March 29, 2016
The Importance of User Interface
One of the topics you’ll frequently see me write about (or speak on) relates to user interface and the user experience. I am passionate about providing the user with an experience that is both pleasing and easy to use. As a result I find that I am constantly looking at and analyzing the software and the interfaces of others. I find some that I think work amazingly well and I take note of what they do right. Unfortunately the majority of the interfaces I interact with I find do things poorly and in some cases absolutely horrendously.
What is it about gas stations?
The latest interface fiasco which forces me to write this particular article is captured in the screenshot below.
For the careful observer you’ll probably notice this is not the first time I have shared an image from a filling station or gas station. In fact, the previous time I pointed out something from the gas pump it also related to the user interface. If you don’t remember that image I’ve included it below as a refresher.
It’s hard to know where to start but I suppose I’ll begin with the first graphic since it’s the most recent one I have come across. There’s one major and very glaring problem with the simple four step process they’ve outlined on this card. If you guessed step number one then give yourself a gold star, you are right!
Yes, Yes, Yes
A good user experience should never begin with the first step requiring the user to cancel something. This starts the interaction off wrong from the very beginning. You want to instill positivity and encourage them, not start off with a negative. In fact, this is a rather well-known fact and a common practice in sales/marketing worlds. One of the earliest encounters I had with this principle came from a timeless book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. If you’ve never read this book I encourage you to do so. As you work through the principles you’ll come upon Principle #14:
“Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately.”
Now, if we understand and agree with this principle then the idea behind this 4-step process beginning with a negative, “1. Press Cancel” is inherently wrong and a bad user experience. How do we make this experience better? Well, in this case simply changing the first step to “1. Press Go” or any other positive action word will resolve this conflict with the user experience. Maybe even drop the first step all together and move to a simple 3-step process!
One way to say yes
We started with the easy one, let’s now press on to the next image and a seemingly more difficult interface to fix. While at first glance this image and the user experience seems daunting and possibly unfixable the truth is that the solution is a simple one. One of the things I spend considerable time on is finding the best way, the most efficient way to accomplish a goal. I spend time finding ways to help others save time. I think good user interfaces should be efficient. And one of the best ways to be efficient I have found is by following another key principle. Keep it simple, otherwise known as the KISS principle.
“Keep it simple, stupid”
This is not a new concept and certainly not something specific to computers and software interfaces. But it can certainly be applied to these areas. Here is how you can apply the KISS principle to the user experience. Don’t make them click three buttons when one will do. Don’t give them 4 options to accomplish the same goal. Take the time to think through the interface and consolidate options. Give the user one way to say yes.
I know you may be thinking I am over-thinking and over-analyzing something as simple as the way I pump gas, or how I interact with the rewards program at a gas station, but this is how I see the world. I believe we can make even the everyday experiences better and more enjoyable. Because every interface has the opportunity to improve a relationship, or harm one. The details matter. Every detail matters. Be thoughtful about how to do things better, how to interact better. Make it simple. Make it efficient. Make it excellent.
April 14, 2014
Understanding Your User
It’s easy to build a business to meet your needs. You know an industry, a market, or a technology and you want to use that knowledge to build a business. Don’t fall into the trap of designing your marketing plan around yourself.
Not the Man in the Mirror
You are not selling to yourself. Or rather, you shouldn’t be. Instead of talking about your business as if you were talking to someone who understands everything you do – focus on finding your target audience and then understanding what they do or don’t know. Never forget you are the expert. If a user understands everything you do then they most likely don’t need your services.
Growing your understanding of your audience is easy to do, but it takes time and more importantly it takes thought. Many small businesses fail to understand the importance which should be placed on understanding the user better. You need to stop looking at yourself but focus instead on the ones who need you. Here’s a few ways to help you get started.
It’s very easy to find out what other people think or know about you or your business by asking someone from a different age demographic. This is in no way disparaging the elderly. Rather we’re highlighting the differences in life lessons and experiences between generations. Tell an older person what you do and see what questions they have. Be sure to write them down and then figure out how to improve your pitch to answer those questions before they ask them. Ask and then listen. That’s important, you shouldn’t ask them then continue directly on with your own thoughts. You need to ask and then patiently, quietly, listen to what they say. They have different views and different life experiences and if you truly listen you’ll find incredible opportunities for improving yourself.
Most kids play make-believe when growing up. I know my kids do it all the time. I laugh sometimes as I overhear them. They have completely different lives, new names, new ages, new likes and dislikes. And all just for fun in their game. What an absolutely perfect example of what small businesses should do. Pretend to be your own ideal customer. Give yourself a new name, a new age, a new life. Figure out what this “new you” is looking for and then figure out how your business meets a need. It’s a simple concept, for kids it’s simply called make-believe, for adults it goes by another name – personas. I’ll discuss this in depth in a future article. Suffice to say for now, build personas. Play make-believe.
Change it Up
Don’t be afraid to make changes. You can always revert them back if you find they are not working. As you seek to understand your user you need to see what works and what doesn’t. What resonates with them and helps them to understand you and your business. A popular way of doing this involves employing A/B testing (again too much to cover in this post alone). Give your users different experiences. See what works for them and what doesn’t. Learn your users likes and dislikes. As you change it up it’s important that you monitor, report, and improve. Don’t simply make changes for the sake of change. Instead make changes because you believe it will enhance the user experience. You have to monitor the outcomes. You have to be willing to roll things back if they don’t work. But you shouldn’t be afraid to make changes.
Understanding your users should be one of your primary goals as a business owner. Figure out what they want. You’ll find if you take the time to learn your user better you’ll be able to attract the right user. Don’t waste your time selling yourself and your business to someone who is not your ideal customer. Save time, save money, and build the right user-base. All it takes is a little effort, and a few new ideas to start the process of understanding your user.