When you approach a door, you probably see which way it will open by checking the handle. Is it a doorknob you twist or a bar you can pull? You look to the handle because that’s the convention in the building industry, something that’s always done to show people how to open a door.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in situations where a door handle was put on ambiguously, causing me to push when I should have pulled. As clumsy as I felt, it wasn’t my fault. Somebody didn’t follow the existing convention, and I paid the price.
The same need for convention applies to the tech field when it comes to user experience (UX). There’s always going to be something newer, brighter, better — but sometimes what’s already been designed works, and straying from convention leaves users feeling frustrated.
By considering nuances like maintaining conventions, you can take your company’s UX game to the next level.
Focus on convention, consistency and unification
Let’s look at another example that highlights the importance of convention: your phone. Chances are, it looks nothing like the phones that existed before smartphones, yet when you go to make a call, the buttons are still laid out the same way they have been since push-button phones came into vogue in the 1970s. Nothing has changed because it doesn’t need to — it makes sense the way it is.
To continue with phone examples, if one person uses an Android phone and another person uses an iPhone, different conventions exist in those two platforms. To create the best UX, we should be cognizant of the differences when we’re designing on those platforms, and utilize native functionality. If we don’t, it’ll go against the established conventions.
It boils down to consistency, because inconsistency leaves users feeling lost. Think about navigating a website where you land on a page with navigation on the left when it was at the top on the previous page. Is it the same navigation? Are you somewhere new? It’s confusing. If your navigation stays exactly where it is, users can focus on what’s on the page instead of puzzling over why the navigation changed.
It’s also about unification. Unification is making everything on a platform behave similarly so a user can smoothly move from one product to another because they’re already familiar with the basic functions of the platform. In other words, unification lowers the learning curve. And if users move to another product that works the same way and they encounter a problem, they’re confident they’re going to be able to resolve it.
Without unification, users may question themselves. Why doesn’t this work the same? Am I doing something wrong? Every time somebody questions something, they get a little less happy and a little more uneasy — and ultimately that translates to a bad user experience.
Build an interdisciplinary team
To design for users, we need to understand them. What do they want? What’s driving them? What’s going to have a negative and positive effect on them? Gaining this understanding means changing how we generate ideas and who generates them.
My colleagues and I come from wildly different backgrounds. We each have a unique point of view, which is important because we’re designing for the user, not ourselves. It doesn’t matter what we think — it’s what our users think.
That’s why I love it when engineers give me UX advice while they’re building something because they’re living and breathing what the user wants. Knowing why they’re building something drives them and gives them empathy for the user. Everybody wins.
Assembling an interdisciplinary and diverse team to ideate and create something is very different from the old way where somebody comes up with an idea, an engineer builds it, they follow user acceptance testing and end up with something users may not like, but must accept. Any organization that is serious about UX superiority should prepare to undergo some change management.
Look at your data
If you’re doing UX right, you’re constantly using data to see how your products are being used. For example, if your home page has five links on it but data analytics show people are consistently drilling down three clicks deep to find the most active page on your website, you know to add a sixth link to your home page. Successful UX designers look at analytical data along with qualitative data.
Design for the user (and do your research)
It’s no longer just consumer-based organizations that are focused on UX. As users become more savvy and learn what good tech can do for them, enterprise organizations are starting to realize they need to consider UX, too. Superior user experiences in enterprise software allow employees to focus on the job they are doing, rather than fighting with tech.
Whatever you’re building, UX should be part of the initial conversation. I always advocate for research, because none of us are the users, and we’re all incredibly biased no matter what we do. If we actually go out and talk with users, we might learn that our good idea could be great with some tweaking. You start with UX, and you bring it right through to the end.
It’s time to pivot away from building technology for technology’s sake and then forcing people to use it. Instead, we should design specifically for our users and leverage the technology that we’ve got. That way, they don’t waste time trying to push when they should pull.
Mark Whooley, User Experience Manager at Nintex, is a seasoned user experience professional who is passionate about creating software that has a practical benefit to each user. Originally from Ireland and now having lived on four continents, Mark is attuned to human and cultural contexts in multiple aspects of life. These experiences have heightened his interest in seeing how humans adapt to technological change and use it for their betterment. Utilizing research to help understand user behavior, he believes we can always find human-centric ways to ensure that technology empowers people. Mark is empathetic to user needs and understands how the nuances of design can have a significant impact and enable satisfying user experiences.