Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Don't Make Users Struggle

Steve Krug is a thought leader in the area of user experience, especially web usability and human-computer interaction. The title of his most famous and popular book, Don't Make Me Think, is a concise summary of what's in the book and it is a wonderfully elegant philosophy in itself.

While this is a great starting point, I have found that a slightly broader philosophy serves me well - don't make users struggle. I'd like to share a few key principles that have served me well with this.

Everything In Its Place

Whether it's a website, a smartphone, or a car, the average person will have expectations about where to find things and how to use that product. Ignoring that can lead to frustrated users and a less successful product.

For example, consider a typical website. What we each expect from a website will vary, but there are some things most of us expect to find. For a site that requires us to create an account (i.e., sign up or register with the site), we expect:

  • A log in or sign up option at the top right or prominently in the center of the page
  • The ability to see enough content to decide if we want to sign up
  • Help or Contact us at the bottom of the page or in a hamburger button at the far top right

Similarly, with a smartphone, we have common expectations, driven by our market experience. If you hand anyone a smartphone, most people will expect to see.

  • An easily accessible power button along one of the upper edges of the phone
  • Some form of "home" button at the base of the display
  • A volume control along one of the edges of the phone

This is not to say you should not innovate, but when creating a type of product that is already familiar to the customer, it's wise to try to deliver on the basic conventional expectations for structure, layout, and positioning. You will make it easier for your customer to rely on the intuition they have developed and have a better experience with your product.

When it comes to a completely new product that has no comparison, i.e, the very first computer or smartphone, then it's up to you to figure out what is intuitive and figure out where the right place should be for things. Then it's time to rely more heavily on human-centered design and adequately empathize with the customer, their needs, and their behaviors. And be ready for a lot of iteration.

Use Common Language

Much like there are common layouts and expectations for physical positioning, there are also common language elements.

I know a lot of specialized language/jargon from having served in the military, medical, scientific, and technology worlds. I can use that to great effect to efficiently communicate with a specialized audience, but it's a double-edged sword - it would only serve to confuse the vast majority of people. So, the first important step is to stick with commonly used and commonly understood words. You can bust out your extensive/specialized vocabulary at the next cocktail party, leave it off the product.

Another important step is to embrace best practices for labels, terms, and naming. For example, let's say Joe just started working for Nike, loves their slogan "just do it", and he wants to show off his brand awareness, so he labels the sign up button on their page as "do it". He might get points in an internal meeting, but he is not making life easy on his customers and users, who are accustomed to "sign up" and "log in" from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.. He should stick with "sign up" and save his "do it" button for some other use.

For bonus points, also consider the relative impact of words. For example, if you use sign up to register new users, then using sign in can create confusion/frustration, especially if those options are on the same page, as they often are. Hence, the common convention of using the more distinct phrases sign up and log in.

Embrace TL;DR - The Beauty of Being Concise

If you spend any significant time consuming content on the web, you have probably come across the initialism tl;dr. It stands for "too long; didn't read." It means pretty much what it says. Whatever message you were trying to communicate was not received, because you demanded too much of the reader's time, attention, or focus.

Now, like some, you may read that and think, "sheesh, people have such short attention spans today!" I would challenge you to flip that thought on its head. More often than not, tl;dr is a symptom of poor presentation of content, not the consumer of that content, i.e., the product/content is the  problem, not the user.

A piece of writing is a product. If you construct content in a way that does not keep your audience engaged long enough to make your point, then your content may be a flawed product. And being verbose can absolutely create flawed content. Some common pitfalls to avoid.

  • Front-loading "help" in the form of verbose instructions that cloud content
  • Trying to say too much at once
  • Poor composition (i.e., "bad writing")
  • Lack of adequate review and feedback to identify the above

A common phrase in the world of UX (user experience) about user interfaces is - "If you have to explain it, it's not that good." My mantra is a slight variation on that:

If you have to explain it, it's not that intuitive

Challenge yourself to be as concise as possible. [Funny story, this section was three times as long when I first wrote it.]

Good News, It Gets Easier

Noe of this is rocket science, but these topics require attention as you design. Once you start paying attention to these and similar concepts they become more intuitive even "common sense." And it's worth it. You will make better products, your users will be happier, and you will be more successful.

No comments:

Post a Comment