User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design are two complementary forces that impact the usability and satisfaction felt by the users of your software or visitors to your website.
Elon Musk famously stated that, “Any product that needs a manual is broken.” UX design is focused on users, advocating for their needs and ensuring they can accomplish their goals, while delivering on your business objectives.
UI takes UX a step further, improving user experience, aiding accessibility, and ultimately cultivating brand loyalty.
Understanding Current UX / UI Trends
- Create an experience through storytelling. More than ever, users want to build strong connections with the brands and businesses they support. Consider providing users with a progressive experience, sharing details and offering insight into how they fit into your vision, match with your products, or align with your services. Done strategically, storytelling will earn the trust of your users and help them feel invested in your business.
- Functional hierarchy for on-screen elements. Hierarchy is a well-utilized visual design principle that highlights the importance of on-screen elements by manipulating characteristics such as size, color, contrast, alignment, repetition, proximity, whitespace, texture, and style. Ensuring your UX utilizes functional hierarchy ensures that you minimize your users’ uncertainty. Users react quickly to software interfaces, skimming content and using gut feelings when making decisions. Always use familiar icons, consistent menu hierarchy, and high-contrast colors, and chunk content by font size and weight, so it’s easy to skim.
- Navigation placement. The evolution of UX recommends guiding users through a series of steps that flow from one to the next as they achieve their goals. This focus on continuity suggests a shift in the placement of navigation items, perhaps to the bottom of each screen.
- Personalized experiences. The easiest way to inspire confidence is to make your users feel important and valued by personalizing their UX. This may mean providing personalized suggestions based on past purchases or previous interactions, addressing user-specific accessibility needs or guidelines, or customizing the user experience based on localization or specific demographics.
- Data visualization. Want users to invest more money toward their future retirement? Show them a graph or chart that makes it crystal clear just how much they need to start saving to reach their goals. Hoping to sell a new pair of stylish boots? Show a picture of how cute they look with the skirt a user bought the last time they were on your site. Is your software easy to use and about to make users’ lives easier? Prove it with a quick video showing them how.
- Micro-interactions. Events with a single task, such as the ‘Like’ feature on a Facebook post, or ‘Retweet’ on Twitter, have been shown to improve user experience. Micro-interactions are engaging, welcoming, and bring humanity to your software applications.
- Wondering how you might use micro-interactions?
- Add arrows that allow users to swipe between content, images, or tabs.
- Allow users to “click to share” products or services with friends and colleagues.
- Add a mute button to silence the sounds from animations or videos.
- Provide hints and tips for features and functionality with an intuitive question-mark icon users can click.
- Micro-interactions can also be used to encourage and engage users, providing affirmations and feedback:
- Display a checkmark beside a password field on a login form to indicate a password is complex enough.
- Show an animated wait-time indicator while pages or content are being refreshed.
- Augmented reality. Want to know how those eyeglasses will look on you before you buy them? Wondering whether that beautiful new recliner will work in your living room? E-commerce websites have been offering these augmented reality experiences for quite some time, but the potential goes even further. Using augmented reality, software design can account for changes to users’ environments or interpret gestures as commands.
A Little User Testing Goes a Long Way
Years ago, I participated in a user testing session for a software application I had developed. Countless hours went into the design of this new system. Each feature was carefully constructed to support business cases and workflows with functionality tested and re-tested until it seemingly couldn’t fail.
One of the tasks we had our users complete involved uploading a file using the “File Manager,” found in the main navigational menu. One user responded nervously, indicating they weren’t a File Manager, and didn’t feel comfortable completing that task.
The moral of the story? Users will never fail to surprise you, and don’t be offended when they do. By changing one navigational label, I was able to significantly improve the usability of my application while also making my users more confident and comfortable.
Prioritize UX/UI for Internal Software Too
It’s not uncommon to think that UX and UI are less important for internal software applications because employees have no choice but to use what is provided.
While it can be more difficult to justify the expense, inward-facing applications can significantly improve productivity for employees.
When improving UX/UI for internal products, keep a few best practices in mind:
- Identify time-consuming, repetitive tasks, and target those first. The time it takes to fill out a timesheet isn’t being spent servicing the needs of your clients.
- Ensure internal applications support real workflows. If certain tasks are always done in a particular order, applications should support that routine.
- Break complex tasks down into simple steps. Remove or automate repetitive and unnecessary tasks.
UX/UI Design Quick Wins
It’s never too late to improve your UX and UI, though it may seem tempting to try and make single aspects of your project perfect, while consequently neglecting other areas.
Avoid feeling overwhelmed by starting with a few quick wins.
Add white space
Split up larger blocks of text into multiple paragraphs, bullet points, or headings. By making text easier to scan, your readability will improve.
Calls to action
The easiest way to get your users to do what you want them to, is with explicit instruction. Add clearly labeled and carefully thought out calls to action, such as ‘Request a Demo’ or ‘Start Your Free Trial’.
Watch your language
Using fancy words won’t impress your users if they don’t understand them. Slang terms can be equally confusing and become a barrier to completing tasks.
Make sure your terminology is consistent. Synonyms can cause confusion, so decide between resume or CV, e-book or e-reader, cellular phone or mobile phone, etc.
Letting your users know where they stand is the easiest way to inspire confidence. Are they on step 4 of 5? Did they just successfully complete a purchase? Are they looking at an error?
Validate information in real time
Don’t make your users submit a form to learn they didn’t enter their telephone number using the proper format. Have required fields marked. Show meaningful tips and remediation details so users can fix errors before they just give up.
By starting with small changes and incremental improvements, your software application or website will experience visible and immediate benefits. Investing in quality UX/UI design will help to meet the needs and expectations of your users, grow your business’s reputation, and increase your credibility.