Autonomy is the power of choice. Everyone is entitled to the freedom to do things in the way that they want to and this is also considered as one of the most fundamental human needs to be happy and fulfilled.
However many times users are forced to complete tasks in narrowly defined ways that do not align with their priorities or preferences. This lack of freedom can annoy users and leave them extremely frustrated and annoyed.
Therefore designers should create interfaces in a way that aligns with user choice and their personal preferences.
In other words Autonomy is UX design is the ability to use an interface, product or service in a way that aligns with personal preferences and priorities.
Organisations sometimes think that offering users choice can conflict with their key metrics. However users that do make the choice to stay committed to your product or service are more likely to be much more loyal users and active subscribers.
Let’s look at some ways in which UX designers can give users autonomy. However do keep in mind that autonomy is more of a principle than a research method, and the effort to implement it should be guided by various factors.
1. Giving users the ability to customise
An easy way to give users autonomy is through customisation. These could be through font sizes, background theme, custom themes etc.
But customisations should be implemented with caution because a lot of times, users do not spend a lot of time customising. Make sure that you invest time and resources only after doing adequate research into user behaviour.
Another thing to keep in mind is that certain elements should stay the same in order to preserve usability and brand recognition.
While users may not take the time to customise certain surface level details of an interface, task related customisations can help users adapt the UI as per their personal preference and choices. An example of this is the magnification feature that allows users to adjust the magnification of their page content by either zooming in or out.
This is a great example of a customisation feature that allows users the autonomy to adapt the interface to meet their needs – whether they want to be able to see more content on a single page or they have eyesight problems and need a bigger font for accessibility.
2. Make it easy for users to scan content
User’s attention spans have greatly decreased. They’re constantly trying to quickly scan through content and only read content that is relevant to them. If your content is not scannable it greatly limits autonomy, and could also lead to you losing out on users if they think that reading all the content is not helpful to them.
Use headings and subheadings to create scannable content. By looking at the headings, users can quickly choose what is more relevant to them and read it in greater detail if they choose to. This is a good general rule of thumb to apply to every type of content from emails to printed materials such as pamphlets etc.
3. Think about the user journey
Users not only want scannable content, they also want to decide when and how to interact with the content. A user might already be familiar with an interface and be straightaway ready to find the content they’re looking for while others may need more of a guided instruction on how to navigate the website. Different users will have different needs. While someone might be looking for a specific answer to a query they have, someone else might just be browsing the site.
To be able to offer users autonomy, think about all the different user journeys your customers would have and how you can cater to their preferences and priorities.
Can you allow users to postpone the initial step to set up their account. While personalisation is important to give users customised content, respecting user’s autonomy by forcing them not to complete this step is also important.
Think of yourself as the user, and think about whether your website offers enough autonomy.
While offering users choices for autonomy is important, too many choices can also be overwhelming. If your users are overwhelmed by the number of choices, or are forced to customise the interface before they begin using it, they might drop out before you get a chance to show them what you offer. Find the right balance by sticking to a few options. Rather than offering too many choices, a few meaningful choices gives users enough control. Consider the limits of the human mind when it comes to processing information and then decide how many options to give your users.
UX design is all about empathising with the user and creating designs that meet their needs. Provide autonomy by giving your users a few meaningful customisations, increasing scalability of your content and allowing users when to choose to interact with your content.