Why designing a good UX is hard, and what you can do about it?

As deceiving as it is, designing a good user experience is one of those things that sounds easy and looks simple. As a startup founder, I learned this the hard way. I want to take the readers through some of the theoretical backgrounds of creating a good User Experience and to hopefully shed light on the challenges and how one can approach them.

The first thing that we need to get out of the way is that a good User Experience is something that you ignore and forget. Designers spent a long time trying to understand the complex behaviour of humans and to create something that doesn’t get in your way to do what you want to do, and you can smoothly transition through it. A good user experience is one that you don’t feel you are experiencing; it is a design that is blended so heavily into your life, and once using it, you completely forget about it.

Take the ballpoint pen, for example. If you are old-fashioned like me and prefer to jot down and sketch stuff on paper rather than a fancy tablet, ask yourself this question: how many times you thought about ballpoint pens? When you use a pen, do you feel about the positive experience that it gives you by allowing to write down stuff without worrying about inks and spilling and the ease of carrying a pen wherever you go?!

How many times you thought about the grip of a pen and said to yourself: “My momma always told me a good pen need to have a good grip!” Pen is something that you use every day, but you entirely forget about using. It is an indispensable part of your life, you use it, it works, and you forget about it!

Tip of a ballpoint pen. Courtesy to John Hallmén Source

We as humans usually like to be noticed, but the ultimate goal of a UX designer is to create something that is so heavily blended in users’ life that they entirely forget. Doing that is surprisingly difficult.

Let’s see how a product designer can lead the users through the complexity of the product and yet remain as invisible as possible. Going back to our analogy of ballpoint pen, users should be able to use the product without thinking about the process!

Motivation, and effort-reward balance

Almost every app is somehow changing the state of the users’ world. The app start by collecting the state, continue by processing it, and eventually, transition the world to a new state. Believe it or not, that is what all apps do. Take Pokémon GO as an example. The app collects the state of the world (where is your location?). Then it changes the state of the world around you by finding out how many Pokémon they should throw at you to keep you challenged and motivated enough to continue using the app. Finally, it changes the state of the world by showing you the Pokémons so you can catch ’em all and brag to your friend about that rare Gyarados!

Ultimately taking the user through the transition between the state require users input and effort. Let’s borrow an idea from biology to explain this better. The motivation to do or not to do anything comes from the rewards of the stimulus event that created in our brain. The first is called Appetitive motivation and the seconds is called Aversive motivation. The former influence the behaviors that associated with pleasure (e.g. food and sex) and the later involve escaping from an unpleasant situation. (e.g. electrical shock) Michael A. Bozarth explained this behaviour very eloquently in this article.

There is an inverse relationship between the effort that the user puts into the product, and the reward they are receiving (with the exception of obsession and passion). If you don’t get the balance right (for example if you need to put too much effort to get a bit of reward), you will lose the users. This is how I model the reward-effort balance in designing the user experience:

LinkedIn has an interesting approach to this problem. Writing a resume is almost one of the most tedious tasks in life (probably after cleaning your room). When you sign up for an account, they almost don’t ask you any question about your work experience and education. There is no form to fill and the barrier to entry is relatively small. As you are providing more data, you will be rewarded with a better score, a resume that looks more complete, and the positive promise of getting a job. One of the phrases that you see in LinkedIn often is something along these lines: ‘People could be looking for someone with your experience’. That is precisely what you want from a professional networking tool. Right?!

But here is the challenge: It is not always easy to provide instant gratification which is proportional to the effort. Take learning math for example. Is there an instant reward for learning calculus? If your answer is negative, you are giving up on the challenge. If your answer is positive, then it is your job to find the reward and keep this in mind: the reward should be proportional to the effort. What would you reward someone who just finished learning limits?

Less thinking more doing

You’ve probably heard the quote “Less thinking more doing.” Almost 9 out of 10, this is a rule you should not follow. Take designing a good user experiencing itself, for example. You need to learn about the product that you are working on, collect data, be observant of user behaviour and finally you re-iterate through multiple designs.

However, a good User Experience should empower the users to do more by providing the least amount of cognitive ability. If you make users think unnecessarily, you are not ignorable! Remember the ultimate goal in UX design is to be forgettable, to allow users to perform what they want to do without noticing they are experiencing something. That is the ultimate experience!

Clue a period tracking app is a really good example of taking a mechanical job (tracking dates) to a whole new level. Personally I love using it although I am not a target customer! When you think about tracking time you always think about calendar, but Clue understand that tracking recurring event (in this case menstrual cycle) does not and should not need a calendar in its traditional sense. Clue allows its users to track times without actually putting too much effort in remembering and selecting the dates. Maybe that is one of the reasons that clue is doing a great job in attracting users.

To accomplish a user experience that allows you do more with less thinking, the designer needs to simplify the processes. As Steve Jobs once said, it takes a lot of hard work to make something simple. Maybe one reason is that simplifying need questioning the current process, and it is always difficult to get out of a mindset once you are inside it.

Also to create a user experience that allows you to do more by less thinking, the designer need to embrace the principle of least astonishment wholeheartedly. People are creatures of habit, and they prefer things remain the same. On the other hand, sometimes entrepreneurs (creator of an experience for their customers), want to question the status quo. Similar to the previous point, if you don’t get the balance right, you will lose the customers.

Multi disciplinary nature

Designing a good UX involves understanding basic human psychology, a bit of gamification, some industrial design, and most importantly a good grasp of the product. Creating a user experience is one of those tasks that involve both art and engineering. Almost everyone in the team needs to know a little bit of everything. Some software companies learn this the hard way when they hire a graphic designer to create the user interface. If the designer is not a bit of programmer, the result is a poster in the form of a website.

UX is a chaotic amalgam of difference disciplines. In this sense, it is sometimes a team effort and like any other team works, there are potential complications. With a bit more complicated projects, the User Experience is also tied to the environment.

GoFar has an interesting approach to design an “on-dashboard display” for a modern car. The display sits on top of your car dashboard and warns you about your driving habits. And it does this when you are doing an activity (driving) that needs a lot of your attention and acuity.

How would you design a device that warns you but not distract you? The device needs to be blended into the environment, be extremely responsive to the actions that the driver takes, and remind you but not surprise you, encourage you but not make you overly excited. Creating this user experience needs a fleet of software developers, industrial designers, and car engineers.

Conclusion

User experience is almost everything. The aim of the designer is to blend in its users life by providing value without adding more problems. In the word of legendary Don Norman, UX is everything and designing everything is not easy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=10&v=9BdtGjoIN4EIf you want to design a good user experience you need to incorporate different disciplines, create a balance between effort and reward and try to create an experience that is forgettable! That is the only way that you become parts of users life.

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