Thursday, May 26, 2016

What inspires our UX and UI design.

It would be so easy and trite to say "we're driven by our customers" or "we looked at things from our customers experience" or even worse, "we tried being customers of our own services." And hey, there's nothing wrong with any of those. But frankly to me it's like flogging a dead horse. Everyone has heard these same things over and over again from so many companies that it's become almost a case of 'same-words-different-face'. As someone who's never been one for pandering to a crowd to get a 'cheap pop', I'm going to discuss what inspires me when it comes to my vision for how I want things to look and feel for our users.

Let me be completely clear first - I do listen to what our customers tell us. So does our team. We constantly pour over feedback (good and bad), taking it all in equally and measured. You should never ever think you have all the answers to all the questions, as it's fundamental arrogance in it's most transparent form. Similarly, you should never assume 'the customer knows best'. The customer while the end-user of what you produce, is not directly involved in the production, and doesn't have to (and more importantly should never have to give a single thought to) how the end result is achieved. That's for admirers of to get into over a beer, or in a whiteboarding session somewhere.

Technology is inherently cold, and predictably uncaring in it's design and execution. Most of us lived through the beige boxes, command line prompts, meaningless drivel-and-sneer-inducing error messages from seemingly snarky operating systems damning us like a God from Olympus as unworthy mere mortals aspiring to be amongst the deities. Roll forward to where we sit currently. We've hipsters telling us something is 'the next big thing', presenting it in a way to inspire a feeling that somehow we're incomplete as people without it. It's vomit inducing. Or worse still, that as people running businesses we're somehow stupid, incapable people who've been doing something wrong the whole time. It's blatantly condescending, dismissive and supremely arrogant.

There is nothing more obnoxious than having something presented to us as 'making our lives a little better or easier' in a manner that makes us feel dumb. That is the single worst way that technology turns people off. It is nauseating. And it's these things that form how I approach user experience. I'm always aware that as someone involved in software design and development, that I'm ridiculously privileged. Embarrassingly so in fact.

I can ask a ton of questions like 'how do I imagine people using our services with our software?', or 'How should using our software make someone feel?' These questions can run around endlessly along with many others. And when it comes to the crunch, there's only one question I ever find myself asking; "When I expect to be able to do something does it do it in a way I expect?" It's that simple. We don't produce mission critical services. We produce services that enable experience enhancement for others. They're about enhancing value to what's already being presented to customers by their service providers.

To me, the best application experiences are ones that I can partake in while listening to music, humming or singing badly along to (or playing air drums - it happens sometimes) without having to think about what I have to do next. I put this akin to a well crafted movie or TV episode where it keeps you fully engaged for the ride throughout the story (or a well executed wrestling match) that never once breaks your suspension of disbelief. Mobile apps do this particularly well.

But even taking the design aside, the single most important part of the experience has to be the personal interactions. I am not a fan of cold-stand-offish interactions that are so rooted in impersonal. I'm a person, so talk to me like one. Interact with me like one. Authenticity and honesty is something that is massively appreciated and sometimes found wanting with tech solutions. It feels too binary. I want a spectrum when I interact with a business I'm getting services from. I want to feel like my business/custom is more than 'valued' or 'appreciated'. I'm taking a service because I can't do it myself, or its just too costly on a scale to self-produce, and therefore I'm taking a business in as a partner to help me achieve.

I want to know that my partner of choice for a service or solution is looking at me as more than a customer number, or a step-stone to someone or something more valuable. We spend over 50% of our time of our lives involved with our businesses. I don't want clinical interactions or relationships. I am dealing with people, so I want people & their personalities.

And this is how I view our customer experience as something to aspire to; giving people the kind of friendly, helpful and understanding interaction that I would want to receive. I don't want ass-kissing lip-service, or OTT faux friendliness designed by a marketeer; I want to give customers a people-first orientated approach, where it's our people helping your people achieve.

We want people to have the kind of customer experience we ourselves would like to receive. We understand perfect is rarely if ever possible, but we like our own customers will never stop reaching for that brass ring no matter how much it moves. We want people using our service to feel like the service has no learning curve because everything you interact with feels familiar, feels useful, purposeful and conveys no feeling of being overwhelmed by choice of configuration. StatusHub while awesome isn't the main attraction; that's YOUR service you partner it to. It is designed to be a solid supporting cast member for you that knows its role, and when relied upon does more than 'phone-in' its performance; it does what it is supposed to do extremely well and be that dependable team player.