This morning I was standing in the bathroom, rushing to get my daughters to school, when I asked my youngest daughter (she’s eight) which toothpaste she wanted.

Take a look at the three options here and, in your mind, think of which one you would pick, and how you would describe it to me:

toothpaste 520x390 Heres why toothpaste can teach us about good app design

As I was waiting for the answer I looked at the choices and expected her to pick either the red one, the green one or the white one. Her answer surprised me ‘I want the one with the penguin’. I stared at her for a second, then had to bend over to study the different tubes and noticed that yes, the green one had two images of penguins. Then my oldest daughter (aged eleven) came in and I asked her the same question. Her reply: ‘Zendium’

I started laughing and explained my daughters how it was funny that we all have different ways of pointing out and differentiating between, the different toothpastes. As we were talking about that their mother walked in. ‘What are you laughing about’ she asked me. I said ‘Oh nothing much, but which toothpaste do you want?’. Her answer:

‘The one on the right’

My daughters were laughing out loud now as their mother stood there, unaware of what was so funny about her toothpaste choice.

The lesson here is that there is no one way to do things and different people need different ways of recognizing things. When building a product it doesn’t just suffice to build one way to access one part of your site, as different people will expect different ways of getting there. We often strive to find the optimal interface, but in reality different interfaces seem logical to different people.

Take the iPhone. I often find my apps based on colors. The big green one is for Evernote. I don’t read the title or remember its position. The email icon though is on the bottom left, and I can find it without looking. other people might ignore the colors and depend much more on text. A perfect interface therefore is one where there are different ways to identify items and multiple ways to get to places.

I wonder what a fifth person would have answered to the question ‘which toothpaste do you want?’. Maybe ‘the sweet one…’

Thumbnail image credit: Thinkstock