Has Instagram ever made you feel happy? Like when you’re feeling really inspired, and you upload a picture that you’re feeling good about, and your friends in another state comment on the picture, and you kind of feel like you’re all hanging out in one big, happy digital friend reunion?

Am I too into Instagram? You may imagine there’s some booze going on with my example, but seriously, Instagram makes me feel like this all the time, beers or no beers. And I know I’m not the only one. Instagram is one of the most popular mobile applications today, with over one billion (!) downloads, pretty much because it makes its users feel really good.

And I’ll bet you twenty bucks that the beautiful interface of Instagram is an integral part of why we love it. If Instagram had a terrible layout, if the buttons were hard to find, or if we didn’t find it so easy to use, we would not be using it in droves.

Would you like to know how to create that feel-good experience with your own product? It may seem like a subtle mystery how such good feels can be evoked by our digital experiences, but there’s a method to the magic: it’s called user experience design. User experience design, or ‘UX design’ for short, is something you interact with most of your waking hours, probably without noticing. That’s actually not a bad thing for UX designers, who seek to reduce ‘friction’ and enhance your digital experience. “Almost everything we do is sub-conscious,” says Bill Norman, the original UX designer at Apple.

Norman, a cognitive scientist and engineer by training, points to the supremely popular Google search page for a great example of UX design.

Fun, pleasing, and… you never really noticed it! That’s kind of the point.

Recognize this? Bill Norman loves it. Why? “It’s really simple and subtle. I bet a lot of you have seen it and never noticed it. That’s the subconscious mind… it is probably kind of pleasant and you didn’t know why.”

Search results at Google aren’t overwhelming, and it’s really easy to navigate them. Consequently, explains Norman, users are more open to being creative, exploring more, and trying new things on the site. We enjoy Google more. We can’t get enough of Google. Science, folks!

That’s the magic, now back to the method. Lucky for us, there’s a great book that pretty much spells out how you can improve your product’s user experience: Designing for the Digital Age by Kim Goodwin.

Goodwin is a veteran UX designer who has been involved in many, many UX projects, both good and bad. In her book, she gives us a ‘soup to nuts’ method for giving users optimal user experiences. I just bought it, and I’m really enjoying it so far. Some choice nuggets from the opening chapters:

  • The best way to design a successful product is to focus on achieving goals. This is ‘goal-directed’ design, which the book covers in depth.
  • Actively look for other examples of what you’re trying to work on. In UX, patterns are like vocabulary. When you’ve looked at enough landing pages, you start to notice when something looks ‘off’ in your own landing page design.
  • Working on an interaction design is like writing an outline: start with an underlying structure to prevent re-working. UX is all about ends-driven creativity. If you get lost in reworking the same things, without finalizing anything, you’ll get frustrated and waste energy.

Fundamentally, UX design is about thinking like a user. What digital experiences do you want your users to have, and what choices do you want your users to make? There are probably different types of people who will tend to use your product for different reasons. Take these different characters into account, and try to craft a good experience for each. Use your creativity to solve problems in interesting ways. Do you feel like the number of search results on your page is overwhelming? Try adding a bunch of letters to your logotype. Test it out on some folks, see how they like it. Get creative. Have fun.

You can see all of Bill Norman’s talk here: https://youtu.be/RlQEoJaLQRA

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