Category: UX advice / How I work

Why a great user experience isn’t about creative features

Not long ago I was doing some work on a new app for a client who was very keen to have an ‘innovative’ and ‘creative’ user experience designed. They were creating a product for a young audience and were concerned that it must be at the cutting edge.

I proceeded to take this with a pinch of salt and designed something that was stripped back and obvious to use. I presented the wireframe prototype and was able to justify the decisions that I had made and showed how quick it was to complete tasks.

The client was generally happy but there was an element of disappointment: “Where’s the wow feature? I want a feature that is really innovative and people haven’t seen before so they’ll be talking about us.”

It’s not the first time I’d heard this. It’s an understandable thought but a misguided one as the flow didn't require one. Creative new features can add a layer of fun to an app but it isn’t why you rave about them with your friends.

What is innovative?

Ask a client to tell you examples of creative UX and you might struggle to get an answer at all initially. It’s often one of those things that people throw out there without really considering what it means.

Push them to tell you what features they’ve used that are really creative and I’ve found they come up with things like the taxi icon moving on the map on Uber; swiping to find people on Tinder; or logging in without a password on service like Slack. These are all small details that do make a product come to life but aren’t why people keeping coming back to the products.

People become regular users of those apps because the user flow has been distilled down to it’s simplest state. In the above cases, it’s super quick to log in, find someone to date, or order a cab. If it took 20 steps to order your Uber, people wouldn’t use it every day, no matter how cool they thought the map was on first use.

Stating the flow

I explained to my client that the wow factor would be created by the finished product as a whole, having a well thought through user flow, that was as streamlined as possible and easy to use. Something that is harder to comprehend until it is built and in your hands.

He still seemed suspicious. I think he thought I was trying to dodge the effort of designing his innovative feature. In a way I was, because it would likely be a waste of time.

I knew he really liked Instagram, and saw it as an influential app that his audience loved. I decided to ask him to walk me through the user flow to post an image on Instagram:

Take/upload a photo > Apply filters > Describe and tag it > Back to the home screen

I asked, what feature there is really creative? It’s all fairly functional stuff but ultimately done in as quick and painless a way as possible.

He got the point of it.

Avoiding thought

So much in UX comes back to that famous title from Steve Krug: Don’t Make Me Think. Any innovative interface that users haven’t seen before runs the risk of making users think, quite a lot. When designing, 99% of the time it’s better to uses patterns that people understand and don’t have to think about.

Time spent working out how to use something is time not spent actually using it. And no user reads the help section.

This is true for a young audience as much as an older one. Sure, they have a higher capability to use complex interfaces but they’re still going to prefer the products that require the least amount of thought. Not to mention that their market is a saturated one, so if a new product isn’t quick to get to grips with, you can be sure there’ll be another one that is.

And that other 1% of the time? That’s when there are no (or very few) pre-existing patterns to follow and you have the potential to create something new. You’ll need to test the hell out of it though.

Last updated on 16 October 2018

ux / web design / app design / usability / users / youth / instagram / user flow / features /

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