Design thinking and User Experience (UX) Design are all the rage in the past couple of years. Design has been around since stone age, for as long as humans built stuff with stones and twigs. Design has always been considered an integral part of building a product, be it a building or an automobile. But it was not emphasized enough. The popularity of smartphones and mobile apps has once again brought the focus on good design.
A couple of decades back, software development followed a waterfall model. The process spanned several months and design was an afterthought after the entire product was developed. Swanky visuals and jittery animations passed for design. Increasing complexity in software and customer request for periodic updates gave way to agile methodology. The focus moved to iterative development and shipping faster. And UX design took a further backseat.
Startups focusing on delivering a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) lost focus of the customer’s needs. But things did turn around with big companies like Google and Facebook investing heavily in UX Design. This led to the rise of the Minimum Desirable Product (MDP). An MDP is the simplest experience necessary to prove out a high-value, satisfying product experience for users.
An MVP is built from a business perspective but an MDP is built from a human-centered perspective. Design is no longer relegated as the last pit-stop before the product gets in the hands of the customer. In a market filled with endless choices, good design matters. This is reflected in the number of UX designers hired across companies globally. In the last few years, even a stodgy brand like IBM has gone from a designer-to-developer ratio of 1:72 to 1:8.
There are several ways of depicting the design thinking methodology. The model proposed by Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (d.school) is a widely followed approach.
The process begins by empathizing with the customers and understanding their problem. Based on the inputs and the UX research, designers define the problem statement and come up with ideas to solve it. A tangible prototype is created and tested by the users. The process is iterated until the problem statement is solved.
Image credit: Interaction Design Foundation
But this is not a one-time activity. Rather a continuous process embedded in the product development cycle along with development and testing. The old mentality of “If it is not broken, then don’t fix it” no longer holds true. Identifying a problem before a customer does is a hallmark of good UX design. The below model by the Nielsen-Norman group completes the feedback loop from implementation back to empathize.
Image credit: Nielsen-Norman group
Two companies that have redefined themselves over the years are Uber and Instagram. The constant dedication to improving the UX design has enabled these companies to beat the competition by a long shot.
Uber’s original premise was simple: push a button, get a ride. No need to even set the destination. Just a click or two was enough. Uber has evolved from its humble beginnings of booking a cab through a text message on a flip phone to the widely praised app it is today.
The ease of booking a cab and seamless payment is what made Uber popular. Over time the business evolved from renting luxury cars to affordable everyday commutes. As designs became ‘flatter’ and skeuomorphic, took the last breath, Uber’s design became sleek and polished.
While the full-black look gave it a luxurious feel, it did not evoke warm feelings for mass market adoption. On the other hand, rival Lyft’s pink mustache garnered attention for having a fun personality. So the design evolved to include more warm colors and illustrations to make Uber a relatable brand.
Reducing information overload and providing contextual help for drivers navigating traffic is a challenge. The design team at Uber speaks about the “3-Foot-1-Second” Rule: drivers are looking at a smartphone-sized screen from about three feet away, for about one second at a time. This means that “glanceability” and “tappability” are priorities.
The UX designers rode with real drivers and tested their prototypes in real-world scenarios. This lead to making the design accessible to all. Uber has been focusing on improving the livelihood of minorities such as women and the handicapped. Drivers who were hard of hearing or deaf needed better ways of notification. The sound notifications were replaced with flashing lights on the app screen to indicate new pickup.
Image credit: Uber design
Also, drivers could disable the option to receive calls from customers and only communicate via text messages. The riders were also notified about the driver through the app. This simple technique set the right expectation for both parties and reduced miscommunication.
Image credit: Uber design
Early on, users could book a ride without entering a destination. Since it would be difficult to communicate with a deaf person, Uber made it mandatory to enter the drop location by default. The riders were fine with this change. An unexpected benefit was Uber could do better route scheduling knowing the destination in advance. So this feature was made default for all riders, regardless of the status of the driver.
Another interesting insight was uncovered by the continuous design research process. Many people prefer to drive their cars in the night for extended periods of time. The regular interface would add to the light pollution. So the UX design team created several layouts for night mode. After testing the various options in a dark, windowless room, the best one was implemented.
Image credit: Uber design
UX Design is not just limited to big companies. Design starts from day one. Making something look beautiful is not the only factor in design. Form follows function. In order to ensure this is done, there is a need to work with a well-established UX design team. Our UX design services deliver to wow customers. If your company is looking to understand your customers and design great products, then get in touch with Thence.