CX Insights

Adapting to Users with Responsive Interfaces

5 min read

Over the past two years, responsive design has risen from niche technology, to an essential part of web design. We’re at a stage where if your site isn’t adapting to fit the screen – to fit the device – it’s outdated. This is the responsive revolution. The movement towards a more adaptive – a more intelligent – web.

Responsive design needn’t only be a cure for site formatting. Responsive design allows us to be… Responsive. Allows us to respond to our users. It opens the door for exciting new technologies. Interfaces can be fine-tuned for the individual, making use of location and other metadata.

This application becomes especially interesting when we factor in new users. Creating interfaces which personally adapt to each new user. An interface that increases in complexity as it detects users’ habits. Interfaces which learn, teach, and adapt.

Intuitive Responsive Design

Simpler times – MS Paint

We all remember that first day in Photoshop. Strange iconography and options enough to last a lifetime. For a new user, photoshop is a scary place. Moving from the childish pixel playground of Paint, where simple tasks can be performed with simple commands; to a place where seemingly the most basic of crops requires a degree in… something.

Even in its most basic form, Photoshop is a scary prospect for beginners

In Photoshop icons aren’t labelled. Commands are hidden. Colours require crazy number/letter combinations. We’re out of the sandbox and into the world of the design professional – at least, that is how it feels. Not intuitive, not simple, not good for a first-timer.

This first time experience is often daunting. With new experiences we simply have no experience to draw upon. No indication of where to go or what to do. As usability designers we are taught that consistency is the cure to this. Using iconography and placement that our user is already comfortable with.

There is no doubt consistency helps, providing a solid basis for our user to recall past experiences from. Yet, consistency can only so far. Fresh – unique – takes will always be in demand. Our user has to jump into that pool at some point. It is our job to ensure it is a shallow one.

Lessons from Video Gaming

The gaming industry has a lot to learn from, that is no secret. “Gamification” has been the word on the lips of corporate executives worldwide for the best part of 10 years.

Implementing gaming ideals has been talked to death. Game design has been talked to death. Game Interface Design, not so much. Yet here we have plenty to learn from.

As mentioned earlier, responsive principles allow the possibility to create experiences which grow over time. Which adapt to our user’s situation. If the user is fresh to our software, it is needless throwing complex features at them. Complex tasks and commands they can’t begin to comprehend. Learning will hit a wall as they are forced to slowly experiment and Google for answers.

Video games know this. They know that a difficult opening will only produce a frustrated, useless user. Video games have not only mastered the art of the tutorial, but mastered interface progression.

In World of Warcraft, new players have limited abilities and a stripped down UI. Note the greyed out buttons and general lack of features. The player is forced to interact with what they have. There is nowhere to get lost

By comparison, here the abilities are somewhat overwhelming. The UI is cluttered and a new user wouldn’t know where to go nor where to start. Call to action are spread around the screen ensuring only an experienced player would know what to do next.

By slowly introducing players to new abilities and interface functionality, not only does their character progress, but the player too. These small interface rewards allow the player to perform more complex tasks when they’re needed. Tasks which would have had no meaning – that the player would have had no use for – from the the get go.

This type of progressive interface is largely lacking outside of the gaming world. Yet as the popularity of the study in User Onboarding increases, simple things like this will undoubtedly see greater prominence. Interfaces more intuitive to first time users, which teach the user.

Adaptive Interfaces

Lets think Photoshop again. Imagine the interface able to detect that you are a new user. Able to detect that you have no prior experience with image editing software. Rather than being lumbered with full functionality, you’re offered a stripped down, Paint-esque interface. Simple tooltips. Offering precisely the tools you need – now.

This low complexity reduces the margin for error. Allows you to learn and “unlock” further functionality when you need it, rather than stumbling around into the wrong options. Advanced options remain hidden until you are an advanced user. Till you need this functionality. The interface learns what you need, as you learn from the interface.

These are the sort of boxes responsive design opens for us. Design not only responsive in shape and size, but function. A visual designer’s photoshop could adapt to a visual designer’s needs, a photographer’s to a photo editor’s needs. Adaption created through machine learning and analysis of user input. The possibilities are interesting.


  • We can ease the initial experience by reducing interface complexity on startup
  • The Interface can adapt – respond – to the user’s inputs. Offering advanced options once the user is ready for them
  • On a similar note, the interface could respond to user interactions. Creating customised experiences naturally tooled to each individual user.
Oliver McGough
Passionate UX Designer and Marketer.