Getting the HUMAN into HUMAN interface

UI/UX for the other billion: Making user feel comfortable with technology.

Bots are far away and Siri is only for the rich and google is still trying to figure out cat from a dog. UI/UX has been the most researched commented debated , beaten to death topic. The caveat : It’s for people already online. Here’s my short take where we can go ahead with.

Let me walk you through a normal buying experience in eCommerce platform.You open their online (APP/Web) interface. It’s jazzy with cool animations and banners.There’s a sparkle in your eyes. You get all excited to try it out. But wait there’s no human at all to help you at all in case anything goes wrong. The next best thing is call center executive.

Let’s see how you proceed.

  1. Do you know what you need exactly or you just came by because of an exciting sale?
  2. If you know what you need ,you should also know what the online retailer calls it or in which category it falls?
  3. Search bar is always handy, but you better spell it out correctly. The text shouldn’t be too long or too short. But how to know how long is enough.
  4. Now which item is perfect for you ? Do you know the attributes the item is measured in? Do you understand what measure of the attribute matches you?
  5. Ok somehow you managed to find what you need. Now buy. Then again you are overwhelmed with a lot of details to be entered or confirmed before you end the cycle. Wait you bought only one item, you forgot that multiple items can be bought at once? Or worse you bought the wrong items, now raise return request ..call call-center…. Damn my life all for a T-shirt.

Some of us would say wait that’s easy whatever mentioned above is an overstatement. But for some there are lot of decision with a lot of variables to made. Let me put some example real life individuals to bring discussion into perspective

Father David(name changed)

My Father, age 56 about to retire from his 40 year long career with Steel Plant. I gifted him a nice savvy Android Smartphone. He is smart and educated. He drives a car and is quite comfortable with swiping debit card at near by retail stores.However when it comes to smartphone, the story just flips. For him it’s cumbersome and he often uses the normal feature phones for communication. The only apps he forcefully uses are Whats-app & FB both to check out pics of us his family or his near and dear ones. Apps of likes eCommerce / service hailing is a big no. It’s too much to understand and risky. He usually ends up either giving up or asking his young reportees to do it for him. This is quite similar to what ADs of these eCommerce platform, where youngster guide elder generation to use smartphone. But unlike the ad often youngsters don’t have time.

Cook Ramesh(name changed)

In my home we take the help of a cook who cooks at multiple homes of which one is ours. He is married and has two kids. His wife also cooks in our apartment complex at few other houses. The both earn a handsome 50k per month. They both know rudimentary english and of course have smartphones. The quickly connect to Wifi of homes they visit and download games apps for their kids ,with little guidance. Ramesh has also his favourite the infamous “candy crush”. However they hardly do any online e commerce transaction. The problem they sight is “too much information in too much english”. He doesn’t have a credit card and he doesn’t believe in ecommerce platforms. Even after all the ads and discounts. He is ok to give 500 bucks extra to feel and buy products.

The problem is , humans evolved interacting with physical objects,developed senses around it. Whenever there was new technology, the tech was slow so humans had enough time to adapt to the changes. But things are different now. Technology is at breakneck speed and we are leaving out people. We are not building stuff which can enthuse trust or build intuition. Touch screen to some is exhilarating while to some is confusing and dreadful.

We all love retro styling. The movie “HER” actually gives the best case scenario of how retro and tech can beautifully merge. Borrowing from wise words of Alan Cooper,the father of Visual Basic, mechanical devices have limited states.Creating each new state has a cost associated and hence the limit. Our brain comprehends these limited states ,easily predicts its future state and hence the Intuitiveness. However with digitization ,creating state is cheap and this opened the pandora box. If mouse & keyboard weren’t enough touch screen made it even easier. Swipe/pinch/shake/tap .. add to them color changes , vibrations as feedback and you end up with permutations limited only by UX designer’s imagination. We love retro coz we understand and relate to it easily.Allen Cooper in his book “The inmates are running the asylum ” calls them “Survivors: Those who manage to get benefit out of Tech” & “Apologist: those who give up”. Father David & Cook Ramesh are apologists and very soon it will be us when the next wave of tech hits us.

There’s no reason why technology can’t be used to help and guide novices to get up to mark with others. Some Apps like “WhatsAPP” , “Uber” are redefining way UI/UX should behave. However ecommerce or similar service which has so many cogs running ,still has to go a long way in getting us back to that comfortable near buy shop experience with that friendly shopkeeper right inside our phones.

The way i look at it is. Every interaction which the end consumer has should reassure and confirm to user’s expectation.This will make user feel like he/she is interacting with a person and hence increase trust. Hence my 2 cents.


Assistive UI/UX

  1. Start small with minimal UI elements and let user pace himself.
  2. Guide user with micro instructions supported by micro-interactions. Bring back the small cute personal assistant of Microsoft but smarter.Often i see beautiful tours designed through a set of static screens which highlights the cogs and buttons on the screen. They are beautiful and bright. However they either stay too long or stay too short to help and worse they go away when i need them the most during particular action on UI.
  3. Help consumers shape their thoughts to concrete actions on your UI. Google has been emphasizing the mantra “Be There, Be Useful, Be quick” while explaining the importance of micro moments. This works well for their digital marketing. However if any customer has landed on you APP you have already won a great victory,the “Be There” has been answered. Now you need to be quick and useful.

a. Understand where the user has landed from.Gain context from it.

b. Ask user leading question if user is idle. But know the difference of helping and irritating

c. Assistance messages along with visual aid would be go a long distance. “Suggest category along with category items tabulated to make it clear”

d. Keep answer ready for “Want to know/ Want to do/ Want to go/ Want to buy” scenarios. Support such search queries well.

e. Never give tech answers, rather human comprehensible answers. A battery life of mobile of 3 days is better understood than 3000mAH.

4. Observe & learn behavior patterns for better user engagement and personalized UI. Users give cues about their preferences all the time through their actions in applications. A few close observation and basic statistical analysis could give us great insights. Usually such insights are used to send directed advertisement as GCM or worse SMS. These should be used to infuse dynamism into UI. Every organization has some or the other category of customers which they keep on churning. This input should be put to use to create contextual UI and relevant tips here and there to nudge user to desired action.

5. Each interaction should unravel set of UI bundles(Will explain later in mockups) such that UI/UX becomes a living entity specifically designed for customer.

6. Always meet the customer goals. Alan Cooper mentions personal goals as

a. Never make user feel stupid: Never work him up too much to get too little. Immediate gratification is always best.

b. Not make mistakes: Don’t let user commit mistakes to make him again look stupid.

c. Get an adequate amount of work done. Primary task of your application should always work with plug & play

d. Have fun : This is where cute quirks of UX/UI helps

7. Use principles of “Vision Search” to guide users.(I will get to it in detail in a mockup) But it shouldn’t be an irritant. Associate cost with each change of state to minimize user’s training effort.


Adaptive user journey

  1. User journey begins even from a promo SMS. We should take to care to have the context always present.
  2. Fresh user should always be guided at every step of user journey. Depending upon the complexity and the rate of progress of user, some assistance can be upped to human interaction, while some can be removed altogether
  3. Save user journey state. If it’s still relevant start from where he/she left ,else change the state to best suitable state.
  4. Advertisements are boring, but when used aptly can work miracle. Use inputs from taste & user behavior to target ads better during the user journey. Often eCommerce sell bundle packs. However bundles are good only if meets the right audience. Females would often like matching earring with a dress, even better system shows the last dress they had bought and how it could be used cross dress.
  5. Cut short as much as possible. Often in eCommerce websites, the would take user step by step through the monotonous, check your name address, payment etc. If user is a frequent user, you may generate the bill and ask user to change in case of discrepancy.
  6. User are privy about their personal information yet they share everything on FB. the key is Trust .

More mockups and some words into reality will follow soon. If you have any comments or ideas do share in responses. If you are already working on these lines get in touch with me and we can discuss more.You connect with me at LinkedIn or follow me at Medium :)

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