UX designers are always trying to make functions better and nicer for the user. But in different situations, that means different approaches. Today we will compare four different ways of thinking about usability:
Simple, Easy, Fast, or Minimal?
(Just starting the User Psych Crash Course? Start here.)
A word you might hear in UX is: heuristics.
A “heuristic” is an approach or a strategy for solving a problem.
Let’s say you want to get more people to finish a process with many steps. Like a purchase, or a registration, or getting through the porno-scanners at the airport.
i.e — You want to increase conversion.
Below are four ways you could think about it (heuristics), each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Simpler: fewer steps.
It’s only a matter of time, as a UX designer, before someone brings you a 7-page registration flow that needs to be simplified.
You could: Remove any questions that aren’t necessary, like confirming your email address. Detect information, like the type of credit card, instead of asking for it. Automatically format answers properly, like a phone number, instead of asking for it in several chunks (or using errors).
The disadvantage with simplification is that it might collect less information or take more time to build. And if you don’t confirm that email address, a typo can ruin the whole registration.
Easier: more obvious steps.
It is almost always possible to make a question more obvious. Just pretend you’re designing for one of the guys from Duck Dynasty.
You could: Let them choose their country from a list, instead of asking them to type it. Add super-clear instructions for every question, including questions like “Your name”. Or break complex questions into more steps so each step is easier to understand.
The disadvantage with making things more obvious is that it often creates more questions or more reading for the user, which works against your simplification.
Faster: less time to complete/repeat the process.
Often, the process itself is something the user has done many times before, or they will do it many times in the future. Over time, making it faster can improve your conversion a lot.
You could: Let them save their address and auto-complete it for them next time. You can choose popular defaults so most people don’t have to change anything. And you can make shortcuts like Amazon’s one-click purchase for people who are logged in.
The disadvantage with designing for speed is that you make the process less flexible — changes mean slowing down — and mistakes are easy to overlook while you’re click, click, clicking your way to the end.
Minimal: fewer functions.
Many designers believe minimalism is about flat design, or hiding your options in a hidden menu. It definitely is not.
Minimalism is about making a design that does less, better. In theory, minimalism makes a design simpler, easier, and faster.
For example, Outlook is an email app with a lot of features like an address book, a full-featured calendar, meeting reminders, and different ways to sort your inbox. It is not minimal. It may be more powerful in theory, but in real life it is also harder to learn and more confusing.
Sparrow, on the other hand, is an email app that allows you to send, receive, forward, delete, and put emails in folders — and that’s basically it. And it is very popular.
The disadvantage with minimalism is that it usually requires a re-design from the ground up, and it won’t be enough for power users. It might be better in typical situations, but might be worse for special situations.
A mix of strategies is usually best.
To choose heuristics that are best for you, interview users to learn about their mental strategies, ask the “stakeholders” in your company about their needs, and always A/B test your choices to confirm that they are better.
Tomorrow we will look at how a user’s expectations can make your design more or less usable: Consistency & Expectations.