanding how to use it. Affordances are attributes that help users understand how to use a feature. 

If you don’t provide affordances, your users will be left second-guessing how a particular feature works and may not even attempt to use it. To provide affordances, select icons and label shapes based on what the shape will communicate to the users. For instance, users may recognize that a dust-bin-like object is a delete button.

Conduct tests

Once you are satisfied with your UX design, test it before you release it. Analyze to see if there are places where your users are struggling and why, and then outline possible solutions to address the issues. 

Seek feedback around whether the appropriate features and functionalities are easy to find for users. Iterate and re-test as necessary until you’re sure your users have a seamless UX.

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