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The secret to good UX may not be what you think

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With the consumer world increasingly moving online, brands are being faced with the challenge of developing top-notch platforms to replace otherwise clunky and dated experiences. Long gone are the days of stiff, counter-intuitive and painful User Experience – as technology progresses and digital platforms become more polished, those who spend most of their day online are bound to notice the little shortcomings of the most pretentious user interfaces.

Facebook, for instance, is an absolute mess and doesn’t seem to want to improve in any way. But that’s a story for another day.

Yet as we face the ever so important issue of crafting good user experience, we ourselves are faced with the most important question of all: what makes good UX? What defines top-notch online experience, and is there a secret sauce to success?

You can already imagine the answer. The truth is that user experience is immensely subjective, and there’s hardly a one-size-fits-all answer for every user need. But there are frameworks and ideas we can refer to, for sure. Then it’s up to us to build upon those principles.

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Image credit: Pablo Ladosa

The Principles of Good UX

The key to good user experience resides in understanding your user. Without user research and some quality assurance, there is no way you can pull off some groundbreaking user experience for your end consumers. It is certainly useful to build a prototype, but the first step should always be focused on thinking about user personas. Who is your average user likely to be? Is it a writer, a cab driver, an office worker? Is it someone in finance, gaming or advertising? Does it even matter?

Once you have a number of user personas, you can start building your UX around them. The key is empathy. You have to keep your user in mind at all times, building your design for them, envisioning use cases and functions and applications which may make the difference in the long run. No project or good idea is ever good for long, if UX isn’t there to support it.

People get bored easily nowadays, and before you know it, they will go to your competitor for a better experience. Don’t give them a reason to do so – make things engaging, play with positive emotions, make the experience pleasant for your user in all stages. This also means building accessibility in your design. You want to keep users engaged, but you also don’t want to scare away potential consumers. There is a much alive debate right now in the industry on the impact of neuro-diversity, accessibility and inclusion in design – lead by example, and people will remember you.

From action to empathy

Over 6 years ago, Navdeep Raj wrote a stellar piece on User Experience for SAP Design which is still timely today. In his piece, Navdeep explored the main principles of good user experience, splitting them into five main areas: Action, Simplicity, Emotions, Engagement and Delight. 

To him, good user experience must have a clear goal. It should guide the user through the journey quickly and easily, by providing a number of cues that will in turn cause a reaction and lead the user through a process of evaluation. Users must be led through the UX with ease by minimising pain points and anxiety, thus leading to a smooth and memorable experience.

It’s also incredibly easy to get carried away and out of the scope of a project, by developing feature atop feature and making things incredibly complicated for all the parties involved. A good user experience is simple. It engages users through gradual interactions, by introducing a range of basic features first, then making things a bit more juicy with more advanced elements.

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Image credit: Lisa Molloy

If you’ve ever played an action RPG video game, the principle is much similar: you start with a rather simple tutorial, and by the end of the game you are an unstoppable fire-breathing beast with a plethora of skills, combos and immense power. Ideally, that’s how you want your end user to feel. Feelings themselves are just as important, as users tend to connect with the products they experience. You want to make your design relatable, perhaps through the use of photos or mascots, perhaps with humour and playfulness.

This will in turn make your user feel engaged. You want to implement feedback elements into your app, be it buttons (users love pressing big clicky buttons!), gamification or other elements that will keep the end user wanting to come back for more. However, you must pay attention to not make the user experience the core of the product itself; if your user enjoys playing around with your UX more than what the actual product has to offer, they will still turn away at the first occasion and as soon as they are bored.

This brings us back to the beginning; this is why your UX must be actionable. A clear goal, purpose or service helps keep the user engaged at all times, and ultimately, it leads to them proving a special, warm, fuzzy feeling every time they interact with your app or product. They may not be exactly conscious of that, and they may not be able to explain exactly why they love the experience, but you’ll know. It is because it makes them feel fulfilled, special, or happy.

Existing Frameworks

There are, of course, existing frameworks to study UX, some of which are briefly discussed on the Adobe XD Ideas blog. The Nielsen Norman heuristics for interface design are often referenced as comprehensive and still current when it comes to experience design. I will not discuss them too in depth here, but briefly, the list from Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen advocates for user control and freedom, but also a great degree of simplicity. Experience designers should avoid technical jargon and contorted language, and every piece of information on screen should be written in a language as simple as possible, lest the user becomes alienated and jarred by the experience. This principle can somewhat apply to aesthetics and design as well, but there is one simple element that lies at the roots of the entire list of heuristics: empathy.

Without empathy, an experience designer won’t be able to understand why it’s important that a user gets the ability to correct their mistakes (with a simple Undo/Redo). They will not understand why it matters that help and documentation is readily available if needed, because they simply won’t care. User experience drives profit, certainly, but profit must not be the only determining factor when designing user experience. Without empathy, your design is bound to fail.

Another interesting framework discussed by Adobe is the User Experience Honeycomb by Peter Morville. It outlines the core principles for good user experience as follows:

  • Useful: is the product really helping someone find a solution to a problem?
  • Usable: is it easy to use?
  • Desirable: is it interesting to the user base? Do people want to experience it?
  • Findable: is navigation easy and clear at all times?
  • Accessible: have you implemented accessibility features?
  • Credible: is the product safe, secure, unique and reliable?
  • Valuable: is there an inherent value in the product you are creating?

These frameworks are by no means meant to be used as a bible, but they can help when conceiving your next product and when you choose to approach user experience in your own, unique ways.

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Image credit: Sangwon Kang (Personal Project)

The 4.5 Es of UX

So in short, what is it that makes good user experience? How can you design unique UX that will stick with your users forever (or until the next big thing from you, anyway)?

I’ve nailed it down to 4.5 “E”s (no questions, you’ll see).

Good user experience is Empathetic. This is perhaps the most important principle of all. Unforgettable user experience keeps the user safe, it makes them feel loved and rewarded. It causes positive feelings and delight, because it was conceived with the end user in mind – not a stiff cold business goal.

Good user experience is Easy. It is simple to use, clear in its communications, and something a user will want to approach with minimal pains or anxiety.

Good user experience is Engaging. Through gamification (rewards, quests etc.), feedback and good navigation, a user will feel engaged at all times and will soon develop an addiction for the core features of your product.

Good user experience is Empowering. It gives the end users the tools to achieve their goals, with everything I just mentioned above.

Lastly, good user experience is Helpful (you can see why this is a cheat). It is not enough to give users the tools to achieve their goals; good user experience will also make a user feel happy and realised. Whether that be by ticking an item off a to-do list or completing rewarding little actions, good user experience will make the end user feel fulfilled. When all of these principles come together into one unique, well-designed and conceived user experience, there is no way your end user will be disappointed by the result.

As the pandemic crisis hopefully draws near to a conclusion, authenticity, empathy and humanity will be buzzwords you can be certain to hear for a very long time. This is the time for empathetic UX. This is the time to create meaningful experiences that will stick with your users forever.

This is the time for good, unforgettable, unique and incredibly empowering user experiences.


Header image: Pablo Ladosa
 

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