Have you ever seen a product in a shop and had to look closely before you understood what it was? Or been confounded by an advert that doesn’t seem to be selling anything in particular? There are some cool fonts, a few neat graphics, but nothing cohesive that actually tells you what’s going on. You might be intrigued but, if you remained baffled for longer than a few seconds, chances are you’ll move on.
Now think about someone accessing your app for the first time. Is it immediately clear what it does and how to use it? If not there’s a good chance the user might shrug and move on to a competitor’s app instead. If you’re developing an app for your business then you need to think about your own UI (user interface) at this most basic level. What do your users really need from your app? Are you putting up unnecessary barriers to prevent them from achieving that aim?
Let’s wind the clock back to the late 20th century. Back then, if you wanted to find something on the internet you might have visited a site like Yahoo, Alta Vista or if you were desperate asked someone called Jeeves. Many times you’d leave more confused than when you arrived. This wasn’t necessarily because the search engines were ineffective, rather that the UI was cluttered with numerous categories, directories and channels you probably weren’t interested in. Then along came Google and everything changed. A logo and a search box. Its simplicity was disarming and quietly revolutionary. Google’s UI was every bit as important as the search engine’s functionality in the company’s rapid ascent to world domination.
So how can you create an app with a UI that gives users what they want? It’s easy to get caught up with the brilliance of your creation, adding more complex functionality and layers that get lost on the screen, or worse, obscure the app’s central purpose. A good UI will guide a user through the most important features without them needing to try. Your motto should be, “Minimum effort for maximum reward”.
One excellent example of this is Amazon’s ‘One Click’ feature. It does away with shopping baskets, check outs and payment information in favour of a process so dangerously easy to use that it doesn’t even feel like you are parting with your cash. Another global success story, Uber has also triumphed with its slick, intuitive design: a map and a search box that allows users to say, ‘I’m here, pick me up.’ And it does. Like Amazon’s revolutionary reduction of the number of clicks needed to commit to a purchase, Uber’s UI removes the barriers you would experience in the real world, in this case looking up taxi phone numbers and telephoning for a taxi yourself. Whatever the function of your app, a great UI will take the customer on a pleasing and efficient journey, providing the simplest route with the fewest possible detours from access to arrival.
You also need to consider how customers will be using your app. Loyalty card apps are a great example; it’s no longer just a case of amassing points and receiving vouchers in the post to spend at Christmas. Companies like Costa Coffee have used their app to create an entire user experience at point of sale, encouraging and enabling users to access the app as they queue for coffee. The UI is key in facilitating this process - if a customer needed to scroll through tedious menus to find their rewards while the queue grew behind them, the system simply wouldn’t function. Get the UI right and you are driving business not just online but in the real world.
With all this talk of simplicity and accessibility, you might be forgiven for believing that what people really need is plain utilitarian design. That’s not the case. While nobody wants an app’s UI to make them feel stupid, they still want to be delighted and engaged by their experience. Your job is to strike the right balance between creating something that does the job cleanly and effectively and which innovates and stimulates where appropriate. Trello is a project management app that allows you to create collaborative to-do lists, simulating sticky notes that you can drag around the screen, making the most of the tactile nature of a smartphone or tablet but functioning beautifully on a big screen too. The UI is simply designed and it works because it draws on a real-world experience that everyone loves – the Post-it® Note.
So, do you know what your users actually need, expect and will find appealing? If you are in doubt think about that product that you passed by because you weren’t sure what it did or that advert you still don’t understand. There’s no law stating they need to look a certain way, but redesign them at your peril!