UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 707 August 2, 2011

Five Low-Hanging UX Tips

People are always looking for ways to improve their websites or applications, and oftentimes we come up with very big and overly complicated ideas on how to do that. Here are some simple ways to greatly improve the user experience of an app.

1. When In Doubt, Make It Faster

Thumbnail of KISSMetrics chartIt is a well-known fact that page load time affects user abandonment. If a site takes too long to load, people just hit the back button and leave. To contradict Henry Ford's quote about faster horses, there’s nothing wrong with making it faster. Users will never complain that the application was too fast. This is one investment you won’t regret.

For Google, an increase in page load time from 0.4 second to 0.9 seconds decreased traffic and ad revenues by 20%. For Amazon, every 100 ms increase in load times decreased sales by 1%. When the homepage of Google Maps was reduced from 100KB to 70-80KB, traffic went up 10% in the first week, and an additional 25% in the following three weeks.

“Improving speed to make something 25 percent faster is a much more valuable feature than a brand-new feature.“
     - Jason Fried
Additional reading

2. Remove Stuff

"Get yourself fully dressed and then, before walking out the front door, pause by the mirror and remove one item."
     - Coco Chanel
"It's all about removing the unnecessary."
     - Jonathan Ive, Senior VP of Industrial Design at Apple

Make your app simpler. Remove steps and barriers that users have to go through to accomplish their tasks.

UX mess in MS Word

“Feature density is not strongly correlated with user experience.”
     - Joe Dwyer, venture capitalist

Users don’t really want features, they want their problems solved. If people aren’t using a particular feature, considering redesigning it, hiding it, or simply removing it. That will bring focus to your core features.

“Every time you make the user make a decision they don’t care about, you have failed as a designer.”
     - Aza Raskin

3. Do the Thinking for Me

Or in the words of Steve Krug, Don't Make Me Think. A good application doesn’t ask me all the ways I would like to get things done. If I don’t name a document, it should create a default name. It makes common-sense assumptions for me for things that I might not care to change or don’t want to deal with right away. Make decisions for the user as much as possible.

“Don’t lose sight of user delight.”
     - Mark Pincus

4. Delight Customers

It’s not enough to solve their problem. This is especially true of consumer-facing applications and products. Mark Pincus’ company Zynga has made a successful business in delighting customers by providing games such as FarmVille and CityVille that Facebook users enjoy. But just because you are not making games doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about delighting users.

5. First Impressions Matter

Just as people form impressions about other people seconds upon meeting them, people also form first impressions about your website in as little as 50 milliseconds. Your website is judged on things such as design, trustworthiness, layout, and color at a very subconscious level.

According to a new University of Melbourne study by Dr. Brent Coker, online consumer trust is largely linked to the visual appeal of websites. People are psychologically hardwired to trust not only beautiful people, but beautiful technology as well.

None of these techniques require years of UX experience, but rather apply simple concepts that can have a meaningful impact on a website. Oftentimes teams can overanalyze their product and try to come up with smart and novel ways to do something for the sake of being innovative. This does not necessarily solve the problem. Just because something can be done doesn't mean it should.

I will end with one of Dieter Rams' 10 principles of good design: "Good design is as little design as possible."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Pek Pongpaet is the VP of Technology and Product for SpotOn Inc., and the award winning creator of ShelfLuv.com and BizTome iPad app. Pongpaet’s expertise ranges from product design and development, and martial arts. Prior to SpotOn, Pongpaet worked at Accenture Technology Labs in the research department coming up with next generation user interfaces. At Roundarch, a technology and strategy consulting firm, Pongpaet’s work included envisioning and designing the dashboard of the future for the Tesla Model S electric car.

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Comments

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Your title caught my eye. Seriously nice job on that. The five tips were succinct and to the point -- like good, simple design.

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@Adam - Usabilityhubs http://FiveSecondTest.com is a nifty tool for collecting first impression comments on screenshots of e.g. home screens.

When considering "Users will never complain that the application was too fast." it's important to keep in mind, that if a user-initiated action is carried out by the system very fast, and no transitional or persistent feedback is provided, it might leave the user in doubt whether the action is carried out at all.

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That is a great windup of tips. Thanks for sharing.

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Thanks for the article - a good read. These are no-brainers that need to be remembered continuously in our field.

I do have to agree with Dan, however. The mention of Zynga in a positive light does cast somewhat of a shadow on the article. While they do delight their customers it is at a cost to many developers along the way...

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This article served as some great inspiration to start asking myself questions with my own apps and see where there is improvement. Thanks for the read!

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A Great Read!

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I have a hard time reading an article that mentions Zynga, a company that openly steals all of its user interface design from smaller startup companies, then buries them with marketing dollars. Of all the companies you could have cited, perhaps one that had a single original idea in regards to Ux would have been more appropriate.

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I think one of the 'points' here is that many times designers/developers get side-tracked by short-sighted goals such as:

"Prove to everyone once and for all how awesome I am with
[ insert latest technology here ...jQuery, node ...css3 html5 ...blah blah ] "

Have you ever looked sites done by so-called "javascript ninjas"? Hideous Frankstein-ed monstrosities with technology
as a stand-in for aesthetic sense and good-design.

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I am not sure "delight customers" and "make your site beautiful" are low hanging fruit. I agree they are very importation and worthy goals, but can be very hard to retro-fit on existing websites.

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@ Rob: I don't think that "delighting" a customer actually means giving them what they want (even when they're wrong) - I take it to mean that attention should be paid to experience, in any situation.

For example, I see endless examples of "enterprise = boring" - not just UX, but everything. Language has to be dense, nearly unreadable and so so serious. Really? Just because we're at work?

An interface can be made lighthearted with out being a game, and without being silly. As long as rule #1 is observed (no one wants to watch every link become a slow spiral to the left transition), I think the goal of delighting users is a good one (and explains the huge success of mootools/jQuery/etc. ux animation styles being so ubiquitous - because done right, they're delightful.)

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So how much did Zynga pay you?

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I Really like this list. Makes you think about the speed of your hosting.

But most importantly, the 'trust of beautiful websites'. I can understand that, infact I've done the same myself; 'that website looks prettier, so that's the one I will use'.

Which brings me to a question, where do you go to find out if your website looks any good? Who can you ask beyond mailing lists etc?

Take http://www.lushbackup.com A simple and affordable online backup service, but does it look pretty? Really, does it matter? once an account is setup, user's never really need to see the website again... but it seems to matter that it's pretty!

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Thanks for the great information.

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I agree with the points but not the title. "Low hanging tips" suggest easy and quick wins for any UI and none of the above are that. Making pages faster on an enterprise web application is not quick and easy and often requires plenty of architecture.

I also think 'Delighting customers' isn't that useful as quite often the customer wants something that isn't what they need. Or they want something they feel they shouldn't have to pay for. As noble as it is, delighting customers is not a quick and easy win.

I could level similar comments at the other three.

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Short and to the point, plus thanks for the link resources. Will definitely check them out. Great article Pek.

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Great article. Thanks, Pek!