It's a natural instinct of a human being to constantly look for better version of things.
In the old days when a horse was the only means of transportation, people looked for better ways to ride. While ordinary people simply thought of it as getting a faster horse, inventors looked at it in diverse angles. Unlike machines, animals can't run indefinitely even with unlimited food supply. And we can't control animals which yields many variables around safety, performance and so on. Creators knew it's not a matter of getting a better, faster horse. They thought outside boundaries to address these problems. It was a true revolutionary moment when people first saw a car to come out. If those creators listened to general public and their work only reflected the feedback they received, we wouldn't be living today with such surroundings. Creators are responsible to exceed people's expectation. It's not to say public voices are not important. Instead creators should listen and action at their own discretion.
I don't have an extraordinary story like an invention of a car but my role also falls into creator category.
I design user experiences for digital products. Digital experience is intangible; We can't smell, taste or hear. But we can still feel through a touch of glass which opens up whole new possibilities. My recent focus has been on a web-based audiological diagnostic tool called Audyx which I contributed as a UX designer.
One of my key responsibility was to understand our target users, the professional audiologists. 95% of a typical software user interface consists of text. Because we studied our users, we were able to set the right tone including textual and visual language that is appropriate to our users. Based on our findings, we were also able to discover that use of abbreviated terms would be acceptable and even preferable as it would speed up their tasks.
User research also involves discovering how a software would benefit user's every day practice. Luckily one of the founder of Audyx is an audiologist which enabled us to have a practical view and defined number of problems in the beginning. Based on our broad range of analysis, we started listing out features that would benefit audiological practices.
"Anyone can have great ideas but the big difference is in the outcomes, the execution". Steve Jobs said. We've seen many examples of inventions. Sadly some inventions we all know today aren't coming from people with the original ideas. That's because we only start seeing value when it's well delivered.
We focused on delivery as well as coming up with great feature ideas. For ideas to come true we needed to start with absolute minimum features. In my design career, I've seen number of cases where implementation didn't follow through design effort. It was caused by complication in the design and a limited timeframe to translate it into code.
Looking further ahead, we aimed to meet the following qualities with our planning:
- Easy to use and requires a minimum effort to learn.
- Engaging experience for the first-time user.
- Paying attention to detail.
- Feedback messages are communicated clearly.
- Beautiful, consistent visual language.
- Features that set us apart.
Touching on the last point, we would call it a failure if our product didn't have the quality of simplicity. Simplicity can imply simple, clear user interface with minimum necessary features. First, we needed to say "No" to most things to get the best out of "Yes"s. People crave for simple things and definition of "simple" varies from one to another. It's our responsibility to come up with the best version of simplicity.
There are many traditional desktop softwares that show no sign of effort in achieving simplicity. Simplicity requires design thinking and it was often neglected in a software world. Unlike physical products, software is intangible and people behind the making thought it's luxury to apply design thinking into such productions. And as a result of that, we grew with bloated softwares that were difficult to use. Learning to use those softwares were a big pain. I never thought I would be designing for software until web came out and seeing some clever people started doing fun things.
Building a software is a complicated process and it's prone to see complexity reflected through user interface. All great softwares we use today have a group of talented people behind the scene that have a strong empathy for users. A good user interface delivers message with clarity; It hides meaningless information and reveals what's only necessary to users. Primary and secondary elements are in a clear hierarchical order and it's easy go from A to B. Related elements are grouped and important information is styled for emphasis.
It may look like a lot of work but if you can be smart about typography and white space, it may be all that requires to show that you care. It's a pity to see many softwares missing out on this. We have to keep reminding ourselves that software should be optimised for both machines and human beings and it requires completely different approach to satisfy all.
When we say beautiful user interface, it not only comprehends the quality of aesthetics but more the functional beauty that delights users. Poor user interface design has a direct impact on usability as it's chaotic and difficult to use.
Below image demonstrates how white space plays a role in defining visual hierarchy. The first one shows dots in random positions and the second one set emphasis on the centre dot by opening up the surrounding space. This is the power of white space. With a small effort, it automatically defines a hierarchy between the centre dot and the surrounding dots. The last one takes it one step further by adding different scale, colour density. Do you still say this is luxury for your software?
Audyx deals with a broad range of data. It's easier to achieve simplicity when you have less to offer. But sometimes you just have to work with what's on the table. It was the case for me as there were conventions to follow in a medical industry. It's challenging to turn complex to simple but it's possible if you care to make it.
Engaging first-time user experience
How can we foster an engaging relationship for first-time users? This wasn't the kind of question we addressed in the beginning. But soon we realised the importance of it. It’s like we were going to say to our customers "we don't give much value to our first hand shake”. First impressions can make or break the relationship. How would you feel if what you are seeing is all blank spaces? We looked at ways to present zero-state screens that would drive actions and make trial users want to find out more about the product.
Consistent visual language
Every product is unique in many different aspects. It was important to make sure that we provide our users with a systematic visual language that is concise and consistent and have a product appeal. To find the right tone that addressed all our concerns, it was absolutely crucial to start with understanding our users. We clearly knew only professionals would be using our products, the majority being in the middle age. We explored our options. Through a number of exploration stages we settled into a visual system that met our objectives.
I talked about user experience design at the surface with the focus in user interface.
There are so much more to user experience design and UX is a family of disciplines. The methods can be far more varied and far more strategic depending on your assignment.