Designing for the User Experience

Amanda Kimble-Evans

Director, Marketing Research

We’ve all fallen for it. We download an app or sign up for a web-based service because of a cool ad, an attractive website or an enticing offer. Pretty colors! Ooh! A 30-day free trial? Why not?

But then you get a chance to play with the software – and it’s a complete mess. The interface is something from 1995, and you’re confused right out of the gate. Where do I click? What’s this for? How do I do ABC and XYZ?

It amazes me how often app developers completely ignore the most important part of their job – what we call the “user experience.”

It’s called an “experience” for a reason.

If it’s not easy to use, if it’s not FUN to use, then people won’t use it. Period.

Customers have very little patience with software these days. Apple, with its intense focus on the customer experience, has raised the bar significantly.

If your app interface isn’t intuitive, if it requires a user manual or tutorials, then there’s a good chance it will fail.

Below are three things that app companies must keep in mind when developing or updating their software offerings.

1. Your software is your brand.

Keep in mind that your software (app, web application, desktop application) is a direct extension of your brand. First impressions are everything.

So why is there often such a gap between your glossy new marketing website and the unwieldy reality of the product you’re trying to sell? Where does this contradiction come from?

It happens because the software is typically developed first—sometimes years before the site—and then the brand is slapped sloppily into the software later – as an after-thought, and typically with little more than a brand logo.

The truth of the matter, however, is that the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) are of vital importance. So important, in fact, that – before code is ever written – a company needs to get their hands on an experienced UI and UX designer to handle and anticipate the way the end-user will feel about and interact with the product.

2. Form follows function.

In other words, design comes first, programming comes second. Development efforts should be split 70% research & design, 30% programming. Of course, an app developer needs to know basically how the programming is going to proceed. But the actual development is fairly straightforward. Programming is a connect-here, connect-there, if-this-then-that process. That’s not to say it isn’t extremely complex – but it either works or it doesn’t.

From a sales and adoption standpoint, the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) are where the most important is done – and where the most time should be devoted.

As a UI/UX designer, I work hand-in-hand with the programmers to determine how everything will work. First we create “user stories” about the different types of customers who will be using it. We layer in the brand design and brand messaging. Only in this way can we be sure it matches everything that the company is doing on a marketing basis.

By first spending time researching and understanding the potential user, and by creating within a design concept that’s flexible, then the programming phase will be a lot easier.

Ultimately, simplicity is the goal. The cleanest and easiest-to-use designs have had the most upfront thought put into them.

3. Design for the future.

Software evolves quickly. In the first year of development, you can probably expect more than 500 changes – from the smallest stylistic adjustment to full-fledged new feature rollouts. The UI and UX need to be flexible enough to anticipate and incorporate these changes without a complete redesign.

Still, it’s inevitable that the UI designed today will be outdated a few years from now. Complete overhauls can be costly, so plan for them. Make sure the back end is engineered in such a way that you can just lay in a new interface without much effort.

For example, I’ve developed apps in the past with a “theme” option baked in so I’d have the ability to change the look and feel of the app relatively quickly, leaving the underlying code still powering the new theme as it always has. This method works really well and keeps your software fresh and exciting, while also enabling your software to keep pace with ever-evolving brands, products and campaigns.

So what does it all mean?

If you’re telling your customers that your software is the best and easiest to use, it sure better be. Thanks to the thousands of app developers creating attractive and powerful apps that run on your phone, the expectation for speed, usability and design are much higher than they were a decade ago.

Customers expect software to just work. The first time. No instruction manual required. No hour-long tutorials. If your users need that much help, then you haven’t done your job – and you’re putting up a big barrier to ongoing sales.

Amanda Kimble-Evans

Amanda heads the market research and audience insight efforts at Altitude where she uncovers the information clients and their account teams need to message, position and gain more market share. Her ultimate goals are to help clients answer the questions prospects have, stay one step ahead of competitors, keep abreast of relevant trends, and even take advantage of new opportunities in the marketplace.
Amanda graduated from Susquehanna University with a bachelor’s degree in English and double minors in Writing and Women’s Studies.