UI < UX < 'User-friendly First' Approach

In my early years as a graphic designer, I was working in a start-up company making software to improve cognitive skills for, among others, elderly people. The psychological aspect of the software was a major one, with psychologists working alongside the programmers and designer (me!). Since we were targeting elderly people without any computer knowledge, it was extremely important to make the software as intuitive and comfortable to use as possible.

So I taught myself about user interfaces (UI), before I even knew the term existed. I learned about which colors are more pleasant to view over long periods of time, how big should my buttons be, and how will the user know these are clickable items, what fonts are easier to read, and most of all, I learned to pay attention to navigation hierarchy, to designing the interaction process of the user. How will the user know where to find what he needs.

This experience shaped me as a designer. Any project I am presented with starts with the bigger picture – with figuring out what we are presenting and who it is intended for.

For clarity, I will use the following terms:

Designer/Company  – The “seller” of a product or service. The designer or company standing behind the design.

User/End-user – The “buyer” of the product/service. The one who will use and interact with the design.

concept chart

In the chart you can see my general approach to conceptualizing . I find that I implement this process pretty much all the time, whether I am designing a website or a printable form.
I start with the company or product – what are it’s core values?
Then I branch to two venues simultaneously:

  • The company’s needs & expectations
  • The user’s needs & expectations

Anticipating the expectations (of each) is important to me. While answering the needs is good, understanding the expectations can help you get a better solution.

Way before I was a designer, I worked in Holiday Inn Crown Plaza. They had this formula which stuck with me:

E+1

Expectations + 1

Meaning: Anticipate your user’s expectations and exceed them!

That small +1 makes a big difference. It doesn’t neccessarily have to be anything too big, don’t give them something different than they are expecting, but heighten their experience a little bit, give some added value, a nice surprise.

Even more important than the +1, is not having a -1. Do not under-deliver on what is promised! That would create a negative brand experience.

Real-life example #1:

I’m working on my WordPress site. I’m looking for a plugin to create an Under Construction page, so I can work behind the scenes. I need it to have a little form, so I can let users know when the site is back up. I expect my plugin to work “out of the box”, and provide me with a quick solution.

I download and install one plugin, only to find that the subscription form I saw in the screenshots is for premium, paying customers only << Negative experience, not meeting my needs nor my expectations.

I download & install a second plugin. This one has a form, so my need is met, but I can’t find an easy way to include my logo << Expectations not met. Of course I want my logo to show.

(Unfortunately in this case there was no E + 1 for me – I had to make a lot of code fixing and tweaking to get the result I wanted)

Real-life example #2:

Having problems with my internet router at home. I’m calling customer service so I can replace it. My need is to have the router replaced as soon as possible, since I depend on having a fast, reliable internet connection. My expectation is to wait on the phone for quite a while and to have to argue with the representative somewhat (Hey, this is Israel), but eventually to be sent to their store in the city.

But what if I hardly wait on the phone? And the person on the other end of the line is courteous and helpful? I didn’t expect that. I’m won over already. No arguing needed. And what if, to top it all, they offer sending a technician to my house, to replace the router? Yes, he can and will come today. Oh my, I am now in love with this company.

Real-life example #3:

I was in the supermarket yesterday, and bought some fresh herbs (Thyme, Oregano, Mint). Often times, despite me trying to get the freshest they have, I find ugly rotten leaves deep in the bag, and have to wash and weed them carefully.
My need – get clean, fresh herbs which will require minimal tending, wash & use. My expectation is that they will be bug- and sand- free.

I bumped into a new brand yesterday – good looking herbs in sealed nylon bags, fairly priced. OK, need answered. When I opened the oregano last night, I found out the bags have a zip lock, for re-sealing to keep fresh. What a nice surprise! Expectation exceeded. On top of that, all the branches were in the same direction, making it really easy for me to take some out and cut the stems with one knife-slice.

I know, it sounds like nit-picking. But I do find a lot of times it’s exactly these small, even minor details that make the difference. There is so much competition in each and every field, so many options to choose between, a small delight can make me buy one thing and not another.

Especially when I see thought and consideration behind it.

I am pretty sure the people who make my shampoo are not using it. Otherwise, they would know that the first time you use it, you open the cap and it breaks before you’ve used the shampoo once, that the rounded bottle gets slippery and keeps crashing on your toes.

When something is designed right, you don’t just worry about making it pretty. You put thought into it. You consider its uses, when and how people will encounter it, how they will use it.
You create an experience for them (UX), and try to make that experience as pleasant as it can be. And when possible – add a small delight, to show your user you’ve got him in mind.

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