The competition to gain and hold onto customers has blown the roof off traditional software development. Developers are scrambling to keep up with innovative new technologies coming out of the woodwork on a continual basis. Plus, the demands of a new generation of digital experts—you know them as millennials—are driving the market and must be taken into account. In this environment, what can product designers bring to product development to help their companies thrive?
The answer is seemingly simple and, really, the same as it’s always been: Design products around the end user. But in today’s world of heightened customer power and rapidly progressing technology, understanding exactly what that comprises is often complex.
As a user experience (UX)/user interface (UI) bridge designer—someone who understands the end-user experience design logic and communicates that to the development team—I’ve found that I must break down the main purpose of each product into fundamental parts. I do this in tandem with considering how everyday users will employ the product and how they feel about it, and what they like in a visual sense too. My sole focus is to make the UX seamless and intuitive from start to finish. From a sales perspective, this includes making customers very happy and retaining their business.
First impressions are critical to successful consumer adoption of a product. Toward this end, I spend a lot of time on fundamentals like wire-framing, as well as fine-tuning and pixel-pushing certain front-end UI aspects of the applications I work on. I think about the full end-user experience: How will customers purchase the product? How will they sign up? Ultimately, I want them to feel that they’re using something very modern and relevant to their lives.
I am constantly aware of product design in the technology I use daily. The following design attributes have popped up in my view pane during the past few months and are currently the focus of my wrath:
Consistency across products: Facebook and Instagram are owned by the same company, yet there are inconsistencies in their platforms. On Instagram, users simply tap a photograph to “like” it, and then a heart icon pops up on the screen to indicate that his or her nod of approval has been sent to the original poster. Yet, when you tap a photo on Facebook, nothing happens. The two models have not been merged. Facebook has not been adapted for the intuitive way that its customers are using photos on Instagram. While I recognize that these are different products with different love, the more intuitive action—a tap on the photo—should be consistent across the two platforms to enhance the customer experience. As a designer of a photo-first or photo-heavy product, that would be my approach.
Single sign-on (SSO): A lot of bad design has to do with the complexity of signing in to accounts—the process of authenticating who you are. Most people have too many passwords to remember and this is elongating the sign-in process and frustrating users. My wish is that SSO would really storm the technology world. It should be mandatory! It involves using one existing account—like gmail—to authenticate the majority of a user’s sign-ins. The technology is available and secure; many companies employ it already. For example, Facebook makes its users’ credentials available for SSO on other platforms: “Sign in using your Facebook account.” I’m sure banks, for instance, with their multitude of user accounts, will jump on the bandwagon soon. While I doubt that Facebook’s SSO authentication will suffice for banks and other institutions, that’s the idea. There’s a window of opportunity for someone to fine-tune SSO to really help the world.
Reinventing the wheel: Stop going for the grandiose gesture—or design—and, instead, improve upon what already exists and satisfies consumers. For instance, consider car design. Cars have been around for a hundred years in basically the same configuration: four wheels, a steering wheel, seats, a trunk … you get the idea. Yet many iterations on the basic model have come down the pike and substantially improved the driver experience over the years. Little features like cup holders, stereo surround sound, and automatic windows and doors have made cars more comfortable and enjoyable. Apply this concept to your application creation rather than reinventing the wheel. Provide a better user experience, simply: Improve the log-in process; take the graphics up a notch; rework the upload/download function. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Create your product around what people expect. Otherwise, you may create something that is anathema to a good experience.
Many businesses also have a website, and one of my biggest pet peeves is when those sites lack a mobile-first approach. After all, we’re dealing with millennials these days. According to the United States Census Bureau, they are the nation’s largest living generation, numbering 83.1 million. Nearly every individual—92 percent—in this generational grouping (born between 1982 and 2000) owns a smartphone. If you want to market to a millennial and you don’t have a mobile-first design, you might as well put your money back in your pocket. Few of these consumers are going to go straight to a desktop-only application and use it all the time.
This approach ties into millennials’ expectations regarding texting. If millennials sign up for my product on mobile and I send them authentication numbers through SMS, they are likely to feel more comfortable and secure that I’m in tune with their needs. Subconsciously they think, “This company understands me.” SMS is a new-age way of thinking and eliminates the complications of email—from opening a browser to opening email to clicking through a long, spam-filled list of messages. Businesses hoping to make inroads into the millennial market should seriously consider texting as a communication channel. Pew Research reports that 97 percent of smartphone owners use text messaging at least once per week, making it the most widely used basic feature or app.
Remember to design your product around your users. Make it a good experience for them and they’ll keep coming back to you.