I’ve had several of these conversations recently, and while they always lead to interesting territory, they’ve also felt somehow imprecise. Many modern digital products enable complex, emergent behavior, not just pure task completion. We’re building habitats, not just tools; yet we often think of discoverability only in terms of task execution. I think this framing—that either something is sufficiently discoverable or not—is too narrow, and I’d like to state the case for a more nuanced understanding.

Designers frequently rely on established patterns and controls to help communicate function. But some of the old faithfuls are starting to lose their potency. Scrollbars are steadily vanishing from view, and hover states are meaningless in a touchy world. Flat design also attracts criticism for harming discoverability; the argument goes that it discards visual cues that communicate what a product can do and how to interact with it.