Memo: Obvious, Easy, Possible

The following is a memo I sent to a software company I work with. At the time, stakeholders were having trouble simplifying their user experience. I wrote this memo to provide a rational prioritization framework for their product's interface design.


During a UI refresh, the job of an interface designer is to re-prioritize what the user sees for clarity and usability's sake. Easier said than done.

How do we make those prioritization decisions?

I use a three-category framework to help — Obvious, Easy, and Possible (Props to Jason Fried of Basecamp for first creating this framework).

  1. Obvious: What do users always want to accomplish? These features should be the most obvious in the interface.

    Usually, no more than 1-2 features can be obvious on a screen. (For context, during our workshop, we identified 36 different features in *redacted* application).

    Making something obvious in an interface is costly. That cost comes in the form of screen real estate - when something takes up more space, it removes space for other things. It's costly in terms of taking up a limited human attention span, and it's costly for the user's comprehension power (cognitive load). Making one feature obvious means making other features less obvious.

  2. Easy: what do users often do, but not always? Those features should be easy to access. “Easy” features are less visually prioritized than “obvious” ones.

    As a company, we must know the difference between things people do **always** vs. **often**. This conversation is where most debates about the product will happen. Those are good debates to have.

  3. Possible: the possible list is where everything else lives. Features that are deemed possible just have to be accessible somewhere. In typical product companies, people often believe this list should be shorter than it truly is.


I believe there is an inverse correlation between the amount of elements deemed Obvious and a positive user experience. We should make every feature fight for it's place in that obvious list.

See the image below for a remote that has prioritized many obvious features vs one that has few. You'll notice when everything is deemed obvious, it feels like nothing is.

My hope is that this short essay helps inform other departments of our Design framework as we undertake this new UI refresh.


I did not invent this framework. This memo is heavily influenced by Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp.

2023 - Zach Janicello

2023 - Zach Janicello