In our new series of UX design blog posts, we’re looking at how we can put the latest UX design trends into practice through interactive prototyping. In today’s article, we’ll explore the prototyping phase of user-centered web and mobile app design.
Are you tired of interacting with apps that aren’t designed with you in mind? We understand. As outlined in this usability.gov article, “The User-centered design (UCD) process outlines the phases throughout a design and development life-cycle all while focusing on gaining a deep understanding of who will be using the product.” Let’s see how prototyping can help you design high tailored, user-centered web and mobile apps made for all of your users in mind.
The problem with current app design
An ongoing problem with many of today’s web and mobile apps is that they haven’t gotten to the bottom of what their users need from them. It seems that we ask a lot from our users, assuming that every one is well-versed in all manner of technology trends, when this isn’t always the case. Too often, the web and mobile apps that we rely on to perform our everyday tasks have been built on the basis of client business goals, instead of the users. Remember, there are multiple user profiles.
Take the below for instance:
A household of five are presented with a beta version of a new messenger app and are asked to download it and try it out on their mobiles. All five members of the household have a smartphone. Result? For the family, mom, dad, and their two teenage children chat away with one another, wherever they are. The app will be a hit with the young folk; moms and dads will be paying out for and companies will be raking it in. But hold on, what about the fifth member of the household: Grandad? Grandad can’t get his head around the new app. He isn’t used to the user interface – having become accustomed to another chat app over the years. How can he relate to the app? He can’t. How can he interact with the rest of his family when they’re on the go? He can’t. His user experience is ruined.
A poorly thought-out design not only affects how a user relates to an app, but can also create a bottleneck in the user’s interactions with other users. This in turn diminishes the user’s overall experience and ultimately the legitimacy of the app itself.
Changing the web design standard
“One of the biggest issues…is a lack of appreciation of how users think and work. Their assumption is that users will approach and solve problems in the same way as the designers and developers of an interactive solution.” William Hudson on UCD
As explained on usability.gov, UCD refers to designing with the user in mind. But what happens when there’s more than one user type to design for? Good web design is not just about designing for the user, it’s about creating a tailor-made experience for each user. How? We design and test with prototypes.
Prototyping your designs allows you to customize your designs for every different kind of user in mind. Personalize your designs by creating your own UI elements, just as your users want them. Use templates to reuse content and masters to apply global changes to multiple designs. You can then tweak each design to tailor it for each of your unique user groups.
Know your target user inside-out
“Humans aren’t psychic. Trying to gauge what your visitor’s individual needs are (as dynamic as they can be) is like swimming against the tide of the ocean.” Alexander Dawson, One Extra Pixel
Creating bespoke solutions for users requires a great design process, as well as an enhanced understanding of the user. The human factor – empathy – is the bread and butter of UX design, without which we would be in no position to create custom-tailored apps for anyone.
Picture a scene from Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven. A young Matt Damon is pursuing Julia Roberts, documenting her every move – her routine, her habits, where she dines. With the help of Brad Pitt, the two are using her to to keep tabs on mischievous George Clooney, Roberts’ estranged husband. Weird example? Maybe. But, we can liken this scene to the process behind getting to know our users. We must know our target users inside out.
As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his wonderfully insightful ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’:
“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”
We can apply this to user-centered design as well. We need to understand and empathize with our users’ needs and their behavioral patterns so that we can anticipate how they will interact with our apps. It’s not just about our knowledge of the user on paper: empathy and understanding are key.
By using a prototyping tool that allows us to conduct user testing and research tests, we can reach out to our users more efficiently. With a tool that is integrated with usability testing tools, such as Validately, users can quickly conduct usability tests as well as more in-depth research interviews on their high-fidelity prototypes. Oh! And there’s a great workflow for using user-centered apps here.
Creating a personalized experience for the user
“In the past, highly tailored experiences were reserved for the wealthy, with cost and scale being the main barrier to entry. But with digital technology enabling scalable yet personalized experiences, luxury is available to the masses like never before.” Fjord on co.design
Why does mankind have to be a status-driven animal? The types of experiences that users are exposed to with web and mobile apps have evolved throughout the years. Those of us looking to improve these experiences have a common goal: redefining the tailor-made user experience so that more of our users can enjoy them. In order to do this, we need a better understanding of user attributes and establish user pain and pleasure points. After all, making software more enjoyable and useful is what user-centered design is all about, right?
A custom-tailored experience with a web or mobile app is designed with a specific user profile, persona, in mind. A persona is the term used to “characterize users of an interactive system”, according to Alan Cooper who founded the term in 1999 in his book ‘The Inmates Are Running the Asylum’. Persona models, slices of a particular user group, are created using raw data gathered through user testing, (here’s a great example of a persona template!). Everything that we do with user research and usability testing tools is to gain a better understanding of the user.
Here, Hannah Atkin explains the user research disciple ‘Predictive Persona‘, which allows us to certify whether we can accurately identify if someone will become a user. In her own words: “Once the persona is created, then designers can recruit research participants that fit this description. If you have a hard time doing this, something is wrong with your persona! Eureka!” This is a pretty cool idea and could be super helpful when testing our prototypes with different personas in mind.
The great thing about using prototypes at such an early stage of the design process is that if our assumptions related to our personas are incorrect, we can easily tweak our designs accordingly without too much blood… sweat or tears. By using a prototyping tool with a persona and feature decision matrix, such as the ability to design and simulate scenarios, we can start to create these personas and better understand the user flow and navigation patterns within our apps.