“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things” – Isaac Newton
Successful software is easy and effective in users’ hands. They sense a need. They use the software. They sate the need. They feel good. It is that simple!
Or it is?
Does all software match its promise? Because however simple or complex the need, using the software should be as smooth as possible. Which is where UX design comes in and a good UX process is decisive…
UX designers pose three simple questions to themselves when evaluating any project:
- Does it match the original promise?
- If it only matches it partially, what exactly is missing?
- Does it have functions most users would never use?
These questions might appear simplistic. But their answers define effectiveness and user friendliness.
At the concept stage, designers and developers would profit by recalling the Minimum Valuable Product concept. It would guide them to the right blend between original promise and initial features. Testing and iterating in short periods would then help them hit the bull’s eye.
The reasons why developers want to include as many bells-and-whistles as possible into software are entirely understandable. They include commercial pressure from vendors’ marketers whose existential fear is that customers would remain unhappy otherwise. Yet, few customers face insurmountably convoluted problems. Most would be less perplexed and happier if a strictly limited range of simple, robust, and straightforward tools met their needs. The average user wants useful tools and an easy interface – period!
Those at the top of the trade follow a set of simple rules that provide just that. What are these rules, and how do they establish a solid base for a good UX process?
Conceive with “valuable” in mind
Software makers tend to insist on piling heaps of functionality and options that sometimes might turn out to be of doubtful value to users. All too often, we see overcomplicated designs crammed to the hilt with components that are very far from the software’s core purpose.
A good product or service fulfills the promise it makes. Customers’ expectations and satisfaction depend on that. By extension, so does business continuity. This is why designers should always place value first. A powerful UX process always undertakes to ask users what is valuable, what value can be added – and what does not constitute value and should therefore be dropped.
Read more about promise and customers’ expectations : When is it Okay not to care about Customer Experience.
Granted: precision judging of excess and paucity can be difficult. A good approach is to curtail the scope of the promise and then tweak the software until it provide only the functions that users actually need. Simplifying any solution improves customer experience and market appeal while retaining existing users.
Thus, IBM researchers found that most users need slower tutorials. They increase user friendliness and boost customer retention. UX designers would also profit by noting that most tutorials should be created with inexperienced users in mind. Planning for the inexperienced wins recognition by the advanced!
Deliver and then iterate fast to achieve simplicity
We noted above that good UX process and sequencing involves testing and iterating to match software to users’ needs. Areas of over or under-delivery deserve special attention. Developing software in very short iterations and insisting on testing and feedback after each shows the way forward. How?
- Get early adopters working;
- Observe closely – and learn;
- Move ahead in small, short iterations throughout the first phase.
Much effort is wasted in injecting complexity where there is no need for it. Here is an interesting example. Today’s users want to make no more than three clicks before they purchase something. But Magento’s e-commerce platform required five clicks before a purchase. To suit them, Magento had to redesign the platform and reduce the clicks to three, alongside a smoothing of the whole checkout process. It probably took a lot of effort, but it should pay off well, especially if combined with improved UX elsewhere. (The number of clicks also matters in routine software use, not only e-commerce!)
So, a predominant idea in any UX process is, to keep it as simple as possible. However complex the problems it solves or advanced the functionality it offers, a product should be simple. Simplicity should extend to the tiniest detail. Designers are often tempted to add elements which are good looking but do not add value. There are too many applications whose interfaces are undoubtedly very full of features, but are also highly bewildering. Would the average user be able to cope with sheer information overload?
Instead, interfaces should offer intuitive routes to results. Functions should manifest only when they become needed. Designers would be well advised to adhere to accepted design conventions and avoid using cryptic symbols. Intriguing as they might look, they rarely add value or usability.
Constantly improve the UX process
Good UX design involves more than bread-and-butter planning, conceiving, and launching. More complex software might need specific information architecture, a viable content strategy, interaction design, visual design, and – naturally – front end development. The simple and complex approaches may be combined through advanced analysis followed by launch and testing in short iterations.
Information architecture is as important as design and function. If users have to spend time looking for a function, they conclude that functionality is bad. Launching software is just the first step in a long process of honing user experience and enhancing features.
Most UX designers employ personas when creating software or online services. Even so, methods like A/B and usability testing are indispensable in refining the product and making it as simple as possible. Feedback is crucial to good UX. It evinces real life customer needs, helping refine the overall design. Feedback also shows the way to a commercially viable product.
There is no need to create and introduce unnecessary functions or interface details when a simpler solution will do. Most users avoid solutions with unfriendly interfaces or numerous rarely used options. UX design should make even the most complex function appear simple.
Good UX process is not selfish. It addresses customers’ needs – not those of software originators or marketers.
It is iterative and very dynamic: especially when the undefinable quality of user friendliness is being injected into software by staged simplification. It also projects in time, since customers’ needs evolve, calling for software to keep up. Yet, meeting customer needs ensures further business. This is enlightened self-interest in action!
A good product is a simple product
Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Simplicity has long been recognised as a virtue in itself.
Every good solution or service is simple at its core. Aiming for a UX process that is as simple as possible creates value for users and strips complication from the ultimate solution. This is nothing more than plain courtesy to users. Yet, it results in higher sales! Good user experience originates from good research and planning, extensive testing, and constant feedback from your users and customers.
Plan in advance, but plan it simple, and you will get results!