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Navigating The Difficulties Of Producing User Interfaces That Require Learning And Patience

Profile image for Matt Freeman

Creating interfaces that deliver an exceptional user experience is no simple task. It's an awful lot more than drawing some boxes and colouring in. The fact of the matter is, any aspects of moving forward with design should be backed up by scientific analysis and modelling before they're implemented.

Creating an interface can take time for the user to learn. Couple this with guiding the user through that process without them losing interest and you're left with one of the most challenging briefs a UX designer can face.

So how can we navigate this issue? 

In the world we live in today, technology does an awful lot for us.

Everything's made that little bit easier; everything's that little bit better; and unless you're paying for broadband from BT, it tends to be instantly available as well.

This convenience has been bestowed onto us by the wonders of technology. Technology that has made it's way to holding an essential role in our daily lives.

This is especially true when it comes to using websites and apps on our precious devices.

When it comes to building user interfaces, we should always try to create solutions that are as intuitive as feasibly possible. But what happens when an interface needs to communicate a message to manage expectation.

 

Users CAN learn new interfaces 

People learn stuff. We're generally pretty good at it. No matter how often your children tell you otherwise following their gruelling six-hour day at school, we love to learn. 

We foster an innate human curiosity that is massaged whenever we broaden and develop our knowledge. 

Using technology is no different. The discovery of yet another gadget, gizmo, or application promising to make our lives easier, more efficient, and more fun is incredibly rewarding.

It's also why new apps and product offerings experience such lavish success. 

 

We install apps to explore and discover new experiences, we keep them because we value the experience they provide.

~ Me, passing off my own thoughts as great knowledge and wisdom

 

So if learning within interfaces is bad, but often necessary, how can we manage this? 

Personally, I feel like the word 'bad' would be a gross overstatement, but you should only use it when you genuinely require it. 

Generally, we expect our digital interactions to be simplistic and efficient.

It's a far cry from the non-digital world where tardiness and inefficiency are expected in so many aspects of life. 

Take queuing at the post office. Inefficiency at the post office is generally common, and in most cases, accepted. We might queue for 5 minutes, possibly even for 10 minutes. All the same,  we tolerate it, because this is what we've come to expect based on previous experiences. 

Would we wait the same amount of time for a web page to load so we can track a package on the Royal Mail website? Absolutely not. 

One in three people would and do, give up after waiting for a mere three seconds. 

This impatience with, and refusal to accept inefficiency within digital solutions is a byproduct of our sensationalised views of how technology should perform.

 

A learned behaviour is developed as a result of experience.

~ Me, presenting further granules of wisdom that will improve your life immeasurably

 

New apps, new interfaces 

Upon learning something and understanding how to go about using it, we expect the process of using it to be slicker and less taxing. We now, of course, know what we're doing.

Technology is strange in the sense that we often need to re-learn things as they progress and evolve through an endless slew of hardware and software updates. 

What does this mean for users when confronted with the prospect of re-learning an interface once familiar to them?

What does it mean for users having to learn from scratch?

onboarding

When welcoming a new user, there is generally an education process to teach the user what exactly your application or service does and how it actually does it.

This education process is referred to as onboarding.

In some cases, onboarding occurs once at the start of things as part of the initial setup.

It may also occur in some flavour when users update an app, therefore given access to new features or a new interface. 

Generally speaking, an onboarding process is only needed when substantial education is required.

It is typically between three and five steps long, aiming to give the user the information and introduction they need to make the most of their experience. 

It tends to be a 'how it works' rather than an A-Z of all the functionality within the application. 

 

example of onboarding for users re-learning an interface

This example shows some onboarding screens we created for our client, Dine. The purpose of these screens is to educate each new user of their app about how to use their product.

 

New Feature Highlight 

Another way to teach users is highlighting new features as they appear, making them apparent to the user.

This can be done by highlighting new areas of an interface with an accompanying explanation of what the new feature is.

This can be done without interfering with the layout. The idea is that the feature is highlighted according to where it appears within the interface. 

It is essentially signposting new features or functionalities within an environment that is already well established and familiar to the user. 

highlighting new features within an interface

These examples show the various options we presented to Dine for highlighting a new feature within their product offering and app.

 

Users can wait - managing expectations 

Experiences form expectations. 

You'll only ever have one opportunity to make a first impression. That first impression has to be right on the money, otherwise, you may alienate users from your product or brand. 

So, the right expectation is always one that is both fast and efficient, right? 

Wrong. 

This cannot always be possible due to restraints around the solution. Of course, we always aim for the best, quickest and easiest solution, but it doesn't always equate to 'no waiting'.

When making users wait for loading or processing, the key to success is giving them feedback as to what's actually happening.

We have all experienced waiting for something with little to no feedback to when it will complete. *Cough* Windows 98 *cough*.

Keep your users in the loop as much as possible. Tell them what is happening relative to their experience, it's absolutely essential.

explaining what's happening during loading or processing

This example illustrates how Dine uses a loading bar with text explaining what happens through the loading process. This serves to justify the wait and show the user that they are not waiting for nothing.

 

Users can leave 

If you do not respect a user within the interface, your product or service is set up to fail. 

You may be in the fortunate position of possessing an exclusive product or service with no alternative solutions provided by prospective competitors. 

Even if you find yourself in the lucky position of being the only choice on the market for your users, the user experience should not suffer. In this scenario do not, under any circumstances, approach your product with the mentality of "well they need my product/service so tough luck".

On the flip side, this may not be the case, and you may find yourself up against competitors. If you do have competitors, you're likely to send your users packing if you do not manage expectations and educate users appropriately.

 

Tying it all together 

So, to sum up, coercing your customers into learning how to interact with your shiny, new interface is easier said than done.

If you undertake this unenviable task with a haphazard, scattergun approach, your users will delete that shiny app that's seen thousands of pounds thrown at it. They will migrate elsewhere.

But with care, it can be done. 

 

 

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