Every product has its own unique set of challenges to solve, stakeholders to satisfy, and user stories to consider. Websites, web apps, native apps, social media platforms, and emails are just a few examples of the types of digital media that shape our everyday interactions with the internet, and they all have designers behind the scenes whose job it is to visually guide users through the product. Even within those categories, no two products are exactly the same, so each user experience team needs to decide which UX values are most important to prioritize.
In this article I’ll present the five main UX principles I use to measure my own success as the Manager of UI/UX Development at NarrativeWave. Our SaaS (software as a service) solution helps some of the world’s leading energy organizations more efficiently utilize our world’s resources. Since our product is self-service analytics software, ease-of-use is of paramount importance in our user experience ethos.
NarrativeWave’s design challenges include:
Readers who also work on a product team can follow along by coming up with additional examples relevant to your own digital experience.
A good product must be accessible by anyone in its target audience. For example, a transit route planning app is most valuable on the go, so it needs to function on mobile devices with spotty internet connectivity.
Usability also encompasses visual branding and graphic design. A product’s aesthetic should never be a barrier to entry, but a means to an end. Usability should never be sacrificed in the name of decoration. Users quickly leave a website or abandon a product when it’s unsightly, outdated, or obnoxious.
Keep it simple! The “for dummies” series exists and is so popular because the answer to “explain it to me like I’m 5” is often all the information people need. Some of the most thoughtful and beautiful user experiences are born from the goal of simplicity. Having a user manual is great, especially if the product is very technical and intended to be used primarily by experts. However, as a rule of thumb, my challenge to designers is to first pretend that the user won’t have one. Design around that assumption, and then consider if one is still needed. Sometimes the answer will be yes, and that’s ok. The more of a product’s story that can be told visually through hierarchy and flow, the faster and easier it is for the user to achieve what they’ve come to do, and that’s a key mark of a successful product.
Why should users choose this product versus a competitor? If a designer or team can’t answer this question, either the product needn’t exist, or they need to understand it better before attempting to craft user experiences for it.
Those who have written a research paper will remember that ATP means “answer the prompt”. Consider, why do people use this product? What goal have they come to accomplish? What problem are they trying to solve? Humans have short attention spans, so make sure users can understand what they need to do, and do it relatively quickly. Again, keep it simple, and don’t introduce non-valuable experiences that do not contribute to user goals.
Credibility is another factor that contributes to a product’s value. Why should users trust it? It’s important to establish credibility as a product, but this is difficult to do because it’s abstract. Keep in mind while a product is being designed that credibility will need to be established in practice.
The best information in the world is useless if nobody can find it. Findability can be achieved through design in multiple ways, including hierarchy and familiarity.
Everyone’s brains work slightly differently, but in general, people can more easily digest information when it’s laid out in a structured format. Make sure the navigation is laid out in a way that makes sense so users can find what they need.
Hierarchy encompasses both visual weight (bigger elements, bolder colors, higher position on a webpage) and information structure (flow from general to specific). When used correctly, design concepts like hierarchy are powerful tools to guide users through a digital experience.
Humans are creatures of habit that prefer when things are familiar. Design patterns can establish consistency. Re-use styles, layouts, visual flows, and colors whenever possible to establish a shared language with the user. A style guide can be a helpful tool to keep the whole team aligned.
How are users meant to interact with this product? Bad interaction design frustrates people, while good interaction design keeps them coming back for more.
Give the user some feedback when they’ve performed a task. Even a simple success message, hover effect, or color change on click goes a long way towards establishing trust with the user. Most (if not all) of the interactions in the product should be user-led. Action A should lead to outcome B. How many of us have entered a website, been greeted by a popup modal, and immediately closed out of it because we didn’t prompt it?
Randomness is the enemy of logic, and randomness can create a jarring experience. Anything visually different naturally holds a lot of visual weight, so design anomalies responsibly. Don’t overwhelm users-- give them only what they need to efficiently achieve the task they’ve come to perform.
Thoughtfulness is a large part of successful user experience design. Care for the craft is self-evident. The more thought and time that is put into brainstorming and research in the early stages, the more it will show in the final product.
User-tested = User-approved. Know your audience, and then show it to them. Who is using this product? Pilot new concepts by conducting user acceptance testing (UAT) with those whose opinions matter most. Who better to do this with than a sampling of the target audience?
Consider developing a digital prototype to share with users ahead of development kickoff. Popular prototyping tools such as Adobe XD, Figma, Sketch, and InVision empower designers to explore and communicate product interactivity without any code. When a prototype is true-to-life, it looks and feels just like the product itself, which allows for realistic UAT without requiring the development team to invest several hours into building the functionality.
Good design is never truly finished-- it’s constantly iterative. Trends are always evolving, so it’s important to stay on top of them. Beyond that, understand how to leverage trends in an impactful way, instead of choosing designs just because they look nice. Explore all worthy options, make several sketches, brainstorm lots of concepts, and always take notes. Don’t subvert the process. The end product will be worth it.