Voice Interfaces: New Era Of Human-Computer-Interactions by Gavin Lau

Voice interaction is the ability to speak to your devices, have them proceed your request and act upon whatever you’re asking them. Today voice user interfaces are everywhere: we can them in smartphones, TVs, smart homes and a range of other products. The rapid development of voice interaction capabilities in our daily lives makes it clear that this technology will soon become an expected offering as either an alternative or even a full replacement to, traditional graphical user interfaces.

According to Gartner, by 2018, 30 percent of our interactions with technology will happen through conversations with voice-based systems.

Apple’s Siri, Amazon Echo and Google Now, which have been available for a few years, prove that this technology is no longer in its infancy.

Apple’s Siri, Amazon Echo and Google Now, which have been available for a few years, prove that this technology is no longer in its infancy.

Voice interaction is the next great leap forward in UX design.

In this post, we’re going to explain why voice interfaces will be the next big thing and what does this trend actually mean for designers of the user experience.



What Are Driving Forces Behind Voice Interaction

Before we dive into the specific implications of voice interaction systems or design aspects for them, it’s important to understand what’s lead to rapid adoption of this new interaction medium:


Technology is Ready

It’s clear that improvements in natural language processing have set the stage for a revolution. In 2016 we saw a significant breakthrough in natural language processing, and we’ve reached a point where advances in computer processing power can make speech recognition and interaction a viable alternative to visual interfaces. Another important thing is a number of devices that support voice interaction — today almost a 1/3 of the global population is carrying powerful computers that can be used for voice interaction in their pocket, and it’s easy to predict that a majority of them are ready to adopt voice interfaces as their input method of choice.

Image credit: Samsung

Image credit: Samsung

Natural Means Of Interaction

People associate voice with communication with other people rather than with technology. This means that voice interaction systems can be a more natural way of interaction for the majority of users.

Image credit: Google Mobile Voice Survey 2014

Image credit: Google Mobile Voice Survey 2014

People Want a Frictionless Experience

To interact with a voice interaction system all users need to do is to simply speak to the devices and be understood. In comparison with graphic user interfaces (GUI) where users have to learn how to interact with a system, voice interaction systems can significantly reduce the learning curve.

Even the most advanced graphical user interface still requires humans to learn a computer’s language.

Even the most advanced graphical user interface still requires humans to learn a computer’s language.

Opportunities For Business

Adding Personality To Branded Content

Companies can leverage the medium of voice interaction as an extension of their personalities. Gender, tone, accent and pace of speech can be used by experience designers to craft a particular customer experience with their brand. For example, kids may finally get to talk directly to their favourite cartoon characters.


Make Experience More Personalization

Using voice-based system it’s possible to create a deeper personal connection to the system. Even today if you look at the online reviews for Amazon’s Echo speaker, it’s clear that some people establish a close bond with their device in a way that more resembles a pet than a product.

Samantha from Her

Samantha from Her


Voice Interfaces Aren’t a New Direction, They Just a New Step In UX Design

If you are new to designing voice user interfaces, you may quickly find yourself unsure of how to create great user experiences because voice interaction represents the biggest UX challenge since the birth of the iPhone. They are very different from graphical user interfaces and designers cannot apply the same design guidelines and paradigms. But while designing for voice differs from traditional UX, classic usability principles are still critical to the quality of the user experience.


Understand The Basics Of Human Communication

To design great voice user interfaces, you must handle the expectations users have from their experience with everyday conversations. And for that, we must understand the principles that govern human communication: how people naturally communicate with their voices.


Understand User’s Intent

Voice-based interactions between a user and a machine can lead (potentially) to infinite possibilities of commands from a user. While designers may not be able to predict every possible user command, they need to at least design an infrastructure that is contextually driven. For that, it’s important to start with a use case (a reason for interacting in the first place) and try to anticipate users intent at each point in the conversation (to shape the appropriate response).

The processing flow of a comprehensive speech interface. Image credit: API

The processing flow of a comprehensive speech interface. Image credit: API

Provide Users With Information About What They Can Do

While on a graphical user interface, a designer can clearly show users what options they can choose from, it’s impossible to do this on a voice interface. In voice user interfaces, it’s almost impossible to create visual affordances. Consequently, looking at a device that supports voice interaction, users will have no clear indications of what the interface can do or what their options are. Therefore, it’s still possible to provide the user with the options for interaction. For example, if you design a weather app you can make it say: “You can ask for today’s weather or a forecast on this weekend.”


Limit the Amount Of Information

While with graphic user interfaces you can present a lot of different options, with verbal content, you need to keep the information brief so that the user does not become confused or overwhelmed. It’s recommended that you don’t list more than 3 different options for an interaction.


Craft Meaningful Error Messaging

Error handling is an essential component of designing thoughtful voice interactions. The wide variation in potential responses places much more emphasis on the importance of crafting meaningful error messaging that can steer the conversation with the user back on track if something goes wrong.


Use Visual Feedback

It’s recommended to use some form of visual feedback to let the user know that the system is ready and listening. Amazon’s Echo is a good example of this: on hearing a user say ‘Alexa’, the bluish light swirls around the top rim of the device, signalling that Alexa’s ‘all ears.’

Image credit: thewirecutter

Image credit: thewirecutter


Conclusion

Voice is the next big platform — it represents the new pinnacle of intuitive interfaces that make the use of technology more natural for people. Properly designed voice interfaces lead users to accomplish tasks with as little confusion and barriers as possible. And the good news is that UX designers already possess the skills they need to design effectively for voice.

 

EMPATHY MAPS: THE BUSINESS OF PUTTING USERS FIRST by Gavin Lau

Working in UX, we take empathy for granted. To us, it may feel like an overused buzzword, but we don’t realize that the majority of the business world hasn’t heard “empathy” within the context of a professional organization before.

While we start the design phase thinking about customer needs and goals, this process hasn’t been mainstreamed to other practices (and if it has, it’s inadvertently). 
 

“Empathy feels overused in UX, but it’s a word that never comes up in other disciplines.”


Attend orientation and training for a job in business development, software engineering, product or project management, or even sales and marketing, and it’s highly unlikely that the word “empathy” will be used at all—it just doesn’t come up.

All is not lost! Empathic thinking has started creeping its way into business concept planning and product strategy with empathy maps.




What is an empathy map?

An empathy map is a tool to get to know the target audience (hint: it isn’t you) in order to align the business strategy and value proposition with the customer’s wants, needs, goals, and feelings.

Simply, empathy maps get stakeholders thinking about the users they want to serve and not about the product they want to build.

The canvas shows all of the user-minded attributes on a canvas like the one below:

Then, through collaboration, sticky notes, and research, questions like these are answered to complete the canvas:


What is the customer thinking and feeling?

  • What is the customer concerned about or afraid of?
  • Is the customer satisfied? Why or why not?
  • What are the customer’s priorities?
  • What are the customer’s dreams and aspirations?
  • What causes an emotional reaction for the customer?


What is the customer hearing?

  • What or who influences the customer?
  • Is your customer easy to influence?
  • Where does the customer get their information?
  • What information channel does your customer use the most?


What is the customer seeing?

  • Does your customer spend more time in the public or in private?
  • What does your customer’s environment look like?
  • How does the customer interact with their environment?


What is the customer saying and doing?

  • How does the customer portray themselves in front of others?
  • What words does the customer use when talking?
  • What information does the customer withhold or leave out when sharing with others?
  • What is the gap between what they say and how they act?


What are the customer’s pains?

  • What obstacles does the customer need to overcome?
  • What frustrations are on the horizon for the customer?
  • Why hasn’t the customer been able to reach their goals?


What does the customer gain?

  • What methods does the customer use to achieve success?
  • How is success measured and what does it look like?
  • What are the short and long term goals of the customer?

Think about designing a website (layout, content, and all). You start with researching and learning about what the website visitors’ goals are, why they’re on your site (even why they’re here instead of a different website), what’s important to them, and what thoughts and feelings are running through their minds when on your site.

Why would laying out a business be different?
 

“UX can’t save a business that wasn’t designed with customers in mind.”


No matter how polished and thorough your UX work is, none of it will make a difference if the business wasn’t designed with the customer in mind. If we wait until our work shows up in tasks during the design and build phase of a project to voice the importance of user-centricity, we’re waiting too long.

How do we get the point across early on? By using empathy maps.




Introducing empathy internally

It’s one thing to work with a company starting from scratch to recommend putting users first, but it’s a whole different game to convert existing businesses to have a user-first culture. When working with businesses that don’t have an empathy map or early-stage user research process, it can be an intimidating mountain to climb. But getting stakeholders to buy in to empathy maps is a great steering tool to move that way.

Remember that it’s your job as a UXer to advocate for the user, so even though using customer research in early business decisions may seem out of bounds or like uncharted territory, it’s actually right in line with your job duties.

Image from Inside Design: WeWork.

Still uncertain about what to say? Take a chapter out of your own UX book and communicate the value an empathy map brings—and not just what it is—with these key benefits:

  • The business will benefit with a glimpse into product-market fit early on in decision making
  • Use insights to create a product roadmap with features that will actually bring value and be used
  • Marketing and user acquisition teams already have a headstart on strategy with information on who they’re targeting
  • Implementation teams can make empathic products designed for the actual end users
  • There’s very little to lose in trying it—the templates to make a canvas already exist, and circulating a completed canvas won’t take weeks of time

What are the risks of not using an empathy map, or not focusing on users first? You can recognize businesses that do this by these traits:

  • The business measures impact of a product by how many features are delivered and not how many customers adopt and actually use
  • Product backlogs are prioritized based on internal input and not on users’ wants or needs
  • Marketing strategies follow traditional practices or must run multiple uniformed experiments to find channels that are most effective
  • Implementation teams make design and build decisions based on their personal preferences
  • Sales numbers run flat and user adoption rates are low

Okay, so I can’t promise an empathy map will result in an immediate spike in the number of active users or get you from zero to $1 million in sales.

But I have seen enough businesses flail and blindly make strategic decisions when they could be capitalizing on and delivering value to customers.

Being empathic, I can’t help but put an empathy map canvas in front of them—and you—and say, “Here. Let’s fix that.”



Source: https://www.invisionapp.com/blog/empathy-maps-ux/?utm_campaign=Weekly%20Digest&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=55277570&_hsenc=p2ANqtz--8GN3ipM3h0-f0poPODxd4FCmes83p74mjCxigu6oswmwgRlhT27gHv_uX6w5QVlUxalr57_v2MJ4PBhdbvyoRbv1tVg&_hsmi=55277572

 

Float label pattern in UX form design by Gavin Lau

The very first time an input pattern had a float label pattern was in August 2013. The idea was simple enough — animate placeholder text to show an icon beside the input so the user does not lose context.

The beginning of the floating label idea — Icon beside the input

The beginning of the floating label idea — Icon beside the input

The idea was tweaked a little with time. Icons did not totally serve the purpose. It was frustrating to not know if something is right or not because there’s no label. That’s when the icon idea was scrapped and the text onlydesign was born. Now the float label came into picture with a slight animation for the text. When someone typed into the input box, the float label would animate upwards and change colour to the active state.

Version 2 : Float label pattern with text (Image credits : Derek Torsani)

Version 2 : Float label pattern with text (Image credits : Derek Torsani)

Float label came up as a solution that saved space, looked clean and clear, and did not forego usability.


Top aligned labels vs Floating label pattern

1. More elements to scan in top aligned labels

In the top aligned form above, there are only 4 fields. But when you scan the form, it feels like there’s more to fill out. This is because there are 8 distinct elements that users have to scan.

The labels and fields are individual elements separated by whitespace. As a result, users process these elements with 8 separate visual fixations. The extra visual fixations give users more scanning to do, and makes them feel like there’s a lot to fill out.


2. Final checking of inputs before submitting

With top aligned labels, cross checking inputs towards the end isn’t quick to do. Users have to sweep their eyes up and down from label to input to see if they match up. The whitespace row and field border gets in the way of their visual path and slows their flow down.

The other pattern, where the labels disappears after the input field is filled, is also problematic. Disappearing labels force users to use memory to recall what the labels were.

With respect to user’s ease in cross checking the inputs before submitting form

With respect to user’s ease in cross checking the inputs before submitting form

With the third pattern (float label pattern) checking user input is quick and easy. The labels don’t disappear, and there are no visual barriers like on top aligned forms. Instead, one visual fixation per field is all it takes to compare label and input.

The text styling also helps users check their input quicker. By making the input text bold and larger, and the label text smaller, users can distinguish them at a glance.


3. Field focus

Field focus is all the more important for mobile interfaces. That’s because users look at the keypad while typing. Only after they are done typing, they look back to check what they have typed and whether it is in the right position.

Comparison of all three patterns of labels in the input field

Comparison of all three patterns of labels in the input field

Here’s what usually happens with the 3 patterns -

  1. In pattern one (top aligned label), the field highlights, but not the text label.
  2. In pattern two (label disappears when user types), the field highlights, but the text label can disappear or turn faint.
  3. In pattern three (floating labels), the border surrounds the field, label and input highlight altogether.

It’s clear that the third pattern (floating labels) are the strongest — Because, users get a clear view on what field they’re on, and what they’re typing at all times.


4. Error messages while submitting

If the form has been filled out, but there are no labels visible outside the form fields or on the top, then users have to go back to each field to reveal the description in order to fix the error.

 

[IMP] : Test your form interfaces

Honestly, how much ever we talk about the best practices, fads and trends in the difficult of UX, you can never be sure how your users might respond to an interface. The response might vary based on a lot of parameters — you users’ exposure to UI trends, the kind of apps they use, the age group they belong to and so much more… It’s best to design versions of form and test them with your users to know which works best for your brand.

We use CanvasFlip to check heatmaps and user videos on forms. I believe you would benefit from the same. An A/B testing of the same would be quite helpful in taking any decision.

Test forms before coming to any conclusion.

Test forms before coming to any conclusion.

 

Conclusion

Users can be quite hesitant to fill out forms, so we as designers should make this process as easy as possible. Minor changes — in the way labels are presented — can significantly increase form usability. Usability testing is simply indispensable in form design. Very often, carrying out just a few tests or simply asking a colleague to go through a prototype of the form can give you a good insights in how usable the form is.


 

YOU WILL NEVER GET UX RIGHT by Gavin Lau

The inventor of the typewriter, Christopher Latham Sholes, didn’t think the QWERTY keyboard was the most efficient way of typing. Even after the typewriter became a success, he continued to experiment with and patent new arrangements he considered to be better.

Yet, I’m still typing this article on a QWERTY keyboard. If better versions have been developed, why don’t we type on a better UX keyboard?

Here’s the truth: mastering the user experience of any product is impossible.

We could easily agree that nothing is perfect and move on, but that view is only a surface-level understanding of the problem. What’s really going on are 2 competing needs, standardization and innovation, fighting against masterful UX. 

While perfect can’t be done, understanding how these 2 forces take away from the user’s experience can help you improve the effectiveness of your UX strategy.




Standardization slows down (or stops!) innovation

Let’s go back to the keyboard example. You may be wondering why we don’t use better layouts than QWERTY. 

While there’s a bit of speculation regarding why the QWERTY keyboard was arranged the way it is, once it went to production, typists became familiar with the layout and were reluctant to switch. The QWERTY arrangement was the first to hit the market and was later accepted as the official standard, regardless of its level of efficiency.

Despite Sholes’s lifetime of improvements, QWERTY stuck. It didn’t matter that other versions allowed for faster typing―typists were already comfortable on the standardized keyboard.

“Standardization slows innovation.”

Standardizing the keyboard was good for typists who could then work on any typewriter. And it was also good for manufacturing that didn’t have to deviate from model to model.

But standardization also prevented innovators from improving the way we type with new letter arrangements. 

The many attempts to rearrange the letters on the keyboard haven’t been successful. QWERTY works well enough and remains the standard. Standards benefit UX, but they also prevent, or at best slow down, improvements.

So what happens when there are no standards? 

Innovation.




But innovation ruins the ease of standardization

The internet is the Wild West of UX standards. Every website, platform, mobile app, and the like is a new space to reinvent what makes UX good. Not only are the functions different, but the way we achieve similar tasks varies from competitor to competitor.

Consider project management software: Trello and Asana aim to reach the same end, but they’re completely different.

You could argue that the shopping cart is a universal standard around the web, so there’s one. But what about save? The crucial save function can be represented by the floppy disk icon or a check mark, or it could even be omitted because auto-save took its place. 

Image from Inside Design: Trello.

Image from Inside Design: Trello.

 

There are a couple of obvious positives that come from this. The competition of having the best UX drives companies to innovate more and create better products. And the user has more options to choose which product gives them their personal best user experience. But the negative aspect of widespread and rapid innovation is that the user has to be the one to adapt when the UX design changes from product to product. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve designed the UX—when your users have to face a learning curve to use the product, it’s not 100%. 

With standardization, you won’t be able to reach any higher. With innovation, users have a higher burden. 

Now what?

Where to balance standardization and innovation

The best we can do is balance how much we adhere to standards with how much we push for innovation.

You, the UX expert, should consider the business perspective of innovation. Where is innovation critical to your business, and where is it not?

“Balance how much you adhere to standards with how much you push for innovation.”

For example, if your business is similar to others (like an email provider), then your competitive edge is the UX. This is the place to innovate since it’s a “make or break” deal. If you don’t innovate there, you don’t have much else to offer. 

On the other hand, if your business is innovative in other ways—new service, new platform, etc.—you want people to easily adapt to it by designing the UX to fit standards your customers are already familiar with. This way, users may be challenged by the new service concept, but not challenged adopting it. 



Your UX will not be perfect, but it can be GREAT

The other area you can find a balance of standardization and innovation is in considering the wider scope of the user’s experience. Customers do not live in brand bubbles. They float between product to product, and they interact with your product in different contexts. 

Using the following 5 GREAT tips, you can take into account a wider scope of the user’s actual UX. 



Give trends time to prove their worth

Trends are temporary. When you jump from trend to trend, you are leaning towards the extreme of innovation without necessarily good justification. 

You can balance this by giving trends time to prove their worth before you implement them in your product. 



Remember fundamental UX principles

Keep it simple, easy to learn, easy to use, intuitive, and consistent. But with this many rules, we are leaning towards standardization. 

There is nothing wrong with keeping these fundamentals. However, truly innovative ideas are sure to push the boundaries. The balance is in retaining fundamentals when possible.



Emphasize onboarding and guidance

Innovative products create a learning curve either from their newness or sophistication (read: complexity). When users approach an innovative product, they will likely face a learning curve to understand it. It’s your job to make sure they have a proper “education.” We call this onboarding. 

Related: 5 key lessons for successful user onboarding

It’s not enough to have a good product—you also need to have good onboarding to have great UX. And once initial onboarding has been completed, continue this effort with onscreen guidance. 

Don’t ignore onboarding.

Don’t ignore onboarding.




Apply insights from advanced analytics

Today, analytics can show us every nook and cranny of the user experience. The challenge is to have the right kind of analytics—and then actually make use of it.

There are several levels of analytics available, with some being more helpful than others. You can easily get information about views and clicks, but these stats aren’t as helpful as data that can show you how the user interacted with the standards and innovations of your product. Seek out information on where users hesitate, when they complete a task fast, and other granular details about the user experience.



Test usability with real users

It’s hard to match the value of real user feedback. Usability testing is the best way to get well rounded information on why and how your users interact with your product. Go to your customers or bring them into your office—this in-person feedback is valuable for the nuanced indicators you’ll be able to observe. You’ll also be able to ask follow-up questions. 

When you make decisions regarding your UX, keep in mind our example of the QWERTY keyboard. With each innovative product you design, ask yourself: is this innovation worthy of becoming the standard for generations to come? If not, consider using a more familiar interface.

Before capitalizing on a UX standard, think about whether the feature be improved upon in a way that will be meaningful to your users.

While no UX will ever be perfect, there’s always room to improve. These guidelines should help you find the sweet spot between implementing standards and pushing innovation.

 

Source: https://www.invisionapp.com/blog/user-experience-innovation/?utm_campaign=Weekly%20Digest&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=55113384&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_c3DG6VKHdOgu7fjgQSJHUEgeQ-rIWHiIXSE-WoN2xLInMLWFs23qSnUQMrXNe17Zoawh6R8ndq9bg2lG9G4Kg-OLVlw&_hsmi=55124952

Enhance Your Creative Thinking by Gavin Lau

How to maximize creativity with just 3 daily habits.


The human mind thrives on creativity. When you have a higher opennessto cognitive flexibility and the ability to entertain novel ideas, you have a natural capacity to overcome stress—a symptom of anxiety that if sustained can have consequences on your mental health. In other words, the traits of creativity have the potential to give you a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Without openness, you are more likely to become drained, less inspired, and less motivated.

Creativity isn’t exclusive to people who appear to focus on it for a living—it’s for everyone, because we all participate at varying levels, even if only mentally. The following daily routines are by no means the only means to improve your mental health, but they can certainly cultivate the right conditions to allow your creativity to thrive.



1. Switch off and get into a state of “being”

This may sound like a fruitless or unproductive exercise but it is absolutely essential—not just for your mental health, but in harnessing the best conditions to be creative. Throughout the day, you have to give your mind a break and let your subconscious bear some of the weight.

Switching off doesn’t necessarily mean going to sleep—most of us don’t have the luxury of doing that in the middle of the day. It means being relatively inactive in thought; requiring minimal willpower and concentration. This includes not looking at screens or devices, because checking feeds and notifications require a certain level of thought processing power that can drain your mental batteries pretty quick.

Imagine your brain as an engine that needs to be refueled periodically. You cannot run on fumes indefinitely without consequences—you need to spend some moments in calm and away from the busyness of your thoughts. Taking micro breaks can help you overcome stress and clear your head, but can also manifest stronger creativity levels.

The trick is not to think of micro breaks as wasted time, but as a way to recharge your batteries.

When you’re in a state of “being”, you become more conscious of your surroundings. You’re half-focused on the current experience as appose to letting your inner thoughts dominate fully. You give your subconscious intuition the best conditions to work in because there’s room for it to breathe. Getting into this state is fairly simple and really depends on what works best for you—you might be meditating, listening to music, or participating in leisurely exercise such as walking, jogging or cycling. Essentially, something that provides just enough distraction without overbearing concentration or stimulation.

For me personally, I’ve found that being in the shower, driving, walking, or even praying have been the most effective ways of “being”; there have been so many eureka moments where I’ve let my thoughts partially wander.

‘Creative potentials are usually blocked by the busyness of our minds and our lives. In order for them to emerge, both our lives and our minds have to become relatively empty and quiet.’ — Steve Taylor PhD, Psychology Today

When you’re at work, some experts on productivity believe it’s better to take micro breaks in the morning as appose to the afternoon—in other words, don’t leave the break until you’re tired, because you’re more likely to end up requiring a much longer one to obtain any noticeable benefit. With breaks in the morning, you’re less likely to feel fatigue at the end of the day and you can be more productive as a result.



2. Exercise for 15 minutes

What you might not know about exercise is that while it can obviously improve your physical health, it also has a positive effect on your mental health too—in more ways than one. Studies such as one by BJOSM have demonstrated that exercise can enhance creativity, and that a decent workout can even boost your creativity for up to two hours afterwards.

Similar research was carried out by Stanford University, revealing that simply walking has significant benefits to creative thinking; even sustaining for a little while after the walk. Walking either indoors on a treadmill, or outdoors in the fresh air both appear to produce twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down.

The benefits of exercise don’t just stop at boosting creativity. It increases levels of a brain protein known as BDNF, which is reportedly able to enhance cognitive performance; decision-making and learning ability. It can also reduce stress.

Physical activities can help the brain cope better with anxiety—without exercise, your body will struggle to efficiently deal with it.

‘Workout of the body’s communication system may be the true value of exercise; the more sedentary we get, the less efficient our bodies in responding to stress.’ — American Psychological Association

Another side effect of a regular workout is better sleep. As little as 15-20 minutes per day of physical activity can dramatically improve the quality of one’s nighttime sleep—65 percent more in fact. With better rest you’re simply much more productive, and able to focus better during the day.

When combined, exercise and healthy eating also have a positive impact. A diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables with a regular intake of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and antioxidants supposedly encourages higher levels of well-being and creativity.



3. Be curious and pay attention

When you depend on your mind for true creativity and innovation, you cannot be on autopilot and systemize everything, or be too methodical about your daily process and how you find inspiration—your mind becomes accustomed to familiar paths, and this will lead to the same results over and over again. It’s okay to be disciplined, but you also need to be open to breaking away, spontaneity and receptiveness to the world around you—even if it’s outside of your industry or comfort zone.

‘There is no other avenue to cultivating creative work aside from impassioned curiosity.’ — Faisal Hoque, Fast Company

It becomes important then, regardless of the creative medium you work in, for your mind to learn how to be more curious if it isn’t already. Curiosity is the secret sauce to an interesting and creative outcome. It’s probably even more important than some of your passions.

The more regularly you practice curiosity, the stronger and more attuned your creative mind is.

The good news is; curiosity is available to you at all times. It’s accessible from anywhere. Whether that’s through observation, exploration, or asking questions, you need to have a child-like stubbornness to be able to tap into your curiosity every single day.

You have to be vigilant, and you have to be paying attention. You have to be optimistic that you’ll find something interesting or learn something new. You have to be fearless. You have to be persistent in going down new paths. Always take pictures, videos or notes of the things that inspire you. Discover it, record it, and your curious mind will thank you for it.



Final word

Once you accept and acknowledge your commitment to maintaining a healthier creative mind, consistency with these habits can go a long way to keep the momentum going. The benefits you’ll get from switching off, exercising and being curious on a regular basis will have a massive impact on your health, and your career.

 

 

9 Ways to Lift Employee Engagement on Your UX Research Team by Gavin Lau

User researchers are a curious bunch. They tend to embrace ambiguity and enjoy the learning process. During their quest for knowledge they try to build both credibility and expertise in their assigned domains. There are times however, like any job, where things can get monotonous. Doing research on the same types of users or in the same domain space day after day, month after month, can make a user researcher crave for something different. They may feel unchallenged, even bored, and a desire for using their expertise in some other area vastly different from their current one.

User research is a cognitively demanding task that over time allows them to become bearers of tacit knowledge. This is the knowledge that is difficult to articulate through writing or drawing, and can be a competitive advantage for a company since it is so difficult to copy. When user researchers are studying a domain deeply enough they begin to learn the language, culture and context better than others due to the immersive nature of their work. When this tacit knowledge leaves the building, it is extremely hard to build that knowledge back up again in the next person who comes along.

Since user researchers may feel unchallenged on their jobs after long stints and are also bearers of valuable tacit knowledge that is of tremendous value to an organization, how can managers ensure that their researchers are always being challenged and engaged in ways that ensures they stay put? No manager who has the right team in place wants to have to start from scratch and retrain a brand new researcher if they can find the right lever to pull for keeping their existing team members engaged.

As a senior user researcher on a small team I have seen what works and doesn’t work for keeping fellow researchers from job mutiny. While I am not a manager myself, I have a unique vantage point as a user researcher. I have interviewed dozens of human resource professionals who specialize in areas like employee relations, onboarding and terminations. These people spend parts of their day (waking or, sleeping, in some cases) thinking about how they can keep their employees engaged so that they don’t leave for the competitor down the street.

This article focuses on the key strategies a manager can use to lift the engagement on their user research teams. They have been considered with the user researcher profile in mind; curious-minded, lifelong learners who are unafraid to take on new challenges and embrace ambiguity in all of its gray beauty.

The tips have been divided up into those that may produce slight upticks in engagement and those that may produce more sustainable surges. Some people need more incentives than others when it comes to staying with their current gig. Using combinations of both might be the right formula for keeping them engaged.



Tips that may produce “upticks”

Here are the “upticks” which hopefully add reasons for user researchers to stick around a bit longer, even if it is for a little bit:

Tip#1: Allow them to work from home. Sometimes all you need is some fresh air or a change of scenery. Allow them to work from home every now and then. Give a little so they can take a little. It fosters trust and demonstrates the value you see in them as researchers. My team might work from home if they are doing remote sessions and are unable to book conference rooms in my company’s office. I might work from home if I am analyzing large datasets and need to concentrate. As long as it is not misused, working from home can be a good change of pace and one more reason for a researcher to want to stay put at their current gig.

Tip#2: Find something to celebrate! Invite the team out to lunch or drinks after work for doing a job well done. It gives the team time to decompress from long intense days of analysis or research sessions and to share their own war stories. Finding a reason for everyone to get together gives them a greater sense of purpose. Recently my manager set up a congratulatory lunch for me after graduating from my HCI graduate program. Team members that I’ve worked with came out and celebrated, enjoying some great food freeing themselves from the daily monotony. Celebrating the achievements of team members can go beyond academic ones. Maybe it is as simple as a new employee’s 100th day of employment. These mini celebrations demonstrate that the employee is not just another warm body but someone special and valued.



Tips that may produce sustainable surges

Below are some more sustainable strategies from preventing user researchers from leaving. Many of these tap into the intrinsic motivations of user researchers. These are the things that make them feel intellectually challenged and satisfied with their jobs.

“One cannot enjoy doing the same thing at the same level for long.”
-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Tip#3: Give them “flow-producing” work. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychologist and author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, describes a concept called flow. This is a state of being where an employee’s skill set is appropriately matched to the level of difficulty of their work. Giving employees those challenging and new research assignments is a great way to keep employees engaged in what they are doing and preventing them from jumping ship. Several years ago while working as a user researcher for a previous employer, I was losing that sense of flow in my work supporting a scrum team that was not actively engaged in or using the rich insights gleaned from my research studies. Initially I was highly motivated and enjoyed the challenge my work presented, but because stakeholder engagement was so low, the challenge of impacting stakeholders to use the insights was insurmountable. As a result, my intrinsic motivation gradually deflated over time. My manager realized that he needed to present me with a new challenge — one that would produce and maintain flow. He knew he needed to reallocate me to a team that embraced user research or else he would risk losing me. He assigned me to an area that I could delve into with a fresh set of eyes and appropriately challenge me to use new research methods. The reassignment re-fueled my spirits and passion for the job. Flow was once again achieved! For managers whose user researcher team members have felt that sudden loss of flow in their work, consider giving them greater challenges in new areas to make them more engaged and also where their work is more appreciated and valued.

Tip#4: Mix it up! Variety is the spice of life. A research participant in one of my past research studies of human resource professionals once said this when asked about why he loves his job as a benefits administrator. Oftentimes people need a change of pace in order to get motivated. Giving researchers a chance to work within another domain or with a different set of users will give them more exposure to unexplored areas and nurture their natural curiosity for learning. One of my former research colleagues was getting a bit tired of working on business-to-business products and really wanted a chance to work on a business-to-consumer product. With a little bit of luck (the timing was right!) and her great track record for delivering solid insights she was given an opportunity to work in the B2C space. The new role gave her a renewed confidence and motivation to stick around at her current employer.

Tip#5: Collaborate. Doing research can get lonely. Pair up with a research colleague on a project. The beauty of the field of user research is the diversity of minds and backgrounds that enter this profession. No one researcher is bound to do and see the same things as the other one. Working with other researchers allows you to learn something you didn’t know before. Pick up on better and different ways of collecting data, taking notes or moderating sessions. You might be exposed to a new method which you can add to your research toolbox for future studies. Collaborating with fellow research colleagues also helps you to get to know others on the team while simultaneously building camaraderie among team members. You begin to form an informal network of expertise that you can tap into in the future. My team forms committees of 2–3 researchers in order to make research process improvements. My colleague and I recently teamed up to start developing consistent research interview guides containing standard protocols that have worked well in past studies so that others on the team could get going more quickly with their research efforts. It will prove especially helpful for new hires on the team who need a good starting point. The committees not only allow us to share ideas and perspectives, but it motivates us to shape the culture within our organization.

Tip#6: All other things being equal, pay them more $$ if they’re worth it. Money talks (sometimes). According to SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), increased pay is a modest predictor of an employee’s decision to leave an organization. Pay by itself may not necessarily be enough to keep them. A 2010 study conducted by Tim Judge and colleagues suggests that the association between salary and job satisfaction is very weak. The 120 years worth of research across 92 quantitative studies suggests that there are other factors to consider when thinking about trying to retain your best employees. In fact, past research suggests that increased pay might demotivate employees, especially those (like user researchers) who are largely intrinsically motivated. Research from Edward Deci and colleagues suggests that when extrinsic rewards were made visible to participants their intrinsic motivation to do interesting tasks decreased by 36%.

If research suggests that pay is ineffective in retaining good employees why on earth would I recommend this as a tip for lifting engagement? If all other things being equal — the researcher feels adequately challenged and highly motivated by the nature of the work, has a flexible schedule and great work/life balance and benefits, giving them more money is hopefully the last item to tip them in favor of staying. The pay increase (or other extra financial incentives) should be well justified by better than average job performance.

If the disengaged team member asks for a raise, and they are high-performers, then see if it is feasible to give them more than the average annual increase. If increasing their salary is simply not feasible, see if there are less liquid financial incentives available. Maybe restricted stock or options is a lever that can be pulled. To get them fully committed to the future of the company employers usually tie their tenure at the company to these extra financial rewards. Ultimately the decision about whether or not the individual is worth the extra money that they are asking for must be weighed against the cost of having to retrain someone else and build up that body of tacit knowledge that is ready to walk out the door.
 
Tip#7: Give them more pay BUT with more responsibility. In a 2012 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Five Ways to Retain Employees Forever,” the “5 R’s” are mentioned as a means to keep your employees from leaving and staying with your company for sustained periods of time. One of the R’s is responsibility. Giving your employees more responsibility over time demonstrates the trust you have in them, allowing them to grow and providing them more pay at appropriate times. As mentioned earlier, Edward Deci’s research suggests that simply giving them more money may deflate their motivation potentially making the researcher want to leave. Tethering the incentive to greater responsibility might reduce the possibility of demotivating the employee since there is more “wiggle room” for the employee’s professional growth and development. For many intrinsically motivated researchers out there this may be an appealing prospect to further challenge themselves with new duties added to their job. The researcher will hopefully see a good match between the intrinsic challenges of their increased responsibility as well as the amount they are getting paid to do it. By giving them increased responsibility and more pay, you are investing in them and their commitment to the company.

Tip#8: No matter how big or small, give credit where credit is due.Sometimes employees simply want to be given the recognition they deserve. During team meetings I make it a point to call out fellow researchers who were truly helpful on a project in which I was working on with them. This behavior ends up being a model for others on the team to follow and acts to shape the culture of your research team. Whether the contribution was as small as sending me a link to a past research study that can serve to inform an existing project that I am working on, or if it is a larger contribution in the form of a 50–50 collaborative effort with another researcher, NEVER miss a beat to give a “shout-out” to a colleague for their assistance on a project. A little credit goes a LONG way.

No matter how big or small the effort, ensure team members are getting recognized for their hard work. My organization has a points program called MyMoment which allows employees to recognize other employees for something (no matter how big or small) that they may have done to help a fellow colleague. As employees get recognized through these awards they accumulate points that they can redeem for gift cards at retailers or restaurants. Talk to your HR department about implementing such a program.

Tip#9: Pay more attention to them. One obvious but perhaps easily overlooked thing you could do to improve engagement with your researchers is simply listen to them. Listening demonstrates respect for your team members. When someone is truly listening to you, they not only hear you but they are fully processing what you are saying. Give your researchers a chance to formulate their ideas and opinions by actively listening to their points of view. My team has bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with our manager. It gives us an opportunity to informally chat about things, give feedback on projects or talk about new ideas. Sometimes just having a sounding board like an attentive manager or colleague is all you need to feel engaged!



Conclusion

Which combination of tips to use for improving engagement on your research teams ultimately depends on whatever works best within your organization’s culture. Listening to your teams’ needs is probably the best advice that is implied by most (if not all) of these tips. This key theme reminds me of a story I recently read to my five year old. The title escapes me but the story resonated with me. It’s about a bus that is unable to move because there is a dog in the middle of the street blocking the bus. No matter what the people on the bus do they are unable to move the dog out of the way until finally a little boy on the bus realizes that the dog is hungry and wanted some food. After giving the dog a bone it finally moved out of the way and the bus was on its merry way. The boy was seen as the hero in the story. He was the only one that was able to get the dog to move. Only after stopping to listen to the dogs’ needs was the bus able to get going again. The lesson: Be a hero. Stop to listen to your researchers’ needs. Seeing things on their level will build both empathy (something that really great researchers tend to excel in) and a way forward to work together.

 

 

Typography in UI: Guide for Beginners by Gavin Lau

People read all the time. It’s not only books or magazines but various info on the Internet, adverts in the streets, in public transport or outside shops. However, only minority of readers may know how much time and effort often stand behind a single line. When we easily read a copy feeling comfortable and relaxed, many thanks go to a designer. Text arrangement and the aesthetic look of fonts are among designers’ top priorities. To create effective UI and clear UX designers learn basics of typography science. Today’s article covers basic points in typography which every professional designer should comprehend and apply in work.



What’s typography?

Typography is something bigger than just a design technique. A Canadian typographer, Robert Bringhurst, in his book The Elements of Typographic Style defines typography as the craft of endowing human language with a durable visual form. In addition, typography transforms language into a decorative visual element.

Typography has a much longer history than the design or the Internet itself. First, it appeared approximately in the 11–12 centuries when people invented movable type system. A real typography revolution started after the Gutenberg Bible, the first major book printed via movable metal type, which marked the beginning of the age of the printed book in the West. The style of type used in Gutenberg Bible is now known as Textualis (Textura) and Schwabacher.

Nowadays, it is more than just copy printing and organization. Commonly, typography is defined as the art and science of font style, appearance, and structure which aims at delivering the aesthetic and easily readable copy to readers. Not that long ago, it was a specialized study for editorial office workers but now the science is applied in different spheres and plays a significant role in design.

 

The role of typography in design

Can you think of at least one example of web or mobile design without copy elements? It’s difficult, right? Still, just a presence of copy in the interface is not enough for effective UI and positive UX. Copy and its appearance should be well-thought otherwise it may spoil the design. There are designers who ignore typography studies because they think it’s too difficult to understand so it isn’t worth spending much time. However, typography is an essential part of the effective design. Let’s see why.

People got used to receiving the majority of information in text form and designers need to make this process easy and productive. The basic knowledge of typography can help to comprehend the peculiarities of font visual presentation and its influence on users perception.

The effective copy is a key to the powerful design. Its effectiveness depends on not only its content but also presentation. Font size, width, color, and text structure — all of that matter. Designers can transfer certain mood or message by choosing appropriate fonts and the ways of their presentation. This way typography helps design to communicate with people. Visual performance and readability of copy in digital products have the great impact on user experience. If fonts are badly legible, people can face problems with navigation or even worse can’t use it at all. Today poor user experience in digital products is unforgiven since users can easily find the better alternative.

In addition, bad typography significantly affects the first impression because even when users don’t read copy, they scan it. In case fonts look inappropriate people may not want to learn about your offer or use your product.

 

Essential typography elements

To create profound typography, you need to learn its anatomy and the processes typography building requires. Let’s see.



Font and Typeface

Nowadays, many designers use terms “font” and “typeface” as the synonyms but that’s not quite right. Let’s straighten it out. A typeface is a style of type design which includes a complete scope of characters in all sizes and weight. On the other hand, a font is a graphical representation of text character usually introduced in one particular typeface, size, and weight. In other words, a typeface is something like a family and fonts are parts of it. These two are the main objects which designers and typographers change and transform to create readable and aesthetic typography. More about typeface styles will be presented here soon for our readers.



ean line and baseline

Typically, type characters are placed in a straight line creating a neat visual presentation. Main tools assisting designers in the process are mean line and baseline. The first marks the top and the other bottom of a character body. Such lines allow creating fonts even. Of course, the lines are invisible in interfaces after designers finish their work.

 

Character measurement (size, weight, and height)

To separate different types of information and highlight the vital points, designers apply fonts in different weight and size. The type weight is a measurement of how thick type character is. The sizes are usually measured in inches, millimeters, or pixels. The height of the character is also called “x-height” because the body of every character in one size is based on the letter “x”. This approach makes them look even. It’s easy to segregate copy elements such as heading, sub-heading and body copy by varying these parameters.

 

Ascender and Descender

The ascender is a part of a letter that goes above the mean line like in a letter “b” or “d”. The descender is opposite to ascender. It’s a segment that extends below the baseline like in “q” or “g”.

 

White space

White space, also known as negative space, is the area between elements in a design composition. Readers aren’t usually aware of the great role of the space, but designers pay a lot of attention to it. In case the white space is not balanced, copy will be hard to read. That’s why negative space matters as much as any other typography element.

 

Alignment

Creating effective typography is not that easy and it includes many processes. For example, alignment is an action of placing and justifying text. During the stage, designers aim at transforming randomly placed pieces of text into one unified composition.

 

Tracking

The process of tracking involves adjustment of space for a group of type characters which form a word and text block. A designer set appropriate spacing for all letters, making copy feel airy and pleasant to the eye. The effective tracking makes letters in a word easily readable.

 

Kerning

Kerning is a bit similar to tracking still they aren’t the same. Tracking means is spacing between all the characters of font while kerning is the process of adjusting the space between two type characters. It is usually applied for individual cases when a designer decides to change the spacing between two specific letters to make it feel more natural.

 

Leading

Leading is the spacing between the baselines of copy. The appropriate leading helps readers easily go from one text line to another and makes big pieces of text legible. In design, the standard leading is 120% the point size of the font still it can vary according to the typeface peculiarities.

 

Typographic hierarchy

As any other design element, typography should be structured. Typographic hierarchy is a system that organizes copy content in the best way for users’ perception first of all via modifications and the combination of typefaces and fonts. It is aimed at creating the contrast between the most meaningful and prominent copy elements which should be noticed first and ordinary text information. The contrast is created by regulating typography elements including typefaces, fonts, sizes, and colors as well as their alignment.

 

Typographic hierarchy is presented with common types of copy content used in UI design. They are headlines, subheaders, body copy, call-to-action elements, captions, and others. These copy elements create distinct layers in design: primary, secondary, and tertiary.

The primary level of copy content includes the biggest type like in headlines. It strives at drawing user’s attention to the product. The secondary level consists of copy elements which can be easily scanned. Those are subheaders and captions which allow users quickly navigate through the content. And the tertiary level of typography includes body text and the other information. It is often presented with the small type still it should be readable enough.The typography layers assist users to learn copy content gradually step by step without effort and get oriented in the digital product.

 

Typography cannot be learned in one day. It requires constant studying and persistence. Follow our updates to get more about typography in design.



 

4 Key Financial Metrics That All Startups Should Measure by Gavin Lau

More than 90% of all startups ultimately fail.

At the end of the day, startups die because they are not built upon healthy business models that can be sustained over the long term.

Economic growth is essential to startup success: companies that do not scale do not survive.

How, though, can you ensure that your business model is sound, that it will allow your startup to expand over time? This is where measurement comes into play.

In this article I’ll discuss 4 key financial metrics of which all startup founders should keep close track.



1. Fixed vs. Variable Costs

One of the most important pieces of financial data you as a startup founder have to amass (and continuously update over time) is the total cost of running your business.

Your total cost consists of the aggregate amounts of your fixed costs and your variable costs.


Fixed costs:

  • Costs that do not vary with a company’s volume of production, i.e., costs that remain steady regardless of the amount of goods or services that a company produces;
  • Examples can include rent, loan repayments, insurance, and office supplies.


Variable costs:

  • Costs that do vary with a company’s volume of production, i.e., costs that change in accordance with how much of a good or service a company produces;
  • These costs increase (i.e., become more expensive) as production goes up and decrease as production goes down.
  • Examples can include direct material costs, direct labour costs, sales commissions, and server costs (sources: 12).

Understanding your total cost is crucial for various reasons, including the fact that the amount of money your business spends impacts whether, and if so then when, you can turn a profit (and how much that profit will be).

Outgoing money (i.e., costs) also heavily influences the length of your startup runway, i.e., the amount of time for which your company can survive without bringing in stabilizing revenue.

You can calculate your runway by taking your cash balance, i.e., the amount of money that your startup has to fund burn, and dividing it by your burn rate, i.e., the monthly rate at which your business is losing money.


For instance:

  • Runway = cash balance of $125,000 / burn rate of $25,000 per month
  • Runway = 5 months (until you run out of money) (sources: 12).

In addition to the fact that burn rate explicitly reminds you that your startup will indeed run out of money at some point in the future if you don’t eventually start bringing in sufficient revenue, it’s also a crucial metric to measure in terms of attracting investments. As Rosemary Peavler explains:

“Investors look at a start-up company’s burn rate and measure it against future revenues of the company to decide if the company is a worthwhile investment. If the burn rate is greater than forecast or if the company’s revenues are not growing as rapidly as they are forecast to grow, then investors may think the company is not a good investment. It may be too risky and so they may not invest their money.”

How can you effectively extend the burn rate of your venture? Here are 3 tactics:

  1. Operate as lean as possible by keeping your costs as reasonably low as you can: maintaining a low burn rate will maximize your financial options, thus allowing you to abort, adjust or restart one or more processes before reaching the end of your runway.
  2. Try to make your fixed costs more efficient: e.g., utilize new technologies — such as Google Docs, Quora, Skype, and Slack — to communicate with your customers and co-workers/partners, to collect data, and/or to conduct research more cheaply as compared to more traditional forms of market research, advertising, and communication.
  3. Increase your revenues: one method for doing this is to ensure that you’re maximizing the monetization of your startup.

(As an aside: if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to some of the best startup tools available then I suggest checking out Steve Blank’s resources here and Ali Mese’s master list here).




2. Breakeven Analysis

The U.S. Small Business Association provides a succinct and helpful description of “breakeven analysis”, stating:

“Breakeven analysis is used to determine when your business will be able to cover all its expenses and begin to make a profit. It is important to identify your startup costs in order to determine your sales revenue needed to pay ongoing business expenses.”

Your company’s “breakeven point” is the point at which your revenues (i.e., the amount of money you’re bringing in from sales) exactly match your expenses (i.e., the amounts of your fixed and variable costs).

The point beyond your breakeven point is where you begin to accumulate profits, i.e., financial gains that exceed expenses, costs, and taxes.

There are many advantages to calculating your breakeven point. By understanding where your break-even point is, you are able to work out:

  • How profitable your present product line is
  • How far sales can decline before you start to incur losses
  • How many units you need to sell before you make a profit
  • How reducing price or volume of sales will impact on your profits
  • How much of an increase in price or volume of sales you will need to make up for an increase in fixed costs

Here’s an example of what a completed breakeven analysis can look like:

Mathematically, the breakeven point is calculated like this:

Breakeven point = fixed costs / (unit selling price — variable costs)

The Queensland Government offers an interactive webpage on which business owners can calculate their breakeven points.

After completing your breakeven analysis, it’s important that you prudently consider the following key questions:

  1. Is this a realistic sales target?
  2. When do you anticipate being able to hit that target?
  3. Which resources will you need to get there?
  4. How much cash will you burn through in the meantime?

Answering these questions is crucial to gaining insight into a) how much money will you have to raise and b) the length of time for which will you need to invest such funds before breaking even.




3. CAC & LTV

Serial-Entrepreneur Steve Blank defines a startup as “an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

As I’ve recently pointed out:

“The creation of a repeatable and scalable business model is the point in the start-up lifecycle where a new venture finds ways to consistently acquire new customers for less money than the revenue they are expected to bring in, thereby generating profit.”

Creating a repeatable and scalable business model is fundamental to a startup’s vitality because it makes it possible for a startup to achieve its most important objective, i.e., grow and scale.

Why is this the case?

Because companies that successfully implement repeatable and scalable business models then begin securing true sales and marketing efficiency.

This efficiency is measured in accordance with two key metrics:

  1. Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): The total cost of convincing a potential customer to buy a product or service. Calculated by dividing the costs spent acquiring new customers (marketing, advertising, etc.) by the number of new customers acquired during the period in which the funds were spent. Example: if you spend $5,000 a month on promotion and you acquire 20 customers then your CAC is $250.
  2. Lifetime Value of Customer (LTV): The projected revenue that a customer is expected to generate during his/her lifetime. In the simplest of cases, calculated by multiplying the yearly cost of your service by the number of years for which a person is expected to remain a customer of your company. Example: if your service costs $100 per year and your average customer stays 5 years then your LTV is $500.

LTV can be difficult to estimate accurately during the earliest months or years of your startup when you lack concrete data. If that happens, consider looking to similar companies in your industry for an idea of what you LTV might be.

Why is it so important for startup founders to understand these two metrics and calculate them for their specific businesses?

Because getting these numbers wrong can be absolutely deadly to a new startup.

The 2012 Startup Genome report, which analyzed 650 Internet startups, revealed that “premature scaling is the most common reason for startups to perform poorly as they tend to lose the battle early on by getting ahead of themselves.”

In essence, premature scaling is an attempt to massively expand and grow your new company before you have successfully hammered out the intricate details of a repeatable and scalable business model.

In other words, failing to nail down the specifics of your CAC and LTV can facilitate premature scaling and, thus, startup failure.

The general consensus amongst many venture capitalists and entrepreneurs seems to be that profitable business models are those in which LTVs are at least 3x higher than CACs:

Furthermore, in order to grow sustainably your startup should pursue the ambitious goal of recovering the expense of your CAC within one year of spending the cash.

This may seem like a simple task but it’s actually very difficult to achieve in the 21st century, especially given that the Internet is now completely saturated with advertisement, products/services, and tech startups.




4. Cash Flow Forecast

The fourth key metric that all new companies must measure is “cash flow”, i.e., a comparison of the amount of money coming into your business versus the amount going out.

Positive cash flow refers to a situation in which your business takes in more funds than it spends whereas negative cash flow refers to the opposite, i.e., when the amount of money coming into your business falls short of the amount going out.

Cash flow is the blood of every startup organization: no cash flow = no business operations — period.

In a recent article, I provided a detailed explanation of the need for startups to understand and consistently track their cash flow numbers, noting that all prudent entrepreneurs should regularly practice cash flow forecasting(otherwise known as cash flow projection).

Cash flow forecasting is a projection technique used to determine the ‘financial health’ of your business.

The U.S. Small Business Administration explains exactly why forecasting is so important:

“Forecasting gives you a clear look at when money comes in, when it goes out and what money you are left with at the end of each month after you have paid your expenses and recorded your income. Knowing your numbers in terms of cash flow projection allows you to see potential pitfalls within the cash-in and cash-out flow of your business.”

Forecasting, thus, provides you with the key data you require to ensure that your startup doesn’t burn money faster than what you need in order to stay in business.

Many first-time entrepreneurs tend to confuse profit with cash flow.

Profit refers to income minus expenses but the problem comes with misunderstanding that “income” is not always synonymous with “cash in”.

As I previously explained this situation using the following hypothetical example:

“It’s entirely possible to have a ‘booming’ business but still be cash flow negative:
- You’ve begun selling your product;
- Your customer base is growing substantially; and
- Your long-term sales potential is massive
However:
- You’ve taken on lots of debt in order to reach this point (i.e., to hire your employees, develop your MVP, market your product, etc.); and
- Your monthly expenses (e.g., rent, payroll, etc.) surpass the amount of revenue you’re generating
Therefore:
- If you don’t start bringing in more money than you’re spending then you’re going to run out of cash and be forced to close shop.”

Cash flow projections can’t, of course, predict the unpredictable but they can alert you to foreseeable potential hazards.

Whilst it might be best to let a professional account carry out the quantitative analyses, it’s still important that you as a founder grasp the principles of cash flow forecasting.

The most basic form of cash flow forecasting involves using a spreadsheet that lists monthly income and monthly costs alongside annual totals for each.

For added detail, you can break the costs down into different categories, which can be quite helpful in identifying seasonal variations in expenses (e.g., your heating bill will probably go up in the winter if you rent an office).

An example of a cash flow forecast spreadsheet:

VIDEO: USE THIS FORMULA TO WRITE WINNING PROJECT PROPOSALS by Gavin Lau

There are few things more exciting than the prospect of a shiny new design project. Whether it’s a branding, illustration, web, or product design project, it’s all about how you write your proposal—what you include in it and even what you choose to leave out will dictate whether you strike out swinging or hit a home run.

The following recommendations come from over 16 years of attempting to perfect the proposal writing process—things I’ve learned from best-in-class freelancers and design agencies.

Now, before we dive in, let’s tackle 2 of the best pieces of advice I’ve received over the years:



1. Your proposal should never surprise a client

Before you send out a proposal, you’ve probably already communicated at-length with your potential client. During that interaction, you likely covered a lot of ground, including the needs of the project and a budget (or ballpark price) to complete it.  

So, when you send out a proposal, that document should sum up that conversation… and seal the deal. The proposal should not be the first time your client discovers something new about you or the project.


2. Use value-based pricing

In most cases, you’ll want to charge the highest price possible for your work. How? By reinforcing to the client that you’re not selling a commodity. You’re not selling a website, you’re not selling an app—you’re delivering value (great value!) to their business that can in turn increase their revenue and their value. You’re going to help transform their business, and that’s worth much more money than a website or specific deliverable. I mention that now, because it relates to the proposal building process, as well as how to price a project.




How to write a proposal: Length and structure

Let’s dip into the proposal itself. For this exercise, we’re aiming for a 1-page document with a simple 5-section structure. No one wants to read a 20-page proposal with a bunch of terms and conditions and long, drawn-out text. If you can say something with less words, then you probably should do that. From a design perspective, simplicity wins. 



How to write a proposal: Overview

Typically, the first section in any proposal is an overview.  The overview usually reinforces back to the client that you understand what their company and product is all about, and what they are asking you to do. 

Related: 7 difficult questions to ask your client up front

Some people start the proposal with something like “I will design a website for your business.” I don’t think this conveys the value you’re potentially bringing them. Instead, I may take a more conversation-like approach:

“I understand that your business is about this and this, and your long-term goals are to do this and that, and that’s the reason that you need a new website. This website will be important in reaching those goals.” 

This information comes from the pre-proposal conversation—you asked relevant questions in that meeting and you’re communicating them back in the proposal as the value propositions. Preferably, you can even describe how the work will help them to achieve a monetary goal:

“I’m going to help you hit $200 million in sales this year, because I will create a high-traffic, high-conversion website for you.”

When you write a proposal this way, it’s more obvious that your price is a great investment. 



How to write a proposal: Why me?

Now on to section 2, which I sometimes refer to as the “Why me?” section. In general, I’ll include this section when I write a proposal, but I always include it when working with new clients. 

Many people think, consciously or not, that they have to sell their work and the desired outcome, more than they sell have to sell themselves. Always assume the client is considering other vendors, service providers, etc. In this section, you should try to communicate what makes you the best person for the job, without coming across as being too “salesy.” Attempt to speak from an honest place about why you’re excited about that particular project or industry (if money is the only thing that excites you about it, it may be best for you to pass on the project anyway!)

“Always assume the client is considering other vendors.”

If you can find intersecting relevant experience from your past (say, the same industry or project type) be sure to mention it explicitly here. Even if you tone it down and just include a short bio description, aim to highlight points from “your story” that you think may be relevant or interesting to that client in particular.




How to write a proposal: Pricing

Okay, the elephant in the room—the third section—is pricing. For me, there have been 2 big takeaways with how I structure pricing when writing my proposals. For some reason, designers and creative pros seem to like pricing tables:

Homepage: $2,000. About Page: $500. 

I think that frames you as a commodity, and again, that’s not what I advocate doing. You should position yourself as valuableIf I do a website design, I‘ll likely give a flat rate:

Website: $20,000.

Don’t put a price on each little component of a website or design project.

This second tip I actually got from my partner Lior (historically I hadn’t done this): include 3 packages in your proposal. This gives your client options and it empowers them to have more power over that buying decision. It’s also a good way to hedge your bets and differentiate you from the competition.

Related: How to price your freelance design work

I personally believe that any project can be achieved on any budget, but the results will be different. By creating tiered packaging (1 is limited, 2 is more expansive, 3 is the premier package, etc.), you’re adding an upsell opportunity in your offering. You can now offer your client additional services they may not have even considered previously. 




How to write a proposal: What’s next?

The fourth section is essentially a call to action. You want to lead your client down the path of next desired actions: what steps do you want them to take now? I typically just write a bulleted list of things, like:

  1. Sign the proposal
  2. Transfer 50% up-front payment
  3. Project starts
  4. Etc.

This makes your client comfortable with the near-term plan while also giving them a little push to get the ball rolling. I think this section is super important.




How to write a proposal: Terms and conditions

Terms and conditions is the fifth and final section. By the sound of it, it has the potential to be the most daunting. That doesn’t have to be the case.

Some people write proposals that include a lengthy lawyer-type contract. Again, my mantra is simple is better. I think I can really cover myself well by just writing a list of no more than 10 points that essentially all lead back to how I get paid. For example, I’ll include “I must receive 50% up-front payment before I get started.” 

“A proposal should never surprise the client.”

Anything that covers intellectual property should also be included, like “I hold all intellectual property until the project has been paid for, and then intellectual property moves to you. Fonts not included.”

I don’t think that you need more than 10 of these bullet points to cover yourself well, while still keeping things simple. If you’re up against a competitor who ends up sending a 20-page terms and conditions document, this is an easy win for you. 

These are the core proposal writing fundamentals that have been working well for me over the last few years. Hopefully you can apply a few of these points in your own approach to writing design proposals and hit it out of the park.

 

Original Source: https://www.invisionapp.com/blog/how-to-write-a-proposal/?utm_campaign=Weekly%2520Digest&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=54822873&_hsenc=p2ANqtz--8KsT7CyycJ1IJBfQKzMejgHsqO9Jyol1KI-nK7c3wbnc4FLk5C-C-0mYHRXr36a6eCrN8UMQ9bBzsNtVNmCuZrs5qpw&_hsmi=54822875

 

Not a coder? No problem: Concrete advice for non-technical founders by Gavin Lau

And 7 pitfalls to avoid if you want to build a great product

Technology can be transformational.

Smart, beautiful, well-built applications have given us power that was previously unthinkable — and great ideas can come from anywhere.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a chef, firefighter, student, stay-at-home mom, or professor of economics; if you have a clever way to meet a real, human need (or want), you can create a compelling product.

But when you have a brilliant idea with little-to-no technical ability, crossing the canyon between concept and completion can feel impossible.

Even coding can seem like a form of wizardry, practiced by caffeine-fuelled 20-somethings in headphones.


Please don’t let intimidation or overwhelm stall your project before it gets started. You don’t have to know the difference between SQL, Java and Python to create something incredible.

Instead, let’s talk about how to work effectively with a freelance team or software development firm that can bring your vision to life.

And I want to share some interesting insights from the other side, as co-CEO of a software development firm called Appster.

Each stage of your project will bring common pitfalls. Here’s how to avoid them.



Planning and documentation

I can’t overemphasize the importance of upfront project planning.

Software development is not like hiring the neighbor’s kid to mow your lawn. It’s more like a desert trek, with a series of dangers and irritants that will inevitably pop up along the way.

And the best way to de-risk that trek is to have a thorough understanding of what you’re trying to build, before you build it.



Pitfall #1: Calling up a dev firm or contractor, describing your idea, and asking for the cost

If someone can give you an exact price tag or timeline after a five-minute phone call or a single email, they’re setting you up to fail.

If they’re ready to dive right in, that’s also a massive red flag. Every digital product has a huge range of functional and nonfunctional elements that must be mapped out from the start.

No one wants to have a conversation that includes, “of course it was supposed to handle over 10,00 users per day!” — and a strong upfront planning process is the way to avoid this crash-and-burn scenario.



Pitfall #2: Going too agile or too heavy

As with most things in life, useful documentation is a matter of balance. Some agile dev experts believe that working software always beats feature documentation, but moving too fast can mean skipping essential details.

Atthe same time, a 600-page project brief with no room for uncertainty or change will only weigh you down. Find your happy medium and ensure your app or product brief outlines:


1. Non-functional requirements

  • Security: Are you interacting with the Bank of England or building a flashcard app? Every product should reliably protect users, but there’s security and then there’s SECURITY. Where does your app land on that continuum?
  • Performance: Does your community aspire to Facebook-level membership or will it always have less than 100 users at any given time? Performance should scale with usage loads, and finding the sweet spot where you’re not over- or under-built takes skill and experience.
  • Maintainability: What language is your app built on? Can others take over the project and manage technical changes down the road? Your team might seem tight now, but you never know how personnel shifts, acquisition or investment money can affect who’s working under the hood.


2. Functional requirements

  • Core features: What are your essential, must-have, differentiating features?
  • Functionality: How do the features work? What do they need to do?
  • Business logic flows: If you’re selling something, for example, your product needs to intersect with payment and distribution functions. How does each piece of the transaction unfold? What is the user experience from start to finish?




Pitfall #3: Fully delegating your project requirements

Strong development firms should help you with the project brief. They will have digital architects and business analysts who write technical documentation for a living.

If you’re working with freelancers or a smaller firm comprised primarily of developers, it’s important to write the brief yourself and ensure everyone’s on board.

Whatever your situation, stay on top of the documentation.

Keep your eyes on it, review it at every stage, and never assume that anyone “just knows” what you’re thinking. What seems logical to you might be new to someone else. Providing more detail is never a waste of time.

If in doubt, spell out the screen, feature, button or project element, clearly, in the scope of work.

Remember that a good software company will also look for gaps in your brief and challenge any assumptions, issues or potential snags they find. That’s a good thing. It means they’re smoothing your way to a successful build.



Testing and prototyping

Pitfall #4: Failure to prototype

Repeat after me:

Prototype early. Prototype often.

It’s always smart to put a working prototype in the hands of your users during the design process, but it’s especially important if you’re a non-technical founder.

Don’t wait until the end of development. No one wants to realize that 95% of users can’t log into your app or the news feed is confusing once all the coding is done.

As the founder and creative genius, you’re a power user.

Now you need the big-picture perspective that only comes from getting real people into your app, tapping buttons, and messing around with the features that feel intuitive to you.




Pitfall #5: One-dimensional product testing

Whatever you’re building, testing should never be an ad-hoc process. It should be planned, scheduled and outlined with two different approaches:


1. Manual testing

In manual tests, one person downloads the app, runs through all the different screens and user flows, and documents any issues or opportunities for improvement.

This tester should be working through a clear list of scenarios: i.e. “I tap button X and X should happen. Pass or fail?”

Don’t forget about environment and geography — especially if your app uses location services.

Seeing top-rated restaurants in China isn’t exactly helpful if you’re hungry in L.A.

Testers should also consider how different networks, internet connections, and technical service providers could affect what users see.


2. Automated testing

Working through every scenario can be time-consuming and expensive if you have a BIG app. Maybe your product has 400 different screens or thousands of business logic scenarios.

In this case, automated testing can be a lifesaver. It runs through basic screen functionality, crash reporting, and even how the app works on iPhone 5 versus iPhone 6, for example.

Automated testing can be seriously helpful, but it does come with additional costs.

If it’s essential to your project, make sure it’s covered off in the plan and the dev firm builds the necessary automation scripts right out of the gate.


Quality assurance

Anyone can tap some prototype buttons and see if the screens work.

But if you’re not a developer, how do you know if you’re getting good quality software? How do you know if the developers are writing useful, elegant code?

The proof is in the product. If the code is sound, the app should work.




Pitfall #6: Waiting until the end of the project to see working software

Your development partners should show you functional software and allow you to download and demo your product every two weeks — minimum — and ideally, every week.

Get a version on your phone and play with the features as the app is being built. A firm that insists you need to wait is not playing their cards fairly.

Don’t wait until the beta release is ready. Seeing early versions enables you to course correct if a feature has been implemented incorrectly or user feedback suggests a different approach.

Catching an error just one week, versus 3–4 weeks into the build, will save money, time and a lot of re-work.



Pitfall #7: Not reviewing your code during the build

Reviewing code when you’re not a developer might sound like checking your mechanic’s brake work. Yet, it’s possible — and important.


1. Manual code review

This review is usually done by a senior developer, technical architect or a team lead — someone with deep experience who’s fluent in the development language, but who didn’t write the source code.

The reviewer will check for syntax, structure, standardization, and other important details.

Manual code reviews should happen regularly, throughout the project.


2.Static code review

Think of this step as spellchecker for your code.

There are several open source and commercial tools that run automated reviews and flag security issues, non-standard practices, and other problems.

Even if you don’t have the chops to perform these static reviews yourself, the development team should regularly run the automations and share the results with you.

Work consistent code reviews into your project agreement and make sure you get the results at every phase.

It’s important to weave these details into the plan, because most firms won’t release your source code until the final bill is paid. If you negotiate regular access, however, you can ensure the app is on track.

You can also request an independent review from an outside firm or another freelancer; someone who isn’t invested in the project and can provide objective feedback.


Other important considerations

Manage the project brief, prototype, testing and coding phases with care and you’ll be in good shape for launch.

Here are a few more tips and app-building advice to help your project flow smoothly:

  • Implement a daily or weekly stand-up meeting to clear impediments
    Just 15 minutes can do the trick. Your dev team may have questions that you can answer fast to keep the wheels turning. Book a recurring time slot on your calendar and stick to it throughout the build. It’s amazing how many hurdles you can eliminate with a quick verbal or video check-in.
  • Stay calm and collected
    Basically, do everything you can to keep your shit together — even if the project gets stressful. We all want to work with people we like and who treat us with respect, so don’t take your concerns out on the dev team. If something is seriously going off the rails, talk to the project manager. Find a solution together. And there’s always a solution if you get creative and strategic.
  • Manage your own team dynamics
    Want to drive your dev team crazy? Switch up the decision-maker from one day to the next. It’s amazing how quickly this misstep can cause project meltdown. If you’re not a solopreneur, designate one person who will consistently communicate with the dev team. Decide who makes the final call on tech issues. Keep your own internal flow clear and you’ll save major time and money.



Show me the work

If you’ve reached this point and decided you do need a technical co-founder, that’s cool. It’s probably a smart move. How you go about finding this person might depend where you are in the process.

It’s always easier to attract a technical partner when you’ve actually built something, because it shows that you’re more than an “ideas person.”

You have the drive and discipline to take action. Hearing “hey — I’ve got a killer idea! You do all the hard, technical development work and then we’ll get rich together” isn’t the compelling proposition that some might imagine.

If you’re just getting started, find a partner who’s equally motivated to build and refine and who shares your big vision.

Look around you. Is there someone close that you’ve overlooked? A friend or colleague who’s already in your network?

There’s a very real sense of trust that comes from shared experience and history. You can stick together when the project is struggling and share the triumph when it succeeds.

Whatever you decide, I’m pulling for you.

Roll up your sleeves, learn the technical jargon when you need to, and create checks and balances to help you along the way. Don’t let a little PHP or C# get in the way of fulfilling your big idea.


 

This New Data Will Make You Rethink How You Write Headlines by Gavin Lau

Every day, people are working really hard to create quality content. But then they shoot themselves in the foot by slapping on some crappy headline onto that great content.

It’s mind blowing!

Your headlines shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Content that has a catchy headline is more likely to be clicked on and read.

Content that gets more clicks and engagement gets rewarded, especially in Google’s search results and Facebook’s news feed.

A boring headline pretty much guarantees nobody will read that piece of content you spent so much time writing.

When it comes to writing headlines, there’s no shortage of advice.

But I prefer to let data be my guide when it comes to writing engaging headlines.

And there’s some awesome new data out from BuzzSumo, a popular tool that shows you the most popular content by topic or from an individual website.

Steve Rayson, director at BuzzSumo, analyzed 100 million headlines to see which posts earned the most Facebook engagement.

Here are 10 insights from that research that can help you write better headlines that attract more likes, shares, and comments on Facebook.



1. These Word Combinations Get the MOST Engagement

“Will make you” was, far and away, the most popular word combination in headlines. For example: 60 Keyboard Shortcuts That Will Make You More Productive, or the headline of this very article you’re reading.
“This is why”, “can we guess”, “only X in” and “the reason is” were also incredibly popular three-word combinations in headlines.



2. These Headlines Will Make You Feel All the Feels

Emotions make people click and engage. That’s why emotional headlines are so powerful.
Among the most popular phrases: “make you cry”, “melt your heart”, “give you goosebumps”, and “can’t stop laughing”.



3. This is Why You Need to Write Better Headlines

Better headlines make people curious.
Which explains why phrases like “this is why” and “the reason is” attracted tons of engagement on Facebook.



4. Can You Guess What Else Works?

Quizzes. BuzzFeed is known for publishing quizzes like “Can We Guess Your Age and Location With This Food Test?”
As Rayson noted in the research: “These quizzes appeal to our desire to know more about ourselves and to prove we’re smart, we did grow up in the 80s, we are living in the right city, or whatever it might be. These quizzes are like mirrors, it’s hard to walk past with out looking at yourself. They are hard to ignore.”



5. One Thing That Only Headline Writers Need to Understand

Tribal headlines work. And this headline trend is growing, according to BuzzSumo.
Basically, a tribal headline includes the words “that only”. For example, “17 Slightly Terrible Things Only People Named Sarah Understand” or “14 Things Only People Who Adore Print Books Will Understand”.



6. These Word Combinations Get the LEAST Engagement

“Control of your” was the least engaging headline. So you’ll want to avoid this three-word phrase.
Others word combinations that failed to generate engagement: “your own business”, “work for you”, “the introduction of” and “what new in”.



7. You Should Start Your Headlines With These 3 Words

“X reasons why.” For example, 26 Reasons Why ‘Personal Brand’ is NOT a Dirty Phrase.
Other engaging headline combinations: “X things you”, “This is what”, “This is the”, and “This is how”.



8. You Should End Your Headlines With These 3 Words

The most popular phrase at the end of a headline is “the world”. As in, “Why South Korea has the highest concentration of robots in the world.”
Some of other words you’ll see at the end of the most engaging headlines: “X years”, “goes viral”, “to know”, and “X days”.



9. THIS Is the Most Popular First Word

Literally.
The word “this” is the most popular first word used in headlines. Now you know.



10. 10 Is the Magic Number

Listicles are as hot as ever — and 10 is the most engaging number.
In fact, multiples of five accounted for four of the top five most engaging headline numbers (10, 5, 15, and 20).
List headlines featuring the number seven attracted the fourth most engagement.



What Does It All Mean?

Why produce content that will never be consumed?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using catchy phrases. They work! Stop fighting them!


 

The Art of Guerrilla Usability Testing by Gavin Lau

Guerrilla usability testing is a powerful technique. Designer Martin Belam describes it as “the art of pouncing on lone people in cafes and public spaces, [then] quickly filming them whilst they use a website for a couple of minutes.” Let’s skip the pouncing part and instead focus on its subtleties, including how to obtain and share feedback with our team.

I recently worked on a quickstart project in which my team was asked to build a responsive website in a short amount of time. We were given very little time to code (let alone conduct research) for the endeavor, yet by employing guerrilla usability testing along the way we collected feedback on the brand position. Eventually, we aligned our designs to both customer expectations and business goals.

Once a week throughout the project, we tested different kinds of prototypes to bring the business’s ideas to life. For example, while mid-development, we sketched a mobile version of the site on index cards and did a quick assessment. This revealed navigational problems (which guided us to rethink a key point in the customer journey) and even ended up shaping a bit of the brand’s media material. What’s more, guerrilla usability testing opened our stakeholders’ eyes so that they challenged their own, innate assumptions about “the user.”

 

We iterated through our design ideas using lo-fi techniques like paper prototyping. Sketch by Chris Cheshire.

We iterated through our design ideas using lo-fi techniques like paper prototyping. Sketch by Chris Cheshire.

The bottom line? Guerrilla usability testing presented itself as an easy-to-perform technique for refining the user experience. It helped us validate (and invalidate) critical assumptions at cheap cost and with rapid speed.

 

Breaking it down

It’s hard to see the magic that guerrilla usability testing affords and not want in on the action, right? Here are some basic questions to consider before getting started:

  1. What shall we test?
  2. Where will we test?
  3. With whom will we test? and, of course,
  4. How will we test?


What shall we test?

One of the best parts about this kind of testing is that it can be done with almost anything, from concepts drawn on the back of napkins to fully functioning prototypes. Steve Krug recommends testing things earlier than we think we should and I agree – get out of the building as soon as possible.

Test what the product could be so as to shape what the product should be. Even loosely defined UI sketches can be a great way to evaluate a future product. In fact, recent research shows that lower-fidelity prototypes can be more valuable concerning both high and low-level user interactions.


Where do we test?

Where we conduct tests affects how we perform and document our work. For instance, if we’re testing a new mobile app for a retail chain, we might go to the store itself and walk the aisles; if we’re working on “general” office software, we might test it with coworkers in a different part of the office; etc. The point is: let context drive the work.


With whom do we test?

When designing for the consumer mass market, it’s easy enough to ask friendly looking strangers if they have a couple minutes to spare. Public spaces and shopping centers present some of the best places to do this on account of the sheer amount of foot traffic they receive (as well the relaxed nature of the environment). With more specific user sets, however, it’s useful to target subjects based on context (see above) and demographics. Nowadays you can recruit people for remote guerrilla usability testing by leveraging public forums such as Reddit, Quora, or LinkedIn Groups, among others. Try lurking on the forums to find the right people or writing a simple post outlining your intent and the related incentive. 

Coffeeshops are great because you’ll often find test subjects from varying cultural backgrounds and different age ranges.

Coffeeshops are great because you’ll often find test subjects from varying cultural backgrounds and different age ranges.


How do we test?

Testing is fairly straightforward: have participants talk aloud as they perform tasks. Use the think-aloud protocol to test overall product comprehension rather than basic task completion. The key is to watch customers fiddle with a product and silently evaluate its usability. As Sarah Harrison explains, “Observing users is like flossing–people know they’re supposed to do it every day, but they don’t. So just do it. It’s not a big deal.”

Always start with open-ended, non-leading questions like:

  1. What do you make of this?
  2. What would you do here?
  3. How would you do [that]?

By answering these kinds of questions, participants tell a loose story in which they explain how they perceive a product. Along the way, we can generate ideas for how to improve things in the next iteration.



Employing the technique

Guerrilla usability testing is very much about adapting to the situation. That said, here are some helpful hints that I find consistently work in different international contexts:

  1. Beware confirmation bias. The confirmation bias, also known as the myside bias, is the tendency to search for and favor information that confirms existing beliefs. While coffee shops and online forums are great places to find participants fast, spinning up a test at the most convenient location could just be a way for you to gather information selectively. This especially matters when these are emotionally charged scenarios, like the testing of designs. Understanding biases can help designers manage subjectivity and account for context.
  2. Explain what’s going on. Designers should be honest about who we are, why we’re testing, and what sort of feedback we’re looking to receive. Oftentimes, it’s best to do this with a release form, so that people are fully aware of the implications of their participation – like if it’s going to just be used internally versus shared globally at conferences. These sort of release forms, while tedious to carry around, help establish trust.
  3. Be ethical. Of course, being honest doesn’t mean we need to be fully transparent. Sometimes it’s useful to skip certain information, like if we worked on the product they’re testing. Alternatively, we might tell white liesabout the purpose of a study. Just make sure to always tell the truth at the end of each session: trust is essential to successful collaboration.
  4. Make it casual. Lighten up tests by offering cups of coffee and/or an incentive in exchange for people’s time. Standing in line or ordering with a test subject is a great opportunity to ask questions about their lifestyle and get a better feel for how a test might go. If remote, you might offer a small Amazon gift card – also a good opportunity to ask about purchasing experiences. 
  5. Be participatory. Break down barriers by getting people involved: ask them to draw – on a napkin or piece of notebook paper, for example – what they might expect to see on the third or fourth screen of a UI flow. This doesn’t have to be a full-blown user interface necessarily, just a rough concept of what’s in their head. You never know what you’ll learn by fostering imagination.
  6. Don’t lead participants. When you sense confusion, ask people what’s going through their head. Open them up by prodding, saying “I don’t know. What do you think?”. People in testing situations often can feel as though they are being tested (as opposed to the product itself), and therefore can start to apologise or shut down.
  7. Keep your eyes peeled. It’s important to encapsulate passing thoughts for later analysis. Ethnographic observation is one good way to capture what you were thinking of during tests. Don’t get too hung up about formalised notes though, most of the time your scribbles will work just fine. It’s about triggering memories, not showing it off at an academic conference.
  8. Capture the feedback. A key part of any testing process is capturing what we’ve learned. While the way in which we do this is definitely a personal choice, there are a few preferred tools available: apps like Silverback or UX Recorder collect screen activity along with a test subject’s facial reaction. Other researchers build their own mobile rigs. The important part to remember here is to use tools that fit your future sharing needs.
  9. Be a timecop. Remember, this isn’t a usability lab with paid users. Be mindful of how much time you spend with test subjects and always remind them that they can leave at any point during the test. The last thing you’d want is a grumpy user skewing your feedback.



Sharing the feedback

Conducting the tests is only half the battle, of course. To deliver compelling and relevant results from guerrilla usability tests, designers need to strategically decide how we’ll share our findings with our colleagues.

When analysing and preparing captured feedback, always consider your audience. The best feedback is the kind that understands stakeholders and kickstarts important conversations between them. For example, developers who need to evaluate bugs will have different needs than executives who want to prioritise new features.

Next, when delivering feedback, align it with your audience’s expectations. Try editing clips in iMovie or making slides in PowerPoint. Your co-workers are probably as busy as you, so an edited down “trailer” that highlights relevant results or a bullet-point summary along with powerful quotes is always a good method to keep people listening.



Go guerrilla

At the end of the day, guerrilla usability testing comes in many forms. There’s no perfection to the art. It is unashamedly and unapologetically impromptu. Consider making up your own approach as you go: learn by doing.

 

 

How To Calculate the ROI Of Your UX Activities by Gavin Lau

3 user experience metrics to help you measure the ROI of your UX efforts and optimize your conversion funnel

User experience is measurable in dollars and cents. That might sound counter-intuitive: after all, UX is about intangibles like ‘satisfaction’ and ‘delight’, right?

In fact, the impact of investment in user experience projects is more than measurable, and can be directly linked to revenues when measured correctly.

Knowing how to measure and present the return on investment (ROI) of UX activities is the key to successfully introducing user experience into enterprises. A global enterprise isn’t going to invest in UX just because it’s on trend or on the CEO’s mind. A global enterprise is only going to invest in UX if the figures add up.

Whether you’re a UX professional faced with convincing business-types of your value, or an enterprise manager seeking to understand the impact of UX projects, this post will get you started.



Bad or Lack Of User Experience Costs Organizations

According to behavioral scientist Dr Susan Weinschenk, failure to consider UX in a product strategy can have eye-watering losses for global enterprises. Yet even now, enterprise software and UX aren’t always on speaking terms. Programmers typically spend 50% of their time on avoidable rework, the cost of fixing errors after development can be 100x more than before development, and internal training for unintuitive software can raise costs.

Over 1 trillion USD is spent on IT projects annually (according to IEEE’s Why Software Fails), but 15% of those projects will be pulled before completion. IEEE identifies 12 main causes of software project failure; 25% of those are related to UX mismanagement. These include:

  • Badly defined system requirements
  • Lack of alignment across customers, developers and users
  • Conflicts of interest among stakeholders



Good UX Maximizes Profits And Minimizes Loss

On the other hand, a software project that integrates UX into the development and design process sees demonstrable investment return. For instance, Walmart’s redesign of their ecommerce site resulted in a 214% increase in visitors. Bank of America increased its online banking registration by 45% after a UX redesign of the process. IBM’s report on User-Centered Design notes that “every dollar invested in ease of use returns $10 to $100.”

UX-centered software and digital platforms can have a tangible, measurable impact on ROI. But this impact needs to be measured and a compelling business case for UX activities needs to be made in order to convince stakeholders or CEOs that user experience is worth investing in.

Does it pay to do UX work?

Luckily, the impact of investment in UX is highly quantifiable. Let’s take a look at some of key formulae and figures that will help you prove the return on investment of user experience.



What Kind Of UX Metrics Help Calculate ROI?

“A good user experience, like a measurable ROI, doesn’t typically happen by accident. It is the result of careful planning, analysis, investment, and continuous improvement.” Jeff Horvath, UX Strategy Human Factors International

When measuring the business value of your organization’s UX efforts, it is important to be able to tie the results of your UX activities to the revenue that you earn, save or lose through the conversion funnel (such as a shopping cart, newsletter signup and document downloads). Using UX-oriented metrics makes the impact of your UX activities more objective and will avoid clients questioning their value. Here are 3 metrics to calculate your UX’s gains or losses:


Metric #1: Conversion Rate

You can measure the relative impact that UX has on your key performance indicators (KPIs) by calculating the conversion rate. For example, say we want to find out how many of the people who visited our blog subscribed to our newsletter. In order to do this, we need to track the number of people who navigated to our blog and then the number of resulting subscriptions (conversions).

Our conversion rate will be the number of blog subscriptions divided by the number of those who had the opportunity to subscribe.

Subscriptions / Potential subscriptions x 100 = Conversion Rate (%)

So, if 1500 people reached our blog, and 150 of them subscribed, that means that 1 in 10 visitors subscribed. Our conversion rate is the percentage of this proportion (10%).

Because we’re measuring what’s happening directly on our site, UX greatly affects conversion rates. Branding, usability and accessibility within the conversion funnel are all related to our UX strategy. In user research, we use randomized controlled A/B tests to calculate the return on investment of UX. It is the strongest case you can make for UX ROI because it allows you to understand why certain components of your UX impact user behavior, as well as show causation (the relationship between the effort and the actual result). Randomized controlled A/B tests can be performed with a number of usability testing tools, such as UserTesting.


Metric #2: Drop Off Rate

Drop off rates measure the number of visitors who left the conversion funnel without completing it (without buying, in our example), but don’t necessarily leave your site. It is important to measure your drop rate in order to identify the steps in the funnel that are causing visitors to ‘drop off’. Once you’ve got your drop off rate calculated, you can set about conducting analysis into the design and usability of your conversion funnel and make the necessary improvements to the user experience to optimize conversion.

To calculate your drop off rate, you’ll need to use Google Analytics. Create segments for each step in the conversion funnel and let Google Analytics do the numbers. Your drop off rate is the number of users divided by the number of unique users in each segment.

Number of users / Number of unique users in each segment x 100 = Drop off rate (%)


Metric #3: Single Usability Metric (SUM) To Record Errors

Implementing poor UX choices can lead to user interface design problems and can affect your users’ ability to move through the conversion funnel. Whilst analytics tell you where and how many of your customers are dropping off the funnel, they do not tell you what the problem is. Measuring errors in your UX process help you gain a deeper understanding of the types of errors you’re making and how to avoid them.

One of the most effective ways of measuring errors is with the single usability metric (SUM). SUM is a standardized, summated and single usability metric that measures task completion rates, task time, and satisfaction and error counts. The SUM calculator takes the raw usability metrics on a task-by-task basis and converts them into a SUM score with confidence intervals. SUM will automatically calculate the maximum acceptable task time.

Task completion time is but one metric that goes towards understanding and therefore avoiding UX errors. There are plenty of other ways to improve your usability and eliminate friction in your design process. Spend some time analyzing your UX errors to optimize your conversion funnel.

Fewer UX errors = fewer conversion drop offs



The Takeaway

So how do you leverage these UX-oriented metrics? Use them to take your UX further — whether that means getting the resources time, people or budget you need. The best way to drive the importance of UX to your business stakeholders or client is to start talking numbers as these allow you to compare before-and-after results against your own internal products or your competitors’ performance.

 

 

How to Test, Study and Validate Your Big Idea by Gavin Lau

I spend my days chatting with aspiring founders. They come from every walk of life, location and background imaginable.

I love that diversity — and I love entrepreneurs.

As a growth strategist for Appster, I’ve realized that these conversations can also feel a little like Groundhog Day, where the same three questions are forever on repeat:

  1. If I tell you about my idea, will you to steal it?
  • I won’t. I promise.

2. What do you think — is it a good idea?

  • It doesn’t matter what I think.

3. Okay, but could this product make a lot of money?

  • I have no idea.

Answering the first question is easy. It’s simply about reassuring a skittish caller and (sometimes) signing an NDA.

The second one always catches people by surprise. Why?

Because, more than passion, more than excitement, more than a strong entrepreneurial track record or $500K in the bank, I’ve realized that one attribute sets successful founders apart from the rest of the hungry pack:



Obsession

Building a thriving business demands more than a good idea. It requires extraordinary focus.

It means solving a problem that’s driving you crazy and haunting your dreams.

Your idea should feel so compelling that you won’t be able to live with yourself if you don’t dig in and see it through.

And here’s where we arrive at question #3, and the frustrating reality that until you take your product to market, no one can predict whether your idea will earn any cash.

You could consult the most brilliant investors, developers, business strategists and trend forecasters on the planet (and throw in a tarot card reading for good measure), but only your customers can tell you whether this plane is going to fly.



Okay, I’m obsessed. Now what?

Great.

Here’s where the conversation gets a little meatier.

As you’re working to develop the product or application, there’s a parallel track of market validation and concept refinement that’s freely available to anyone with a Wi-Fi connection and a dream.

You can’t eliminate risk entirely, but you can gather invaluable information and feedback that can help you make smarter decisions at every turn.



Step 1 — read, study and learn

Forgive me if this phase feels rudimentary, but you’d be amazed how many people skip right over it.

At least once a week, I talk to someone who breathlessly outlines their idea for an app that helps users find, filter and review restaurants (or shoe stores or chiropractors) in a specific area.

“Have you heard of Yelp?” I’ll ask.

Silence.

  • Start at the App Store and Google Play.
  • Look at the top-rated apps and the latest releases.
  • Check out the top grossing apps, the top paid and free apps, and the editors’ choice sections.
  • Enter keywords related to your idea and see what pops up.
  • If you’re working on a fitness product, start wide and gradually narrow in on a relevant topic, like running or nutrition or motivation.

If you find an application that feels similar to yours, go in for a closer look.

When was it first published, and more importantly, when was it last updated? If the app was released in 2013 and hasn’t had any new versions, it’s not a competitor.



Let’s get a whole lot nerdier

Now it’s time to put on your glasses and do some reading.

 

  • Visit TechCruch to learn which startups are getting funded and what just launched.
  • Narrow in on your industry and do a series of keyword searches.
  • Next, head over to CrunchBase and pick a company in your category.
  • Let’s stick with fitness. You’ll want to look at FitBit, for example, and in just a few taps or clicks, you can learn about the company’s founders, funding rounds, investors, partners, and acquisition details (if applicable).
  • If similar startups are getting funding, that’s a great sign; there’s buzz and interest and money behind them.
  • Don’t forget about LinkedIn, either. Enter the name of a startup or product and pick the “companies” tab from the search results. From there, you can see the current employee count, functional distribution, average employee tenure, and growth over time.

As you get deeper into the dev process, you might even want to invest in analytics or market data from a source like App Annie (and no, this is not #sponsored).



Step 2 — survey, test and poll

Whether you’re seeking general concept validation or you’re not sure if a specific feature would be helpful, try a Twitter poll. They’re free and ridiculously easy to run.

When you compose a tweet, select the “add poll” icon and type in your question. That’s it. Clearly, this isn’t a statistically valid research study, but it’s a great way to get answers — fast.

And, as with many things in life, when you repeatedly hear the same answer or suggestion from people who have no skin in the game, it’s worth listening carefully.

Google Surveys aren’t free, but getting quick and honest feedback from thousands of people can be worth the small investment.

It’s like casting a wide net and seeing what you reel in. Or, you can narrow in and target people in specific locations and age ranges.



Step 3 — reach out and gather interest

This is my favorite — and possibly the most impactful — part of the validation process. It’s time to connect directly with potential customers or clients.

  • Start by creating a basic landing page that includes your logo, product description and any branding materials you’ve developed.
  • Add a (brief!) pitch and a message like: “Coming soon.Sign up for email updates.” You can also add an investors page and other relevant details, but keep it lean.
  • Purchase some targeted Facebook ads that drive your core demographic back to your page. It’s a simple process, but it can be incredibly effective. Just the other day, for example, I spoke to a guy who has cultivated a 3,000-member email list for a wine app that’s still in development — and all those curious people came through his landing page.
  • As your idea starts to sharpen up and lose the fuzzy edges, consider Google AdWords. Again, the small cash outlay can pay dividends if you connect with the right people. Go beyond the basic gender and age filters and choose your target country, region, city and neighborhood, if possible, and drive people back to your landing page. The Keyword Planner function can also help you match search trends with your ad campaign to make it even more effective.
  • Finally, get ready to do some direct outreach through Instagram or YouTube. A quick Google search of the “top 10 social media fitness influencers” will direct you to those Insta-famous people who have the power to launch trends and amplify brands. Before you connect, be sure check out their follower counts; someone who routinely logs 10 million unique views on a YouTube video will probably ignore your email — or they’ll demand compensation for their time. Keep searching and filtering to find the up-and-comers with 10,000 views or followers. This is your sweet spot. Send a quick, clear and respectful message asking for a couple minutes of their time. Prepare your questions and have a real conversation.

Whether you’re an introvert or you get shifty about chatting up strangers, this is not the time to be shy.

Most people love to share their opinion and will happily give you 5–10 minutes of their time, if you’re clear about what and why you’re asking. Send a DM that’s brief and personalized, such as:

“Hi Dan, I love your feed — especially the yoga poses you share every Monday. I’m actually working on an app that would make it easier for fitness professionals to film instructional videos, and I’d love to know if this is something you would use. Could we chat for a few minutes next week?”

It’s that simple.

Not everyone will respond, but the people who do are probably interested in your idea and have some valuable feedback to share.

Remember that as you connect with this small network of influencers, you’re also creating potential marketing relationships that you can leverage when it’s time to launch.

Everyone wins — especially your future users. Oh, and if someone comments on any of your social media posts, pages or conversations, make sure to follow up promptly.



Direction to fuel your obsession

It’s amazing how much specific, useful information you can get from a combination of these activities — and most are entirely free.

But please don’t forget: confidence and commitment to your idea are paramount. Do your research, consider the feedback and keep moving forward. Everyone has an opinion, but nothing matters than your own drive.

Henry Ford may or may not have said it best — and even if he never uttered these famous words, they still pierce the heart of what it means to put on your blinders and run your own race:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”



 

7 UX Principles by a Service Designer by Gavin Lau

Being a service and UX designer is hard. Honestly, most of the time I’m not even sure what it is exactly that I am doing (Service design, or User experience), let alone using the proper term to specify my expertise. Is it SD, CX, UX, UI?

As design is making an uprise in many forms, the terminology associated with our work has exploded. Yes, the design process is a mess and since you’re constantly iterating throughout the process, it’s hard to tell your exact whereabouts. Lately, at Koos service design we’ve been getting our heads around this lovely little part of the process mostly referred to as UX. Koos is primarily a Service Design company, but our expertise follows our solutions, and thus often lead us into the digital landscape. Before we elaborate on our experience with UX let’s create some order by drawing lines in the sand. Acknowledging the risk of it being outdated as soon as this article is published, here is our current view on the industry.

The total design spectrum. Service design, Customer experience design, User Experience design and User Interface design.

The total design spectrum. Service design, Customer experience design, User Experience design and User Interface design.

Service Design is in its core holistic. It considers every touchpoint between a company and its user, regardless of it being analog or digital, and defines the service as a whole. This includes designing completely new service propositions, customer journeys or service blueprints. Following the circle inward, CX, UX and UI are more specific fields within the entire spectrum of designing a service.

Customer Experience, or CX, focuses mostly on the experience that customers will have with a certain service or brand, hence designing all interactions between the service provider and the customer.

Where CX is mostly designing interactions between customer and brand, UX (or User Experience) designs all interactions between a user and the specific touchpoint. UX design is mostly mentioned in the digital world, but in theory it is responsible for the entire experience across touchpoints (both digital and analog).

User Interface Design (or UI Design) looks into the pixel perfect designs of digital interfaces, it’s usability, conversion, look and feel, and more.

In many organisations, Service Design and Customer Experience are interchangeable, as are UX / UI. Although theoretically wrong, CX is mostly mentioned during the fuzzy-front-end of the design process and UX / UI is used when designing the actual touchpoints. Irrespective of right or wrong, we believe better service experiences are delivered when all expertises are combined with intent.

Our trials and tribulations in combining UX and Service Design has let us to create our own UX manifesto as a Service Design company. One we use as a guideline for all our UX projects. Available for everyone who wants to create meaningful service experiences effectively. Without further ado, here are 7 UX principles by a Service Designer.



1. Involve your user

Before we start creating our user experience, we need to know what experience we want to create. In fact, we need to know why we need to create this experience. In order to do that, we need to talk to our user.

Designing is a fuzzy process between intuition and data, between conversation and thought. Yes, your intuition as a designer helps you out every now and then, but an experienced designer knows that at the most unexpected moments his intuition fails. Therefore, we have an important rule; Empathy beats intuition. Seriously, have a conversation with your user. Try to step away from your own perspective and fall in love with ’m. Know their needs before you start designing stuff that nobody wants.

Combining Service- and UX design guarantees a process that beautifully combines the fuzziness and the concrete, perfectly balancing strategy and execution. Making sure you talk to your user, before the actual creation starts.



2. Begin with the end in mind

Before you start designing anything at all make sure you specify your goals. What is it you want to achieve, what is the single most important KPI (key performance indicator) of your service? What is the KPI of this specific page you are working on and how do you think these different KPI’s are going to contribute to the greater service experience?

First wireframe sketches indicating different buckets and their associated KPI’s.

First wireframe sketches indicating different buckets and their associated KPI’s.

Whenever we start a project this is the first thing we ask our clients. What is the most important result of this app and how can we measure its success. This will prevent making important decisions based on the sole opinion of the most senior person in the room. Having your KPI’s clear from the start will lead to valid discussions on your UX design and proper assessment of the end result.



3. Mand! (Basket!)

So you are about to start your UX project. Your user needs are crystal clear, you’ve got your proposition right and you’ve figured out tons of new ways to help your customer. As a creative agency, the hardest part is not including all these great ideas at once. We know… without a doubt, all of your new features are the exact same amount of amazingly awesome, but you’ve got to prioritise. People make decisions in a split second and it is your job as a designer to help them make the right one. The best way to do this is by cutting all the crap and focus on one job at a time. When designing a user experience at Koos we keep on challenging ourselves until we are sure we’ve reached the absolute core of the experience we want to enfold. A perfect illustration of the inner conversation you should be having during a design process is the following famous Dutch interview.

Here is a translation of the conversation between the reporter and the antiquarian for all you non-Dutchies.

‘This is a beautiful basket made by the firm Tiggelaar and was used on table as decoration and fruitbasket.’
This is way too long, it needs to be shorter.
Basket by Tiggelaar, made in Makkum.
Even shorter.
Basket by Tiggelaar.
Even shorter, short!
BASKET!

Always ask yourself can this be made shorter, simpler or can we just leave out this entire function. Mand!

Great examples; Google.comMedium/new-story



4. Consistency

So we know what we want to build, we know why (Since you had this great conversation with your user) and we make sure we are keeping it ‘Mand.’ It’s time to make some actual designs. The single most important rule in creating your UI is to be consistent.

People like clarity. Consistency throughout an interface will ensure that the least amount of brain effort is required when using your product. Shaping a smooth experience that due to recognition gets easier to use over time should always be your goal.

During the design process you are going to stumble upon a lot of problems that might tempt you to deviate from your standards. This is a high price to pay. Make sure this only happens when absolutely necessary. Deciding not to do stuff or levelling it down in order to be consistent is always the better choice.



5. Design with intent

Your service is just a small piece of the entire (digital) context your user lives in. There are over 9.000 constantly evolving digital services who are claiming your users brain, all together establishing the interface conventions we are used to today.

When creating your UX make sure you are aware which conventions fit your product. Use their power to easily lower the threshold of your product and increase the ease of adoption.

A current interface convention: bottom navigation

A current interface convention: bottom navigation

Being consistent might make your app very easy to use, but it also makes it very unmemorable. Hence, make sure you find some moments to throw away all conventions and be unique. Whatever it is your brand stands for, whatever story you want to tell. Choose some moments throughout the experience that fit and give it your everything. Make sure you choose these ‘delighting’ moments wisely though. Don’t reinvent the wheel on unimportant stuff. What is it that defines your brand, what distinguishes you from the rest? Make sure you choose your battles wisely. They can either be a frustrating or a delighting moment that will colour your experience. Be stubborn wisely, go crazy consciously.



6. Know where you are in the process

In your quest of creating stuff (design) it’s easy to get caught up in the details and lose overview. The importance of taking a breath and realising where you are in the design process is twofold.

First, reviewing a design asks for different conversations in different parts of the process. The graph below shows tools that can be used in each phase. Before asking for feedback of either a client or user it saves a lot of unnecessary discussions when the position in the design process is clear to all. When you’re still validating your concept it’s rather useless having detailled discussion about the colour of a button. Furthermore, it helps asking the right questions during user research. Starting with sketches and wireframes that facilitate interviews which bring out the expectation of a user. Followed by prototypes and designs that help find out whether users actually understand your concrete designs.

Source: UXmatters.com

Source: UXmatters.com

Second, as fidelity grows something else is too. It’s your resistance to change. Sunk cost fallacy and escalation of commitment both point out that the more time invested in an idea, the less likely you are willing to change. Make sure to be willing to change to use tools with low commitment at the first phases of your design process. Knowing where you are in the process helps having the right mindset and appropriate discussions on design.



7. Show some character

Following these steps you’ve set the foundation of your user experience. Now that everything is in place, it’s time to make the final step: Connect to your user. This can only be done in one way, by showing some character.

I can identify with a chimp that shares the stress of sending out an email to a couple of thousand people or a Harry Potter fan who works at Harvest that sneaked in a Dumbledore quote. Or the high-fiving forecasting developers after coming up with this awesome ‘type YOLO to confirm’ feature.

From left to right personal messages from Mailchimp, Forecast and Harvest

From left to right personal messages from Mailchimp, Forecast and Harvest

People have a hard time identifying with code, a device or lifeless designs. The user experience will lift off when a different part of the brain is addressed. This happens when your user realises she or he is not just looking at pixels, but that there’s actually a bunch of people behind this service trying to tell them a story.

Showing your character will turn dull moments into decisive ones that define your brand. So make sure the two match. Making your product more human and deepening the brand experience will make your service more enjoyable to use.

Adding extra pieces of copy, gifs or emoticons have very least technical impact of all features your marketeers can think of. In the end it’s just humans using your product looking for a human connection. Work from your brand, connect to your user.

 

 

Why hire more designers? by Gavin Lau

I hear questions like this from time to time. Sometimes there’s already a design team, and the question is when or whether to hire more. Another variation is from startup founders, who may plan to hire a few engineers first to get their products off the ground, but aren’t sure at which point to hire a dedicated designer.

Let’s start by understanding what designers are uniquely good at, which should shed light on whether bringing one or more designers onto the team is a good idea.

Designers make products easier and more pleasurable to use. This is generally pretty well-understood as one of the unique values that designers bring to a team, but it’s worth talking about here because if your product doesn’t compare well against similar products on the market when it comes to usability, or if you’re looking for a competitive advantage on that front, hiring more designers strengthens your position. And make no mistake, this can be a huge competitive advantage. Many a first-to-market product has been beaten with comparable functionality dressed up with a better user experience, for example smart phones existed before the iPhone, traditional taxis existed before car hailing services, etc.

Designers help you visualize your future vision. If you want to communicate what your product might do in a year or two’s time, you can either tell people through words, or tell them through visuals. This is the superpower of a designer — they can take abstract sentences and concepts like “we will revolutionize collaboration in the workplace” and show how it works, which as many a writing teacher or film director has taught, is way better and more powerful: Show, don’t tell. Furthermore, designers are generative — given specific people problems you’re trying to solve, they can brainstorm and create potential solutions and show how those solutions might work. As a result, if your team is only iterating on your product in incremental ways on three month sprints without a clear understanding of where you’d like to be in a year’s time, this is fertile ground for a designer to help change the equation. You need people to balance out short-term thinking, take a step back, and look further ahead to the bigger bets that could result in step-function gains and will require throwing away the assumptions/constraints of what you can build in a few weeks or months.

Designers help you think in terms of people’s experiences across the whole of your app or system, not just sub-components. Most companies tend to structure their product teams around individual features or product goals, which makes sense because you want one engineering team owning the code for each part the system — it’s tough to manage when four or five different teams all want to muck with the same code stack. However, this needs to be balanced with perspectives that are more holistic. Your users do not look at your product in terms of your individual orgs. They do not realize that a separate team owns the sign-up and NUX flow than owns the notifications feature. In their head, the product is one experience and it should work seamlessly from when they decide to give it their attention to when they put their device away. This holistic, user-centered view is where design (as well as research, analytics, marketing, communications, etc) plays a strong role. In most tech companies, design tends to operate more centrally than PM or engineering. This diversity and intentional push-pull creates better outcomes. Designers help can spot issues like:

  • When experiences become too complicated because everyone is inventing their own way to do something versus trying to find common patterns of interactions
  • When there are confusing gaps in the end-to-end experience of someone traversing multiple features.
  • When you’re too focused on a certain niche subset of users (like power users), and neglecting new potential customers who don’t yet understand your product as well.

A side note on “ratios”: As a tool, designer:developer ratios are pretty blunt. When zoomed way out at a large scale, it can be a reasonable sanity check how well the company aligns to software industry peers. e.g. “With these 2,000 engineers we have, about 300 designers puts us in the right range” (at a high-level, 7:1 is reasonable.) However, anyone adhering to a golden ratio without digging deeper is liable to miss the mark. When looking at each sub-team, a major factor is how much the team is focused on user facing products, and whether the work is largely expected to be iterative (variations within well established patterns) or innovative (new functionality without a basis to draw from). On teams I’ve managed, the ratio of designers:developers can vary as widely as 1:2 to 1:10. We have something similar to 1:2 on the team building design tools (where the designers are themselves quite technical, they need to have expertise in their “clients” which are other designers, and the products are largely new feature development.) We have lower ratios on teams that are backend-heavy, where huge swaths of engineers work on ranking and machine learning. As a rough rule of thumb, I look at how many front-end or UI-facing engineers are on the team, and then figure something like 1:3 or 1:4 designers to those engineers. Again, emphasis on the rough part. The right answer takes into account the problem to be solved, how much the designers code or don’t code, how design-minded the front-end engineers are, and additional factors like the skills and output volume of the existing team members.

A side note on the risk of having designers work alone: For higher design quality and productive, it helps to have more than one designer working together on a product. This may seem counter-intuitive, and defy the mythical man-month, but I’ve seen enough examples of 1 + 1 = 3 with designers to advocate strongly for it. Why? The reason is simple: designs rarely emerge fully formed. They rely on a process of iteration, with new inputs helping to support strong outputs. An important source of constructive input is critique from other designers. Designers working alone miss out on other people challenging them, pointing out ideas they might have missed, and collaboration so you get the strengths of multiple designers. Even without headcount constraints, we often prefer, instead of dedicating 1 designer 100% to a single project, resourcing 2 designers 50% to two projects. This will often yield higher quality work faster than a single designer working 100% and ensure that work on a team doesn’t grind to a halt if a designer happens to want to take vacation, or is out sick for a few days.

Despite being an advocate for design thinking and strong believer in the value that designers can bring to teams, I’d be providing bad advice if I simply told you to “hire more designers.” There are situations when a designer when would be a great addition, and situations when another designer isn’t what’s needed.

Think about how the above situations and unique capabilities of designers may apply to you, and if you do decide to grow the design team, I wish you the best of luck with hiring!


 

Anticipated Travel Experiences by Gavin Lau

Once arrived at the destination, users receive automatically directions to their accommodation

Once arrived at the destination, users receive automatically directions to their accommodation

The goal of the project was to remove stress during holidays by being one step ahead of users and by providing them relevant information just in time.

But first, let’s start with the context: holiday trips.

Holiday trips are always exciting and something to look forward to. However, the process of preparing, traveling and arranging stuff is often perceived as stressful.

Together with Coen van Hasselt, we ideated on a predictive travel experience that would reduce the amount of stress travelers perceive along their journey. Take airports for example. They’re like mazes where a lot of decision-making is involved.

Our goal: be one step ahead of our travelers by providing needed information just in time.

This project to me was a first experiment to ideate on predictive user experiences & anticipatory design patterns. Besides explaining the concept, I’ve also included my observations and reflections.



Anticipatory Design within Travel

The premise behind Anticipatory Design is to reduce stress by making decisions on behalf of the user. The decisions we’re making are basically only related to way finding. The TravelBird Highlight Cards give directions, exactly when our travelers need them.

This way, travelers can look forward to their upcoming trip without having to stress about which luggage band, gate or direction they have to go. The Highlight Cards got their back.

 

Feedback = Trust

Holiday trips should be experiences of joy. Many travelers fear disappointment. Disappointments regarding hotels, facilities, service or transport. We’ve tapped into this need by introducing a continuous feedback loop that asks feedback, just in time, at every step in the journey.

Think of travelers who are able to feedback about their hotel after they have checked-in at their hotel. This gives them the feeling that they are in control and able to voice their opinion.

Having the opportunity to feedback builds trust and allows us to follow-up pro-actively when travelers are not satisfied with provided services or facilities.

Users are able to rate and give feedback once they’ve arrived at their accommodation.

Users are able to rate and give feedback once they’ve arrived at their accommodation.



Design Process

We followed the following process to map needs and pain points, to create a first predictive user experience.

  1. First, we mapped the journey of our travelers and investigated what pains, gains and tasks they had during a trip.
  2. Pains, gains and tasks we’ve found formed a backlog for possible states we needed to anticipate on.
  3. We’ve designed an experience map to make the journey visible within our office, including emotional states.
  4. Based on the evidence-based experience map, scenarios were crafted/defined covering all pain points along the journey at which travellers had much decisions to take or at which there was much uncertainty.
  5. These scenarios resulted in timelines with specific states.
  6. Because this design sprint was about testing the concept of anticipatory design, we came up with a rule-based algorithm.
  7. Prototyping: we made mid-fidelity prototypes to test on user groups.
  8. User testing: we tested several states in short user test cycles.
  9. Design & development of concept.

The ‘Highlight Cards’ were a first opportunity to ideate on predictive user experiences within travel. This service is already live and I love to hear what your thoughts are about the concept!



Learnings & Reflections

This project was very insightful and made me reflect about Anticipatory Design & predictive UX in general. About its possible impact and scalability. A few points keep returning in discussions:

  1. The importance of algorithms to be more empathic and able to identify meaning behind actions (relevant because of understandability).
  2. People want to know why you recommend a certain action or event (this is currently a UI-challenge for us).
  3. Too much reliability on anticipated and predictive services: we are distilling knowledge into algorithms so tech can guide us with tasks. With this approach we remove ourselves further and further away from understanding what and WHY we do things.
  4. Personality is key for smart AI’s. For us to get meaningful data, people need to use services like Siri so we learn from there queries. The engagement with these smart operating systems is crucial. Therefore, I think we should add more personality to these AI’s so that people can relate more to them.
  5. There’s a need and urge to re-imagine ML methods because of current levels of serendipity.
  6. Design challenge: how to design for a multi-user automated experience? And how do we decide who’s higher in rank?

 

 

The Power of Experience Mapping by Gavin Lau

Somewhere in the depths of Netflix, there’s a team whose primary responsibility is to make sure the bits move quickly. As Netflix serves its customers by streaming video, they ensure that video data leaves the server in a prompt and efficient manner.

This team is all about the performance of the servers and the networks. They talk in terms of bandwidth, throughput, latency, reliability, and efficiency. They are comfortably deep in the weeds of how all the data moves.

The members of this team are performance engineers. They are architecting, engineering, and maintaining the performance of a very complex system. It occupies all their time and then some. In systems engineering, there are few jobs more technical than these.

And yet, at the very moment that a Netflix viewer’s video stream stops and that spinning animation appears, indicating the player is now awaiting more data, these engineers make a dramatic change. They become user experience designers.

They made decisions about the system. Those decisions affected the bandwidth, throughput, latency, and reliability. Those decisions had a dramatic affect on that viewer’s user experience. They didn’t think of themselves as UX designers, and I’m betting no one else in the organization did either, yet, here they are, affecting the UX in a dramatic way.

When someone influences the experience of the user, they, in that moment, become a user experience designer. Their influence may not be positive. Their knowledge of UX design principles may be small, even non-existent. Yet, because they affect the experience of the user, they are a designer, albeit an unofficial one.



Unofficial Designers Are Essential For Most Organizations

Design is hard to define. We know it when we see it. (We certainly know poor design when we experience it.) Yet, describing it has been elusive.

Years ago, I stumbled upon a definition I’ve become quite fond of:

Design is the rendering of intent.

A designer has an intention to change the world in some way. Maybe they intend to help people be more productive, more delighted, more comfortable, or better entertained. When they are designing, they are making their intention real in the world. They render their intent.

Netflix’s performance engineers have a strong intent. Their goal is to ensure the viewer’s watching experience is never interrupted because the network and servers can’t keep up with the video. Every decision they make is to render that intention in their viewer’s world.

Performance engineers aren’t the only folks whose decisions influence the experience of the users. When product managers decide on features or when database developers decide on the data model, they are making decisions that affect how the design will work. Make the right decision and the design will work well for the users. Make a different decision and the design may feel clumsy and frustrating.

While organizations may have a team of designated designers, that doesn’t prevent all these other people from making design decisions. Under the guise of maintaining control, some organizations make a concerted effort to wrestle the design decisions out of the hands of these unofficial designers.

Yet, for most organizations, there are too many decisions and there are too few official designers. They can’t make every decision about performance, functionality, or database modeling. In the end, the official designers need the unofficial designers to make good design decisions on their own.



The Convolution Of Reward Systems

What seems to frustrate the official designers most is when those unofficial designers are making poor design decisions. Because the unofficial designers don’t know the ways of good design — for example, they don’t necessarily know to put the user first — the odds they’ll make the right decisions are slim.

To make things worse, the cadre of unofficial designers are often rewarded for something other than making the user happy. They are rewarded for achieving business goals, such as shipping on time, reducing costs, or for providing a list of competitive advantages.

Those amiable goals can conflict with a great user experience. Sometimes it takes longer to develop a great user experience, because you have to spend the time researching and learning what the users need. It can cost more to do all that research and iteration, instead of building the first thing to come to mind. And more features often increase the complexity of the product, thus diminishing its value to the user and raising support costs.

These unofficial designers fall into the trap that every designer falls into: they fall in love with the idea they’ve come up with. A product manager may fall in love with their idea for a new feature, because it seems cool and shiny. Not because it solves any problems the users have.

Great designers don’t fall in love with their solutions.
Great designers fall in love with the users’ problems.

Usually, it’s not ego that drives them to falling in love with their ideas. It’s that they have little-to-no exposure to the problems the users have. Without exposure to users, they have no way of validating their idea. Without the data from any sort of validation, all that’s left is opinion. And there’s no way to sway an opinion in the absence of data.

The reward systems make this more convoluted. In many organizations, delivering features is rewarded more than solving customer problems. Product managers, like everyone else, naturally gravitate to what they’re rewarded for.

This means those people who set the organization’s reward systems are also influencing the design. They’ve rendered their intention on the organization, making decisions that affect the outcome of the design.

The only way we’ll get better decisions from the unofficial designers is to work to create a reward system that puts solving the customers’ problems first. And to do that, we need to bring the organization as a whole up to speed on what the customers’ problems are.



Experience Maps Help With Understanding The Problem

Since the earliest times, humankind has used maps to communicate. Maps show where we are and where we want to be. They communicate the relationships between the elements they contain.

 

In design, we map experiences. These maps take different forms. Customer journey mapsshow how our users progress through our design, often highlighting the frustrating moments alongside the delightful ones. Service blueprints describe how the organization interfaces with the customer, often revealing the invisible steps that happen for every action a customer takes. Empathy maps explore what our customers see, think, say, and feel, as they interact with our designs. And system relationship maps describe how the underlying parts of the system interact with each other to produce the users’ total experience.

It’s with maps like these that we explore the users’ problems with the unofficial designers and their reward-setting stakeholders. We can show where our customers are receiving less-than-intended quality, where our designs create frustration, and how those issues change the way people interact with our designs. We can show when customers call support (thus driving up costs), users avoid features (thus reducing value), or potential customers turn away (thus lowering sales).

Looking at someone else’s map can work. However, we’ve found a more effective approach is to have these unofficial designers and reward-setting stakeholders participate in making the maps themselves.



Map Making is Powerful

When we involve these essential influencers in the process of collecting the data and representing it on the map, they are more likely to “get it.” They see where the customer pain is coming from. They see how the decisions they’ve made have created the outcomes we’ve gotten.

It’s that act of putting pen to paper that is most powerful. To be the one who draws the point where users are frustrated makes them want to draw it elsewhere. And the way they draw it elsewhere is to change how they make decisions.

It’s simple, really. Many times we’ve seen tremendous change by just asking the highest paid stakeholder in the room to draw what we’ve learned from our research. They come away from that mapmaking experience with a strong motivation to change the map going forward.

For the first time, those unofficial designers and their reward-setting stakeholders are seeing how their decisions turn out. The stakeholders see how the rewards are pushing the organization in the wrong direction. Shared knowledge emerges and a common sense of the customers’ problems drives future thinking.

All because we gathered everyone together to make a simple map.


 

FAQ: Do UX Designers Need to Know Programming and Computer Science? by Gavin Lau

The question if UI/UX designers should know how to code is one of the «eternal» discussions in the design sphere. The more diverse UX design becomes in its evolution, the more opinions arise. Having answered several questions of this sort on Quora recently, we would like to share our ideas with our readers here as well.


What is the difference between a UI/UX designer and a programmer?

UI and UX design present different aspects of creative flow for digital products. Basically, UI design aims at creating effective and attractive user interface while UX design aims at providing the positive user experience. Interaction with a product via the user interface is a part of user experience, so UX design as a creative field is broader and includes UI design as its integral part.

Work on information architecture for a website UX

Work on information architecture for a website UX

Working on the UX and UI for a digital product such as a website or mobile app, designers have to concentrate on such core aspects as:

  • usability (the product is convenient, clear, logical and easy to use)
  • utility (the product provides useful content and solves users’ problems)
  • accessibility (the product is convenient for different categories of users)
  • desirability (the product is attractive and problem-solving, it retains users and creates the positive experience which they are ready to repeat).
UI design of some screens for Home Budget App

UI design of some screens for Home Budget App

Programmers or developers are people who actually build the website or mobile application planned and designed by UI/UX designers. They breathe life into the plan, with the code they create the live product which users can actually apply to solve their problems and satisfy wishes. Programmers transform the structure and visual performance, thought out and created by designers, into the real interface.

What interfaces look like from a programmer’s point of view

What interfaces look like from a programmer’s point of view

Therefore, to see the difference, we can apply the metaphor of an actual construction site:

UX designers are architects who come up with the general concept, its structure and the flow of interactions as well as a variety of factors which influence positive or negative user experience (in case of real building it could include transportation, quality of air, availability of shops and entertaining points, educations and sport facilities, neighbors etc.).

UI designers are architectural visualizers who find the best solutions for visual performance of the object corresponding to the style, the environment, user’s expectations and aesthetic needs based on the already agreed architecture, structure and core factors of interaction.

Programmers are actual builders who create the final object in reality. As well as on the building site, they have various specializations: some are good in creating the foundation, others know how to realize visual features made by designers, and some of them work out effective interaction with this object in particular environments and for new requirements which can arise later.



Do UI/UX designers need to know computer science and programming to create top-quality user-friendly designs?

This is the question in which the terms should be clearly defined.


Computer science

Computer science in its traditional understanding is the broad comprehensive study including theory and practices for making and using the computers (now it can also go further to other kinds of digital devices and gadgets). It is often characterized as the scientific and practical approach to computation as well as study, exploration, and automation of diverse operations with data. Therefore, the person with a major in computer studies is usually a specialist in the theory of computation and design of this sort of systems and hardware.

In this perspective, yes, knowledge of computer studies is a great basis for creating problem-solving and user-friendly interfaces. UI/UX designers are professionals dealing with much more than just the looks of a website or an app: they think over the logic, transitions, usability, accessibility, emotional and aesthetic appeal, data presentation and lots of other things forming the whole user experience. Whatever is the way to get this knowledge — higher education, courses, apprenticeship, self-education etc. — it underlies the necessary basis of knowledge which allows a designer to understand human-computer interaction for appropriate and effective design solutions. So, the knowledge on computer science important factor of being a competent designer of modern user interfaces.

 

Programming

As for the programming, the situation is different. There are, basically, two camps of extreme positions. One side claims that programming/coding is the absolutely vital thing to know and you cannot provide really efficient UI/UX without knowing how to code. The other side believes that the knowledge of programming kills the creativity in design as in this case designer is limited with the rules, standards and restrictions of development. Both positions are supported by numerous articles and discussions and both somehow make sense if you think about the issue in the perspective of real design projects.

On the basis of our team experience, it’s easy to state confidently: you definitely CAN be a competent and successful UI/UX designer for mobile and web with no background or major in programming.

Basically, the task for a UI/UX designer is to analyze the target audience and their needs, to make a research, to create an efficient layout and well thought-out system of transitions, to wrap it in an attractive but highly usable and clear visual design and to test the solutions. UI/UX designer is not a developer: they work on the same product but from different sides, as well as, for example, a writer, an editor and a publisher work differently on the same book. However, it is obviously pleasant for developers if a UI/UX designer is able to produce designs which consider at least the basic limitations and points of programming and coding.

You can find a great bunch of successful experts in app and web design who have never had anything in common with the sphere of coding and development and provided great design solutions with a very high level of usability. Nevertheless, in the case of high-level specialists, it’s impossible to say that they are totally out of the issue. Designers, who are keen to create viable product designs, usually tend to get acknowledged with the general understanding of development basics. That really supports the designer in providing effective design as possible, considering all the stages of its creation and implementation. However, it doesn’t mean that without this sort of knowledge it’s impossible to create good designs. Moreover, if designers work in a team with developers, they can create designs without knowing coding even easier as they are supported by developers who control the process in the perspective of coding.

Happy medium should be found in this issue without any extreme positions. If designers tear themselves too far away from development reality, they risk losing viability of their designs and could end up having a great deal of amazing and terrific concepts none of which will be implemented in real products. On the other hand, if designers concentrate too much on limitations of coding, they risk becoming unable to think out of the box and provide original design ideas. Keeping the wise balance provides the harmony.

So, to sum up,

a person can become a successful UI/UX designer not knowing programming and development; however, this kind of knowledge can be supportive if used wisely.

Working on interfaces created from the first line of design to the real digital product, like Upper App and Toonie Alarm, we find thoughtful and organized teamwork the most effective workflow: UI/UX designers, developers, content and branding specialists have to be involved into the creative process from the very beginning and combine their strongest sides into one product. The wise delegation of tasks works more quickly and effectively than the attempts of one person to explore and cover everything. And this sort of teamwork lets designers and developers share their knowledge and understand each other’s decisions for the sake of good outcome solving users’ problems.

Lean and Mean: Power of Minimalism in UI Design. by Gavin Lau

Simple doesn’t mean primitive. Less isn’t vague. Short doesn’t say little. Air doesn’t equal emptiness. Today we are talking about minimalism.

In the book «The More of Less», Joshua Becker said:

«You don’t need more space. You need less stuff.»

Minimalism is often discussed nowadays in different spheres of life and work, and diverse directions of design are not the exception. Let’s see what are its benefits and points to consider.

 

What is minimalism?

Actually, minimalism is a word of broad meaning used in various spheres of human activity. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as «a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity». Being applied to more and more fields, it saves its core traits: meaningful and simple.

Minimalism as a direction of visual design got especially popular in the 1960s in New York when new and older artists moved toward geometric abstraction in painting and sculpture. The movement found its impression in the artworks associated with Bauhaus, De Stijl, Constructivism and so on. In diverse spheres of visual arts, key principle of minimalism was leaving only essential part of features to focus the recipient’s attention as well as support general elegance. Lines, shapes, dots, colors, spare space, composition — everything should serve its function being thoughtfully organized. Today we can meet minimalism in a variety of life spheres: architecture, arts, photography, all kinds of design, literature, music and even food presentation.

«A shape, a volume, a color, a surface is something itself. It shouldn’t be concealed as part of a fairly different whole. The shapes and materials shouldn’t be altered by their context», said Donald Judd, an American artist associated with minimalism. Working in this style, designers seek to make the interfaces simple but not empty, stylish but not overloaded. They tend to use negative space, bold color and font combinations, and multifunctional details making the simplicity elegant. The line dividing simple and primitive is very thin. That is why not all the designers take the risk of trying this direction: some may think it looks too decent, the others don’t find enough ways to show much with fewer elements.

 

Characteristics of minimalism

Main features of minimalism often mentioned by designers include:

  • Simplicity
  • Clarity
  • Expressive visual hierarchy
  • High attention to proportions and composition
  • Functionality of every element
  • Big amount of spare space
  • High attention ratio to core details
  • Typography as a significant design element
  • Eliminating non-functional decorative elements

Surely, the list can be continued but even the given positions show that minimalism in UI sounds like user-friendly trend. Applied wisely, it helps users to see the core elements of the interface and makes user journey intuitive and purposeful. Moreover, minimalist interfaces usually look sophisticated and uncluttered bringing aesthetic satisfaction as one of the core factors of desirability in UX.

 

Practices of minimalism in digital design

Today minimalism is one of the wide-spread trends in the design of websites and mobile applications. Main points to consider can be described with the following practices.


Flat design

As we mentioned in one of our previous articles, flat design became a great supporter of minimalism in modern digital products. The most prominent feature of this direction is applying flat 2-dimensional visual details as the opposite to highly realistic and detailed skeuomorphic images. Flat images usually use fewer elements and curves, avoid highlights, shadows, gradients, or textures. This approach allows creating images, buttons, icons and illustrations which look neat in different resolutions and sizes. It lets designers enhance usability and visual harmony of user interfaces.

However, the terms «flat» and «minimalist» shouldn’t replace each other which often happens today. They are not the same. «Flat» deals with the style of icons, illustration, buttons and other visual elements of the interface in the aspect of gradients, textures, shadows etc. «Minimalist» has much broader meaning and deals with the layout in general, its composition, color palette, contrast and all the techniques of visual performance applied to it. So, flat can be described as one of the design techniques applied in the minimalist approach to creating interfaces.

 

Monochrome or limited color palette

Color is a feature of a great potential in design of interfaces as it can set both informative and emotional links between the product and the user. Designers working in minimalism tend to take the maximum from color choices, and in most cases, they limit color palette to monochrome or minimal set of colors. This strengthens the chosen colors and doesn’t distract users with too much variety. Such an approach is efficient in interfaces concentrating users’ attention on particular actions like buying, subscribing, donating, starting to use etc. Moreover, in the psychological perspective, the colors usually transfer particular associations and emotions perceived by users, so limited palette makes chosen colors stronger in this aspect.

 

Bold and expressive typography

Typography in minimalistic design is seen as one of the core visual elements of not only informing users about the content but also setting the style and enhancing visual performance. Choosing the way of concise use for graphics, designers usually pay much attention to the choice of typography and never hurry in testing the pairs, sizesand combinations. As well as color, fonts and typefaces are seen as a strong graphic element contributing into general elegance and the emotional message it sends. On the other hand, readability and legibility do not lose their leading positions in the matter of choice.

 

Choice limitation

One of the strong sides of minimalism in interfaces is enhanced user concentration. Being focused on functionality and simplicity, the pages and screens of this kind don’t usually overload users attention with decorative elements, shades, colors, details, motion, so in this way, they support high attention ratio and often let users quickly solve their problems and navigate through the website or app.

 

Prominent theme visual elements

Working on minimalist UI, designers do not apply many images, but those which are chosen to be used are really prominent, catchy and informative. This approach results in the long and thorough search of the «right» image which would cover all those functions and set the required mood instantly. The photo or illustration itself has to follow the principles of minimalism, otherwise, the choice of the wrong image can ruin all the layout integrity.

 

Concise and intuitive navigation

Navigation in minimalist interfaces presents another challenge: designers have to prioritize the elements rigorously in order to show only the elements of the highest importance. There are different techniques to hide the part of navigation, but doing this, it’s vital to ensure that users will find what they need easily. That is one of the reasons why minimalist approach can be criticized: not being presented properly and tested enough, solutions like hamburger menus and hidden layout elements can leave some users lost in the journey around the website. Obviously, it is not the good ground for positive user experience, therefore every solution about navigation should follow the philosophy «measure thrice and cut once».



Adding air and using negative space

White space (also called negative) in digital design is the term which is more about space rather than color. In minimalism, it is one more effective way of adding elegance and marking out the core elements. Also, in terms of monochromatic or limited color palette, white or negative space plays the big role in creating enough contrast and supporting legibility.

 

Grids

Grid system in minimalist interfaces can be effective for making the layout look highly-organized, especially if the website presents a lot of homogenous content. Another benefit is that grids are responsive-friendly.

 

Contrast

Following the philosophy of limits and simplicity, minimalism depends much on contrast as a tool of good visual performance. The choice of colors, shapes and placement are often based on the contrast as the key feature.

 

Well, it’s easy to see that minimalism has a great number of benefits and presents a good approach in creating user-friendly interfaces. However, it doesn’t mean that minimalism should be applied everywhere: every goal should be achieved by the proper means. One thing is for sure: the more minimalistic is the interface, the more time and effort the designer should invest to make it clear and functional. Elegance and beauty of minimalism should support the global aim of providing positive user experience.