The Phenomenon of Automagic

Ah UXmas. It’s the most magical time of the year. The elves are working their magic in the North Pole and Santa, along with his reindeers, is about to work his magic to traverse the globe in a single night.

But did you know us UXers can use magic too? Excellent UX happens when your users don't know how your app is working—it just works.

I like to call this “automagic”. 


I don't know how Apple's Health app on iOS8 counts my steps. How does it know when I'm moving, versus when I'm in a moving vehicle? Automagically!

Of course there’s some complex algorithm working behind the scenes in conjunction with the gyroscope and other sensors, but as a user I don’t have to do anything.

Health just works away in the background, automagically counting my steps. I do nothing, I don't need to think and I get what I need out of the app. That, my friends, is excellent UX. 

Sometimes UXers get caught up in the flow of actions in interaction design. We need to take a step back and design nothing. Remove interactions where possible and replace those steps with automagic. Removing the interface between the user and what they want to achieve so it “just works” is key. Your users will be awed and they will thank you.

To achieve automagical interfaces, ask yourself:

  • Do I already know this information?

If the user has interacted with you before, default their previous response (e.g. postal address) and give them the option to change it – don’t make them enter it again. Make gliding through your app quickly the norm; stopping and performing more complex interactions with your interface should only be required when new, or different, information is needed. Do this using touch-only confirmation of actions by storing and remembering details.

  • Do I need the user to tell me this?

Does the user really need to open your app and say, “hey, I’m walking now” for you to capture steps or can you do it automagically in the background? Do you need to ask the user to enter a piece of information or can you retrieve it from an external source? Remove any barriers to using your app by making use of sensors and external data sources.

  • Is manual input really required?

Does the user really have to type in input, or can you get the information another way? For example, if you already have the user’s weight and height you can calculate the BMI without them having to enter that field too. If you want the user to tell you their pulse (which is complicated), automagically determine it yourself (the camera flash can be used to detect changes in light intensity of a placed finger corresponding to the blood pulsing through the veins). Remove tedious manual input where possible using the camera and microphone capabilities of devices.

So keep the UXmas magic alive all year round by sprinkling automagic dust on your interfaces. There are many questions you can ask yourself to design products that make it easier for your users to use your product without even thinking about what goes behind it.

Kayla Heffernan

Kayla Heffernan

Kayla is a user and experiencer of products, frustrated with mediocrity and passionate advocate for the voice of all users. Kayla is a UX designer at SEEK and also undertaking a PhD in Interaction Design looking at digital insertables. In her spare time… she doesn’t have any.

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