Why brands should ignore trends to build truly great UX
UX expert Peter Ramsey helps the world’s leading tech firms such as Google create better customer experiences. Peter, who runs agency Built for Mars, shares his thoughts with InSight on how brands can get ahead with better UX and UI.
- Why good UX depends on context
- The challenges of implementing AI in a way that is acceptable to consumers
- Why UX is more than ROI metrics
- How brands should set about creating a UX strategy
Keeping UX Simple
Brands have access to a considerable amount of data, and often know enough about a customer’s preferences to accurately recommend a best-fit product for them, before the user is even able to find that product themselves. However, complete predictive personalisation isn’t always the best customer experience.
A great UX that’s easy for customers to learn, use and master is a key factor behind the commercial success of digital platforms, whatever data they handle. But as software becomes more complex, what constitutes a “good UX” becomes an ever more challenging topic, particularly now AI systems are slowly becoming integrated into user interfaces.
Ramsey says seamless integration of AI with consumer products is a tough problem to solve. When browsing shoes on a website for example, customers may not want an intelligent assistant picking out and recommending their perfect shoe before they’ve even had a chance to browse the site themselves.
Ramsey’s approach is to strip back UX design by asking a few fundamental questions:
- What would a person be feeling?
- What are they trying to do?
- Does your product help them to solve this or does it get in the way?
Ramsey thinks good UX design is ultimately about how the user feels. This means product features that developers may think are highly useful can sometimes get in the way of real-world usage.
He suggests transparency with AI can help with trust by improving understanding, not just by telling people that AI is being used, but also how it’s being used and why it benefits them.
Ramsey believes that this clarity is crucial for long-term customer retention, rather than a swanky design that adheres to the latest popular design trends or through gimmicks.
Certain fonts for example may briefly become extremely popular on the web, but ultimately better customer trust comes from explaining how their data is being used, where it was acquired from and how it saves them time.
He thinks clothing and attire is a great example of a sector that can do great things with personalisation, perhaps automatically filtering results by a user’s body shape, and automatically displaying product search results using a photo of the customer to provide some idea of what it might look like on them.
But in addition to the significant technical challenges in building such a system, Ramsey suggests there are a number of non-technical issues that would mean this technology might not be well received.
Customers may not like seeing a customised image of themselves on a website, which may lead to difficult questions, particularly if they haven’t been asked to upload this image in the first place. Ramsey imagines they might wonder if those images are going to be seen by anyone else, for example, or sent to another website.
Ramsey believes the sole focus on customer feeling in good UX design makes it harder to measure success through quantitative metrics. Investing in better UX will not automatically lead to higher conversion rates.
He says, “UX affects things that aren’t measurable, such as anxiety or anger. Improved UX won’t mean twice as many people sign up to a site. Instead, good UX design makes people feel nicer inside, which is ultimately just best guessing.”
How brands should set about creating a UX strategy
If UX depends on how a customer feels, a brand needs to understand the product its selling and how it is attracting its customers, which means any successful UX design should be closely tied to an existing marketing strategy.
Ramsey says there’s a massive difference between how you would sell a value product and how you sell a luxury lifestyle brand, and this needs to be reflected in the design of the platform and its UX.
With a value brand, cost is likely to be on the customer’s mind, so for example there’s a benefit to clearly displaying prices at all times. Users are likely to want to browse for short time periods, purchase what they want, move on and have it delivered quickly.
But this experience would be very different for a luxury brand. In a retail clothing shop such as Gucci, people may spend time trying clothes on, rather than seeking to make a quick purchase. And this same thinking translates to online too, where customers are likely to want to spend more time investigating products.
If you’re selling a lifestyle brand, you need to sell that lifestyle, rather than aim for an immediate purchase. And when building a digital commerce platform, tying the context of a product, who you’re selling it to and the state of mind of that customer defines how that platform should be built.
Solving the UX challenge
Designing a satisfying effective interface that can be easily understood and used by all customers is one of the hardest challenges faced by any product team. Examples of universally successful UX design are relatively few and far between, while many designs create problems for users that can have a negative impact on a brand’s relationship with their customers.
Ramsey believes the crucial issue is context. A small product development team may know every intricate detail about their project, and have thoroughly tested it on up-to-date hardware. But when they release it into the world, users are in entirely different situations with very different perceptions as a result of using the product in different contexts to those of the original designers.
Ramsey highlights the example of a one-size-fits-all approach to the typical UX design of cash machines. Although the small screens, small text and lack of confirmation screens work fine in most general situations, there are others where this approach has failings.
UX is about overall customer experience rather than just how an interface looks, and the circumstances of the customer when interacting affects whether that interface is fit for purpose.
Despite professing general admiration for Tesla’s cars, Ramsey highlights some of the areas where design choices in-car user interfaces could be improved, particularly because they’re designed to be used in a car while travelling at speed.
He says, “Car UX systems can be particularly difficult to design for. For example, when using a touchscreen to control vital car functions, if something doesn’t work, you can never be sure whether that’s the touchscreen or the function itself that isn’t working. With a more simple physical button that relies on tactile feedback, one press and you’re instantly aware that something is wrong if the car’s lights don’t come on.”
The growing integration of AI and intelligent assistants take this UX challenge one step further, particularly when integrating intelligence into sites in a way that consumers won’t find its use “creepy”.
To hear our interview with Peter please click here.