Mobile apps must continually seek new ways to differentiate in a competitive market that is only getting fiercer by the second. Brought to you by Skyhook, this post is part of a series called “Apptitude” looking at how app owners can reduce friction, boost user engagement, monetize, and get to the user’s home screen. See all the posts here.
The app design and development space isn’t new, but it continues to grow rapidly with high demand. It’s easy to see why. Differentiating in the app store, getting more downloads, and user retention are all things that apps struggle with on a daily basis — and with rapid growth, there’s a lot to keep up with on the latest techniques to approaching UX.
One such company that helps apps stand out is Cooper, an award-winning design and strategy firm based in San Francisco. We were fortunate enough to sit down with them to discuss upcoming UX trends, First Time User Experiences, and the roadblocks apps will need to overcome to make a difference in delivering dynamic UX.
We had a great chat with Doug LeMoine, Cooper’s Managing Director of Interaction Design, and Nate Clinton, Director of Product Strategy, on these upcoming trends in UX and how they anticipate user experience design evolving in 2016. Here are the biggest UX design evolutions we discussed:
1. What are the trends and methodologies that are emerging that have you most excited?
There is already a new focus on the “X” part of “UX”. At the core of user experience design is the emotion, the relief, or happiness or joy it gives, not just a lack of pain. Maya Angelou knew this when she said: “People will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
The industry has succeeded in getting businesses to focus on users — who they are, how they behave — and now it is time to step back and focus on the experience, and we have the critical mass of availability and adoption of the technologies to do that really well. Using design for experiences as opposed to focusing so much on a screen or color or fonts. For example, more and more of our work is about designing a service, or outlining a series of touchpoints, rather than just a better app or an isolated utility. This is a big trend that individual designers and companies are focusing on.
With accurate and precise location technology, we are in a position to know more about the user’s behavior and intent because we can know more about their context and environment. Couple this with the ability to geofence venues and you can do some interesting things to enhance the user experience like trigger a retail app to optimize the experience for the user’s context, whether they’re at home, on their daily commute, or standing inside a store.
2. How will UX expand beyond consumers and extend to organizations?
UX will stop being just about one person, we will start to apply design principles to improve teams and organizations. The idea of a user will broaden itself beyond “customers.” We’re starting to think in terms of the experience citizens have of government, the experience employees have of their company, and so on.
UX will stop being just about uber-specialized designers. You don’t need a lawyer to lead a crime-free life — you just need a lawyer for a conviction-free life. In the same way, you don’t need a designer to think the right way about user experience. This is why Cooper focuses so much on education, to teach people about the way of thinking, doing, and acting to broaden the application of goal-oriented design tools.
First impressions are critical moments, and too often end up an after-thought. There are a lot of great “first time” experiences out there, and we love seeing the new creative solutions people are cooking up. Periscope is an app that requires a bunch of different kinds of access to your device in order to really work — location, camera, microphone, and so on — but does a great job of establishing trust and guiding new users through that process. They commit to what they think their app needs from the device in order to work well, and conduct a conversation on each one of those sensors or whatever bits of technology that they need access to. They did quite a few subtle things well, as well, maybe the most important of which was taking these moments seriously.
And while we don’t want to name any specific brands, we see financial service apps as the anti-example in some ways. It’s hard to critique them as they are a highly-regulated space, but a bank is a very important partner in your life. Onboarding and first-time experiences for financial products is typically really painful, usually needlessly so.
4. How do you teach people what your app is about the first time they download it?
So many people download apps without understanding them. The pattern is pretty standard at this point — to swipe through a multi-page summary describing what the app does, and how it works. But if you get to that moment where the app is asking for access to the camera or location or contacts, it should teach you how to accept all the things they are going to ask for. Don’t separate the pitch from the ask.
But even more importantly, if you’re asking for deep access and extra permissions, be transparent about why you’re asking, and the implications of saying “no.” Asking for permission before it’s clear why the app wants to know your location, for example, is an invitation for failure. And depending on how critical this is to your app, that becomes a real issue with adoption.
5. Is there anything new that will improve the FTUX?
People are experimenting with new ways to do this. We are seeing more experimentation with first-time experiences on non-iphone / android phones, and on screenless and ambient devices like watches and wearables. The onboarding for a (mostly) screenless device like a Fitbit smart scale needs its own unique FTUX. Each of these devices needs to be set up and connected and configured, and the ease of on-boarding can make or break the experience.
Back in the day, you called Geek Squad to come and set up your VCR, but now we expect to be able to do it ourselves. But when it gets complicated, sometimes you still need humans to make the first-time experience great. Enjoy is a company that sells you a new router for your house, and instead of shipping it they go to your house and set it up, they teach you how to use it, and help you to connect it to the rest of your house. The personal touch to the onboarding experience goes a long way today.
Another aspect to this problem is on voice-controlled devices like Amazon Echo or Siri. You talk to it and you tell it to do things. But what are you allowed to ask? This is an interesting on-boarding question.
Search engines have trained us to ask anything, but most interfaces don’t have this flexibility. You have to teach someone how to interact with it. There are limitations that you either let users discover and be frustrated by, or you somehow teach them about up it front without making it feel like work.
6. How do you strike a balance between your app anticipating users’ needs and being helpful, versus being outright creepy?
We used to relate user experience to the need to feel more “natural” or familiar, like a human dialogue. People are starting to wonder, though, about what they aren’t being told. There are all these good things that technology brings, but there’s the growing sense of “what are you doing with stuff I don’t even know that I’ve given you?”
As a maker of digital products, how transparent are you about the information you collect, and how you use it? This transparency is increasingly important. Maybe there’s no need other than “I want to serve you more relevant ads,” but that is a need worth expressing, and users will respond.
Transparency is a big hurdle. Tell the user not only what information you collect and why, but what happens if you say no. It’s a respectful thing to do, and builds trust.
Uber — a lightening rod for criticism on all kinds of issues, including transparency — recently changed their terms of service to be more clear and understandable. They had a whole page explaining the pieces of information on the user that they collect and why they ask for it, and also why it’s ok if you decide to opt out. It boiled down to “You can still use our service if you don’t want us to access your location, you just have to type in an address every time.” It’s a way to explain to the user what you can give to them if the app has access to their location, and the user can take it or leave it.
Another example: Whenever you use “Login with Facebook”, you see a generic message from Facebook that explains what kind of access you’re giving this new service. But the list of things apps are asking for is getting longer (they want the ability to DM your mom and post to your newsfeed? Sure!). Users are forced to agree to the intrusion or abandon the app altogether. A simple “We are asking for your contacts, because we want to do x, y, and z” is helpful and lowers everybody’s blood pressure.
Cooper’s specialty has always been bringing clarity to complex situations. They know that “simple” isn’t easy and that a breakthrough user experience begins with a deep understanding of people. Their design and research methods focus their creativity, enabling them to uncover opportunities that fit your business and inspire your customers. Read more about Cooper at http://www.cooper.com/
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