Thursday, June 7, 2012

Product Management: why simple UX wins

I am a big believer of simple user experience.  Simplicity is more than design philosophy.  It's way of communicating clarity.  It's way of showing focus.  It's way of selling.  This is especially true with software.  That's because software does not have form factor unlike physical product that you pick up at Home Depot.

Take a look at this tool:

What do you think that is?  Bluetooth ear piece?  Ergonomic mouse?  Or thumb drive that has flip-out USB connector?

What about now?

Still have trouble figuring out what it is?  Take a guess after watching this:

Yes.  It is wall-mountable Scotch tape dispenser.  It makes it super easy to get perfectly cut Scotch tape each time every time.

It's very difficult to guess what the tool did with picture only without any label.  With label, it helps great deal, but it still doesn't tell you how you supposed to use the tool.  With video clip, you get an idea why you might use the tool.

Remember that with software tool, users are always at disadvantage in guessing what it does.  That is because

1. Software tool tends to be abstract, and cannot be touched and examined.

2. Software tool tends to do multiple things, not just one thing.

3. Software tool often does not give immediate feedback to users.

#1 should be obvious.  The fact that you can weigh the tool, feel the texture and material should provide additional clue in figuring out physical tool.  But those clues are not available to software tool.

#2 and #3 are because of sloppy design.  We tend to make software tool do multiple things just because it is easy to change.  We add features on top of features and make it look like 2-inch thick Swiss Army Knife with no clear killer application.  We also tend not to provide immediate feedback to user because we don't know how to interpret exceptions thrown.

With Scotch Popup Dispenser it gives feedback each and every time with satisfying Scotch tape pilling sound.  When dispenser is empty, you can peek into it to see that there is no tape left.

Software tool should be just as easy to understand as physical tool.  My rule of thumb is that within 30 seconds of seeing a landing page brand-new user should be able to figure out what the tool does.  30 second is just under how long people stay on one web site (unless you are a Dutch).

Average time user spends on a site.
This is 2008 data.
I fully expect it to be shorter now because of mobile and bigger bandwidth.

Here are a couple of recent examples of software tool getting this right:



I won't explain what these tools do.  You can spend 30 seconds on each to find out for yourself.

Software tool should sell itself.  To do that, it has to make an under 30-second pitch to every visitors.  If the pitch is not clear, customer will move on.

Increase the conversion rate.  Focus on one thing and make it clean.