User Experience for the Inexperienced

*Note, I refer sporadically to program’s, apps, hardware and software throughout this article. The same applies to anything requiring UI or UX design, including all of the above and websites.* During my recent studies, I have had a lot to do with User Interface (UI) and Experience (UX) Design. They are two different aspects of design, both playing a vital role. And it is very important to get it right. You as a developer need to get it right and remember your site, app or piece of hardware will be used by those as experienced as you, and those as inexperienced as your grandmother. And whilst you may think your design is simple and easy to use, your grandmother probably doesn’t. There are truck loads of things to consider. In this post, I am going to explore a number of them. Let’s start with what UI and UX is. UI is about the actual interface that your user interacts with. It is the menus, the buttons, the pictures. What they interact with and what they use. I always find it easiest to relate anything IT to vehicles and roads. The UI is the steering wheel, the radio, the controls. UX is about how it feels to use. The impression and sensation they will get when interacting. UX is the feeling of turning the car, changing stations and controlling the temperature. S So where does this take us in terms of designing for the inexperienced? Well, one thing I hate, but is prevalent, is to think about program’s designed created for developers and IT professionals. Time and again they have very little, if any, well thought of and designed user interface. Controls can be difficult to find, use and interact with. How does this make you feel as a user? Lost? Confused? Very quickly frustrated? The UX design, if there is any, is very poor. You do not want to make your users feel that. So taking a look at good design, you know instinctively where to go to use the app or program. You know the three lines at the top means menu. You know a piece of paper with a pen over it means new. You know a cross is close. That is all brilliant, but for the inexperienced, do they know this? For a grandmother picking up an iPad for the first time, how does she know to get to the menu? How does she know where to find how to change a function? Even the simplest of designs and what is seemingly straightforward and self explanatory may not be to those people. An example is my recent interaction with my grandmother. She hasn’t had an iPad very long, and wished to go to a new group in the Facebook app so she could post a picture. Well, I knew to press the three lines at the top to pull up a menu, but she didn’t. I knew where to find it already because I’m experienced and willing to explore. She didn’t, as she is inexperienced and therefore less inclined to explore for fear of breaking something. Another is my father purchasing a new TV and wishing to plug in an amplifier to it. For me, the experienced, it was easy. I knew there was an audio out. I could plug a 3.5mm cable into that and then that into the amp. That was the easy part. He probably could have worked that out. But then he wanted to only use the amp for movies and the TV speakers the rest of the time. I didn’t know if it could be done as this was the first I had seen this model television. But because I am experienced, I thought instantly of going to the menu, and sound options. But an inexperienced user may have trouble even finding the menu. There’s no option for it on the remote, and you need to go to a different interface to find it. It truly is a nightmare. So what’s the answer? You spend time developing the software and hardware. Just as much time should be spent developing and planning the UI. You do not want to alienate users because of a design flaw. Even the most perfect program will have users jumping ship because of poor UI design or UX. Small demos at the first time start up. Yes, but you want to put as little as possible between users and the program. Using metaphoric design, yes, but will it fit in with the rest of your overall UX? Minimalist design may require less metaphor. For those unaware, metaphoric design realise on a users past knowledge and experience to natively know how to use an app. For example, using a switch to turn functions on and off or a knob to turn volume up and down. Another factor is change. If you have a great app, your users know how to use it and then you go and change everything, you are going to alienate your users and frustrate them. Your UX will go down the drain. Sometimes it is necessary, such as the recent change from iOS 6 to iOS 7. But consider changing small parts slowly. If your plan is to make it look like X, then perhaps small changes to the current design first will make the transition easier. Add A, B and C to Y first. If a large change is needed quickly, consider how to best approach. A new guide at startup. Keeping things in the same spot with a new UI. Ever heard someone say, “why did they have to change that? It worked fine before”? Don’t be that person. Perhaps a larger issue is why everything has to be so different. Developing further standards within the design community would help alleviate a lot of issues. You really need to consider heavily your UI. Who are you targeting the app to? What is the goal? Do they know the lingo (like an app focused to firefighters) or do thing need more explanation (like a general first aid app)? Once you have considers those among others, you need to consider the best approach to explain to the user how to activate functions and get around. Consider everything you have heard, conduct user testing, listen to feedback. If you keep the inexperienced in mind and design for them, the experienced can easily follow.