I'm sure there's a term for this, but I can't seem to find it...

So, for example, if I was to create an application that had to do with photo editing, users would expect a layout and commands similar to that of Photoshop or Gimp. This prior conception of how an application or website should look can be strong enough to contribute to a poor user experience of the new application.


4 Answers 4


I believe what you're referring to is the Availability heuristic, the psychological phenomenon by which subjects search for, and recognize faster, patterns that they've already encountered. The spillover into UX is that designs which follow patterns that are already likely to be familiar are (generally) perceived to be friendlier/easier to navigate.

A prime example is Amazon's (now discontinued) use of note tabs for section/location prompts. This was a shortcut for users that may not have been highly familiar with web navigation. By mimicking a notebook (something that's probably now less familiar to the current generation than web navigation was to the previous one) navigating the complex information hierarchy of Amazon become more intuitive.

The downside to this, as you've already touched on, is that breaking this habit for something that's potentially superior is a problem. Humans are creatures of habit, and once a pattern is established it can be damn hard to break it (why else woudl the vast majority of us still be using QWERTY keyboards over the more efficient DVORAK?).

Photoshop/Gimp's interfaces may not be the most intuitive in the world but they work, and many of us have invested enough time in them that they're now what we expect and accept as the most intuitive approach, but only as a consequence of exposure and pattern recognition.

  • A..."prime" example, from Amazon, eh?
    – hexparrot
    Sep 8, 2013 at 6:30
  • I see what you did there ;)
    – monners
    Sep 8, 2013 at 7:52

When a UI is similar to some reference other than a part of itself, I call it external consistency. If your users are expected to switch from Photoshop or Gimp to your app, it's "legacy consistency." If they are expected to use your app to supplement work they do in Photoshop or Gimp, it's "concurrent consistency."

  • Great article! I didn't even think of external/internal consistency. Sep 7, 2013 at 2:05

I think it is Intuitive Interface, which

based on reusing existing skills with interaction systems

Jef Raskin argues, it is Familiar Interface, pointing

I suggest that we replace the word "intuitive" with the word "familiar" (or sometimes "old hat") in informal HCI discourse. HCI professionals might prefer another phrase:

Intuitive = uses readily transferred, existing skills.

  • These words are what you call an interface that conforms to what a user has come to expect. OP is, imho, looking for the word that describes the users expecting/looking for these intuitive/familiar interface. Sep 6, 2013 at 12:21
  • Really good point about "intuitive" being used in place of "familiar"!! I'll definitely be more mindful of my own usage of it. Sep 7, 2013 at 2:02

According to Google: "Prototypicality is how representative a design looks for a certain category of websites."

This study was on visual design, my guess is that it would apply to interaction design patterns and behaviors as well. I have no research to back this up.

However, it seems that talking to your identified users could help; even reveal opportunity to improve on existing software. I am willing to guess business/user goals are not exact replicas of existing technologies.

Hope this is helpful.

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