27 November 2017

The secret formula for great user experiences

I’m intrigued about learning more about what makes a great user experience. The topic is so complex and there’s a lot of scenarios to consider. There’s a very basic formula though that’s been playing around in my mind lately.

While I initially thought about it regarding digital products, I’ve been surprised at how many different levels in my life it seems to work. It may seem basic, even trivial to most, yet so many of us mess up over and over.

A great user experience needs to deliver a delight filled experience with as little friction as possible.

Capturing delight

Most products that succeed have subscribed to this philosophy. Booking a ride with Uber or paying with ApplePay took away a lot of friction while adding enjoyable experiences. Booking a ticket with Virgin America may have had the same steps as most airlines, but did it with much more positive engagements and, as a result, conversions were up like any good user experience.

Unfortunately, the majority of software out today could be way better. Where most companies go wrong is they believe they’re adding delight when in fact they’re just adding friction. Skype is a perfect example of this. Every new version of the app adds tons of features that I’m sure they think are “fun”. Except they’re not. Skype users just want good call quality and be able to send messages easily. Not stickers.

As an example, users will continue to complain over bugs found in the new version of iOS, but iPhone X users seem to be more tolerant of them as they have a newfound enjoyment in using the product. If they are like me, they love the hidden notifications that appear when you look at your phone and having the ringtone fade/dim when it notices that I’m looking at the screen when a call comes in. They may be really small features, but they feels like magic the first times you experience it. They bring delight.

Ben Thompson, Apple at its best:

The iPhone 7 was a solid upgrade: it was noticeably faster, had an excellent screen, and the camera was great; small wonder it sold in record number everywhere but China. What it lacked, though — and I didn’t fully appreciate this until I got an iPhone X — was delight.

The trick Apple pulled, though, was going beyond that: the first time I saw notifications be hidden and then revealed through simply a glance produced the sort of surprise-and-delight that has traditionally characterized Apple’s best products. And, to be sure, surprise-and-delight is particularly important to the iPhone X: so much is new, particularly in terms of the interaction model, that frustrations are inevitable; in that Apple’s attempt to analogize the iPhone X to the original iPhone is more about contrasts than comparisons.

The irony here is that the people getting the iPhone 8-series get it primarily because they want something that just works. They’re not necessarily interested in having the latest features, they just want features that work.

How do we apply this method to our lives?

Our businesses face the same challenges. When I’m choosing who to work with I’m naturally looking for fun and challenging projects. I’m also looking to work with people that will challenge me, make me grow as a designer, and inspire me to think in new ways. These projects offer me happiness and motivation. That said, no matter what the project’s mission is or the people I’m working with, too much friction will make me dread the project. Bad communication (or in some cases, no communication!), sloppy deadlines, or having to chase payments are examples of friction.

This is obviously a two-way street and something that I consider when thinking about my business as well. I do my best to stay flexible to client demands and requests, keep a positive spirit, and focus on delivering delight. That can take your business a long way and prove that it’s a sustainable long-term path!

Heck, even our personal relationships face the same challenges. Whenever a friend or significant other brings more friction than delightful experiences you’ll quickly begin to question the relationship.

Ultimately, we just want to get along, be happy, and avoid mess. Sometimes, we suffer with things that we know aren’t giving us any delight though just because… well… because we think we have to. We won’t bother to look into using another service even though we hate the one we’re using. We’ll stay “friends” with the guy that only calls when it suits him (typically around the time he needs a favor). It’s something we come across in all aspects of life and relationships whether that relationship is with a your family and friends, businesses, or even with your digital and physical products.

What we often forget is that we have the option to own our experiences and hunt for delight in all we do. So, go out and look for yours. When you find it, share it with others. The world will be a better for it.