To help you ensure your product is as great as it can be here is our list of some of the design fails that we’ve seen over the years and how to avoid them. Most come under the product manager's and CEO's domain, but some fall under the remit of the UX designer. Because there’s no doubt about it, building a great product certainly isn’t easy and it can often feel like there’s at least a thousand things that can go wrong.
Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.
Not Screaming About Your Advantage
You know why your product is so much better than the competition's, but, unless you tell them, new users have no idea. During your users' first try, you have a very limited amount of time in which to convince them that they are going to love your product. Don't expect them to patiently invest time in discovering its hidden charms. It has to be obvious and it has to be immediate.
A few years ago we were working on an innovative 3D home design app and we were certain that it was brilliant. Unfortunately, to our new users, it appeared to be just another app in its category. The “wow” moment that we so desperately needed came only after the user spent a few minutes(!) designing a room with the app. No need to say that tremendous amount of people gave up way before that. To solve this problem, we created a few amazing designs ourselves and put them right on the app’s home screen. Now the user was only 2 taps away from seeing the product’s true capabilities. Which, we hoped, made her say "Wow, I can't believe what you can do that with this app!"
Blocking New Users Until They Sign Up
You are probably familiar with the following situation. You install a seemingly interesting app you found in the AppStore, you launch it for the first time, a brilliant splash screen fills your phone and then maybe another screen welcoming you to the app. And that's it. Now you’re required to sign up. You look at the screen and ask yourself "Why? I don't even know if I like it or not? Erm, no!".
If you’re anything like us then this is where you give up and uninstall the app.
There are products for which late signup is not an option, such as messaging apps. However, if you do not absolutely have to require sign up, ask for it later. Give your users time to get to know your product, and enjoy it. Only then ask for a signup. Now they know what they’re signing up to.
Trying To Reinvent the UX Wheel
It's fun to invent new ways of interaction, in fact, some products use special UX elements at their core to ensure they’re memorable and differ from the competition. Flipboard is a good example. The unique flipping animation is way beyond user experience. Instead it is branding. Now try to imagine a local bus company's app or a website for getting a doctor's appointment with a unique experience that needs to be learned. In cases, where the unique solution is not the core of the product or it is irrelevant to the category, such an element can have a negative effect on the overall experience.
Borrowing “Cool” Elements From Other Products
Sometimes clients come to us with a brilliant example of user experience that they have come across in another company’s product. We love this or that and we want it in our product too. We are of course happy to analyze the example and attempt to understand its value in relation to the project. And as valuable as it might be to the example product it is unfortunately, more often than not, irrelevant for the product we are building. In order to bring in a solution from another product, it has to have an actual benefit to what we are building. Otherwise, we are just creating a meaningless pattern that can confuse users instead of adding to their experience.
Using New Jingoistic Words That No One Understands
We all know what download, share, edit, submit, password, profile, update, etc. etc. mean But unfortunately, in order to be unique, some new products try to invent their own language. If you have actions in your product that are very different from anything that’s already out there , then great, by all means find a new word for it. But, choose carefully and be sure to test it out with users.
It's hard to come up with a new word for an unfamiliar action that people will easily understand. For familiar actions, just use the word that everyone understands. Otherwise you’ll end up with users scratching their heads and asking "What the heck does that mean?"
Giving the User Too Many Decisions
Giving people the freedom to make their own decisions might sound like it’s a wonderful gift, however, people don't really like making too many decisions. Think about all of those things that you are postponing right now. Some of them you are probably avoiding doing because they involve making an uncomfortable decision. This is at the heart of procrastination. A good example of this happens every time I open a video file on my Android phone. I tap the thumbnail and a dialogue appears asking me to decide which player I want to use. Why ask? I don't want to decide that. I don't really want to decide anything, I just want to see the video! When designing your product you should think carefully and make all the decisions you can for your users, therefore providing them with a smooth, decision free path to their goal.
If you want to find out more about this I suggest reading The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less? by Barry Schwartz. An enlightening book on this very subject. You can also watch his TED talk, it’s sort of the TL;DR of the book.
Defocusing the Product
Let's take mobile apps, the convention is that each app has one main function. It might be able to do other things as well, but that one thing is its real strength. It is easy to explain in a sentence what Instagram, Google Maps or Amazon apps can do. Sure, they have secondary features, but they are designed for that one main thing.
Now, can you say the same about your product?
You know that you have a problem when, while explaining what your product does, you find yourself saying: Mainly it does this, but it can also do this and that... The examples are mobile apps, but the same is true of any product, it doesn't matter on which platform it’s being used.
Taking Yourself as the Example User
This is a widespread disease. People walk around the office with their phone, tablet or laptop, playing with the product and making decisions based on how they think the user experiences it. You shouldn’t do that. At this point you can’t put yourself in the user's shoes anymore because you know your product better than anyone else. You are explaining it to people over and over, you know how every feature works, and what the product’s technical limitations are. Your users don't. The only thing they know is what they see. Nothing else and you can't go back to that point anymore.
Since none of your users is exactly like you, you need to learn how they experience your product and don’t make assumptions based on yourself. The best way to do it, of course, is user testing. Sit down with several of your users and watch first hand how they use your product.
Steve Krug (the author of “Don’t make me think”) wrote a fantastic book about how to run quick usability tests on a sensible budget, called “Rocket surgery made easy”. I would definitely recommend reading it.
Designing As If Your Product Is the Most Important In the User's Life
For you your product might be the world, but for your users it's just one out of many they give a chance this week. They are not going to be forgiving. They will give it one chance to prove its worth and that’s about it. This means that from the usability perspective, the only outcome that you can aim for is ridiculously obvious. Anything more complicated might pull the user towards the dreaded back button (or uninstall, or whatever is your arch enemy). The point is this: while you are willing to muddle through in order to use your product, your users won’t.
Not Listening To Your Users
Both current users and people you bring in for user testing will tell you what they think about the product. The listening here has to be deeper than just noticing what they struggle with. Compare the information you gather with both your vision and the current state of the product. There is a good chance you will realize that the way you envision how your product will be used is not even close to how people actually use it. Even the target audience can be completely different than what you planned for. So instead of fighting this and making changes to the product to force through your vision, change the vision to suit what people want. Don't stick to ideas just because you fell in love with them. Everything should be open to change and your users will tell you in what way. I really recommend watching “What can we learn from shortcuts?” by Tom Hulme. It’s a great TED talk about the ways people telling us how they experience what we build for them.