UX Design

Ahead of his upcoming talk at the next StartupQ8 event, we sat down for a quick chat with Haider Al-Mosawi on his favorite subject (and one of ours): How to design successful and engaging apps from a user experience perspective. Haider is taking suggestions for User Experience walkthroughs, so if you have a favorite app you want him to discuss, please let us know in the comments (or via Twitter).

For those uninitiated, can you explain User Experience (UX) design, and how it differs from User Interface (UI) design?
Sure. UX design isn’t about building a product, but serving the user (through a product). The focus is always on the user: what the user needs, wants, and expects. It involves understanding the users you’re building the product for, their thoughts and feelings, so that your product can be beneficial and beautiful to them, leading to a positive experience.
Good design exceeds user expectations, and leads to continued use of the product, as well as free publicity, because your users feel compelled to share their experience with others. Bad design leads to abandoned products and negative publicity, especially when users feel frustrated by a product when it doesn’t do what they want and expect it to do.
In my opinion, UX design should also take company policy and communication channels into consideration. If a product is a joy to use but the company that offers it doesn’t answer the phone or is rude when handling complaints, it will compromise the experience you have with that company and its product.
UI design focuses on what the screens of an app look like and how easy/enjoyable they are to use. UI design is a piece of a much bigger pie.
Mmm… pie.
What have been the common themes and trends in good UX design recently?
Good UX design is founded on a sound understanding of human psychology. I would say that the most important principle of good design is simplicity. The importance of simplicity pops up throughout the ages because designers can get caught up with visual beauty, and forget the purpose their products aim to serve. Actually, it’s not only designers that are guilty of abandoning simplicity. Scientists, educators, and regular folk can unnecessarily complicate their work and lives by considering too many variables at the same time without working on essentials and building on those.
An interesting field that’s gaining more attention recently is model thinking: how can we reduce the complexity of life into simpler models that are easier for the human mind to digest and use?
Charles Munger, a hugely successful business investor – and Warren Buffett’s partner – attributes his success to a collection of mental models he uses for all his decision-making. Investing involves too many variables for the human mind to juggle at the same time, but models simplify the complexity so that what we know becomes a lot easier to apply.
In design, the most recent expressions of simplicity can be seen in minimalist design, as well as flat design. Minimalism gets rid of visual clutter, whereas flat design removes the design elements that try to mimic real-world, physical objects. Both lead to simpler interfaces that are often easier to use.
Apple products represent minimalist design, and the new iOS7 mobile operating system is an example of flat design, where interaction elements don’t have shadows, and buttons aren’t embossed.
What products do you think owe their success to good UX design, and not necessarily solving a unique customer problem?
Solving a unique customer problem is actually part of good UX design. Creating a product that looks great and is easy to use, but doesn’t do anything particularly useful won’t leave users with a positive experience. There’s no reason compelling them to continue using the product or to tell others about it.
The first consideration I have when speaking to app developers is whether the idea for the app is compelling enough for users to use. There’s usually a better idea just around the corner of what the developer was looking to build that tackles a more pressing problem that users might be looking to solve.
The problem with solving a unique customer problem is that your product won’t be unique for long. Users can generally tolerate poor design if it gets the job done. They will feel the frustration, but accept it as part of the experience (and the cruelty of life). Until a better product comes along, and the rewards for switching outweigh the costs of sticking around.
So I would say that products that badly solve a painful problem might experience temporary success, but it won’t last for long. Bad UX design makes you vulnerable to competition.
What are the most common pitfalls you see people make when it comes to UX design?
There are 3 major pitfalls I see aspiring entrepreneurs and hopeful developers falling into all the time:
1) Thinking about the product, not the user: This is the easiest and most common mistake to make. Entrepreneurs tend to obsess over the idea they have, and techies obsess over the technology they’ll use and how to code the required features. But this can translate to overlooked user needs, which leads to an app that’s confusing or frustrating to use. It’s extremely easy to overlook this problem if you’re not a user of your product or you’re so familiar with the product that it’s obvious to you what it does and how it works. You should look at your product from your user’s point of view, and make design decisions from that perspective.
2) Cluttering features: In many, many cases less is truly more. Adding features can make your product a lot more difficult to use and navigate through. Simplicity is a better target than comprehensiveness. Aim to serve one type of user or a very limited set of users. Trying to serve a broad range of users, each with their own unique requirements, will mean that you’re annoying everybody and serving nobody.
3) Involving a UX designer at a late stage of product development, or after launching: Change is a lot cheaper when it’s on paper than after production. Besides, you have to confront an obstacle course of psychological barriers when it comes to changing a product you’ve been working on for months. Feelings of exhaustion, attachment, defensiveness, irritability (to name just a few) will prevent you from approving changes or admitting that your product isn’t good enough for the market. A UX designer helps simplify the development process, the design of the end product, and the decision-making along the way, making the overall experience more enjoyable for the entrepreneur or startup team, and the users being served by them.
Remember: Hadier can offer feedback on your app as well! Just let us know in the comments or via Twitter.
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