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Delivering insanely great user experience should be primary goal of every designer. Without it, no amount of decoration and fancy features will save the product from slow death. In this article, you will learn about the three main components of user experience design. Next, I will give you 6 tips you can put in use immediately to improve the products you are working on right now or in the future. Without further ado, let’s begin …
Big Three of User Experience
Let’s start with making clear distinction between user interface (UI) design and user experience (UX) design. The main focus of user experience designer is about the interaction between users and systems (products and services). His goal is to make this interaction satisfying for user from both, visual and mental side. From this point of view, user experience designer works with three different, say, areas. These areas are look, feel and usability.
First one, look, is about creating credibility, trust, harmony and spirit to attract users and make them use our products and services again. Since we are emotional and visual creatures, in a good sense, how our product looks is the most powerful of the three areas. Think about it … Would you use a product or visit a website with horrible and suspicious look? Probably not. No matter how great its usability would be you would have no trust in it and wouldn’t use it again. To attract users and visitors and keep them coming back, you must create a sense of trust and credibility.
Second area, feel, is all about interaction and reaction. These two are closely related to UI. Without an easy-to-use interface, a user will have no motivation to use it on a regular basis. Sure, the UI should look great. However, it is job of a user experience designer to use his knowledge and skills in a subtle fashion to allow the user as smooth and easy interaction with the system as possible. In other words, even though the UI is so amazing users want to lick the screen, if it is hard to interact with it you did very poor job. Great UX means easy interaction with system, period.
For example, imagine you are browsing some website on your mobile phone. The overall looks is good. It looks like there is nothing you should be afraid of while browsing the site. The problem comes when you want to make some action, say tap some button. There are two buttons next to each other, but without any margin between them. Result? You accidentally click the wrong button and get somewhere you did want to go. This is an example of a bad UX, namely usability. When user is satisfied after making specific action, you did a great job. Just make users feel good.
The third and last area of user experience design is usability and it focuses on functionality, individuality and predictability. As shown on the example above, without functionality you will never be able to deliver anything better than poor or average user experience. I hope you are aiming for something exponentially better than average. The next word, individuality, can be a bit harder to understand. In the simplest terms, to appeal to the users, product should have a unique personality tied to the brand.
As a user experience designer, your job is to allow the product to stand out from the inexhaustible amount of similar products on the shelf or in the store window. You have to do your best to show the product as an individual, not a copy of a big brand, or something based on a common template. The last part of usability is predictability. Since people are comfortable in settings they can predict, great user experience means that users shouldn’t feel threatened, never. Creating predictable environment that feels safe is hard to design. Users should be able to understand how to interact with the system after one look without the need to go through boring tutorial or manual. For example, call-to-actions should be what they expect them to be and the feel of the site should be familiar to them.
As you can see, creating insanely great user experience is complex and hard work. It includes informational architecture, psychology, sociology, content strategy and many other areas. What you should remember is that user experience design is process of development and improvement of quality interaction between a user and system. It uses research, testing, development, content, and prototyping to come up with the highest quality results. Paradoxically, user experience design is more a cognitive science rather than anything else.
Tips for Insanely Great User Experience
That was a shorter intro to user experience design and its building blocks. Now, let’s switch gears and take a look at specific steps you can take. My goal here is to provide you with tips to 10x the experience your users will have while using your products.
No.1: Design for the user
The times when users were willing to spend their time learning new interaction techniques and patterns required to complete tasks on websites are long over. People no longer see themselves as non-technological individuals. Today, if users get confused, they will just leave your website or stop using the product. Why not? There is a substitute for almost anything. With the rise of various devices such as smartphones, phablets, tablets and so on; users are not willing nor patient to learn how to use something just because some designer made something in a different way. Nowadays, users will become frustrated and even angry if they feel a product, app or website is substandard.
No matter how tempting it is for you to design according to your own preferences and tastes, resist it. Keep in mind that such an approach will not help users complete tasks they have in mind. Users have a whole different set of preferences and needs. To deliver the best user experience, think about what users want to do. Then, help them complete those tasks in the easiest fastest and most intuitive way possible. These tasks can range from browsing, reading an article, searching, watching video or playing a game to sending their money via smart banking.
It’s the UX designer’s job to look at the entire experience holistically and make sure that users’ needs are always met. This is what designing for the user means at its core. It is about giving users what they want, in engaging and informative way and creating immersive experience.
No.2: Do Your Research
The first and foremost job of user experience design is to actively listen to people and absorb what they say. In other words, there is little to no chance you can design insanely great experience in a vacuum. You just have to come out of your cave and talk with people who are or will use the product. The more conversations you have with users, the better informed you’ll be and the better results you will get. Make it a habit to dive deep into every piece of documentation you have available. Research the field people in your target area are living. Dissect and examine all the content with an obsessive detail-oriented attention to understand what goals your user have.
Make sure to document thoroughly all your observations along with users’ wishes and dreams. Spend time and talk to as many people across as many departments as possible. Only by following this approach will you have the most complete and accurate picture. With this picture in mind (and on the paper) you will be prepared to move to the next phase of your project.
One part of active listening to the “environment” comes from doing a detailed in-depth analysis of what competitors in the same area or industry are doing. You should look for people pushing the limits you can learn from. Pay attention to mistakes they made and avoid following the same path. And, don’t look just on the surface. Go much deeper, searching for the fundamental component that ties all of them together. Answers to these questions are keys for success of your project.
Warning! Don’t be shortsighted. Meaning, don’t limit yourself to only one specific type of a product to draw inspiration from. Instead, you should go for variety and expose yourself to as many examples as you can. Remember that user behavior will often be similar or even same across the industries and fields. You can learn a lot from UX best practices across different industries.
No.3: Great Experience is About Personas
Crafting personas is important and vital step of the design process. You should always look at all the content as one piece and imagine what users will want to read it and what will they try to accomplish. Only by going through this process you will be able to prioritize all the parts and create insanely great user experience. This means to build and structure everything around the user’s goals, and not the other way around. The problem is that traditional personas most of us are familiar with will not help you here.
No matter how detailed these personas are, they still look more like a CV or results of some sociological survey. They don’t offer much, if any, insight into the user’s actual behavior. However, nothing is lost. You can still save the situation by grouping basic user types into categories according to activities or actions they want to do. For example, categories such as shopping, reading, browsing, procrastinating, looking for specific content and more. Creating these groups will give you much more useful insights about why users want to use the product and in which context do they want to use it. It will be also easier to predict how much time they have.
As a result, you’ll be better equipped to use this knowledge and design the product around the behavior patterns of your users. This is something fake names, genders, professions and income levels will never be able to provide you with.
No.4: Simplicity is the King
Nowadays, almost everyone is talking about making things simple and that less is more. Having this on a plate every day, we as designers may think this is obvious and doesn’t need further explanation. Unfortunately, the majority of product around are still not able to get this right. Yes, user experience designers are trying to embrace the white space and trim the information and content to essentials. That is not enough. The key we often don’t see is to cut down the tasks required by users to the bare minimum.
We have to get rid of all that extra clutter that doesn’t add any value to users, or even worse, distracts and confuses them. Doing this successfully will require you to know exactly how you want users to move through your product. Then, your goal is to guide them through the entire process like if you were there with them holding their hand. Remember, users want things to be as simple, fast and predictable as possible. If users can’t see what’s coming next before doing some specific action, they’ll never become happy users.
To achieve this feat, you should use interactive features available to you. These features can be something like such as instant search in case of websites, enhanced animations and illustrations reacting on users’ input, providing offline mode for apps and so on. You have to make everything so simple that even if users will have to learn how to use something, it will be still fun for them. Remember to narrow your focus on what and how users want to get done and make it enjoyable.
No.5: Size Does Matter
Are you familiar with the term “fat finger error”? In short, it is an input error mostly known in financial markets such as the stock market or foreign exchange market. It simply means that you buy or sell more than you wanted. In case of designing digital products, imagine a tapping wrong key on the screen keyboard. Whether the problem is that the key is too small or your finger too big, your experience already suffers. The solution for issues such as this one is to make things bigger, bulky and oversized. Think about children’s toys, if you want.
When you design your product with “fat fingers” on mind, you will automatically make them easier to use and the whole experience better. To give you a real-life example, rather than using the standard input fields such as these tiny radio buttons and checkboxes, use your own customized one. Make these inputs bigger, use big buttons and giant sliders if necessary. As a result, you’ll see user engagement will increase and whole experience will flourish.
And, you don’t have to stop there. Whenever you ask users to provide information, rather than using boring old-fashioned terminology go with something more playful and cheeky. Remember that you are designing for people, not robots. Simple and friendly terminology will make the user experience feel less like a labor. What’s more, users will be more likely to complete the process.
No.6: Get Unbiased Feedback
The last tip I will give you is you should never do qualitative analysis of your own work. The thing is that the chance of you hitting the bull’s-eye with your first try is very small. Every veteran designer will tell you that successful user experience is a result of many iterations. You create something, test it, gather more information about its performance and try again. When it comes to numbers, tracking the performance and understanding where users are leaving is important and should be done by you. On the other hand, you should always reach to someone else to do a qualitative analysis to keep the results objective.
When you will insist on doing this part of work by yourself, you will be prone to include your personal thoughts, ideas and feelings into the data. This will only blur the result and will never give you the depth of truth and insight that you’re looking for. In order to get objective answers, let someone else do the user testing and build upon this information in your next iteration.
Creating insanely great user experience is tough job. So, don’t get discouraged by small stumbling along the way. Remember that behind every successful product, be it digital or physical, is long chain of iterations. They are never result of one narrow and clean way. In order to deliver the best experience to the users, you have to persevere and never give up when facing challenges. Keep your head down, work hard and design for users.
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