The importance of following design patterns
The way that we understand consumer behaviour has dramatically improved in recent years. We have gone from creating digital products based on numbers and assumptions to genuinely listening to people’s needs through qualitative research methods in the development process.
A product that does not speak to a user’s cause and needs or looks like an effort to adopt doesn’t stand a chance. We need to start by understanding our user’s mental models, i.e., how they perceive a product or service to work. This is based on their experience but also on the tasks they seek to complete.
We are learning more and more about the needs and expectations of people when they access a digital application or service. As user experience (UX) practitioners, we need to follow design patterns that are user ready.
Knowing your user’s technical capabilities
It is important to note that there are different types of users, depending on the specialisation of the product. We can divide the technical capabilities of users into expert, novice, and lead users.
According to a case study done at the Stanford Centre for Design Research, Stanford University, we can arrive at different insights based on what each user type values:
- Novice users focus on the usability of the given product.
- Expert users have rich interaction knowledge and therefore focus on the technical specifications related to product efficiency and functionality for performing a set task.
- Lead users play an entirely different role. They express a need for a product solution long before the rest of the market has experienced such a need. They typically drive innovation to create future demands. They can be novice or expert users.
Which user type is becoming more relevant?
Across the Internet age, our focus has needed to shift from one group of users to another.
During the ’70s to the ’90s, the Internet was generally accessed by expert users. This changed towards the 1990s as more people started adopting this new technology for general use. We became more aware of USABILITY thanks to the needs of novice users. Expert users don’t care so much about usability when they already have a deep understanding of how the technology behaves. However, even experts rely on heuristics to lead the way.
In recent times, we have observed a greater propensity towards expert usage. This means that, while we are still catering for novice users, we must start paying attention to the way more and more people use technology, which is free, easy, spontaneous, and interconnected.
How, then, do we cater for novice-going-on-expert digital users? The research proposes the incorporation of multi-layered systems.
Complex systems and busy minds
“Rapid development of electronic technology benefits the complex function of a product.”
- T. K. Philip Hwang, Horng-Yi Yu
Products are becoming more and more complex with the augmentation of digital services. As we digitally complete more of our tasks, we expect technology and software to cater to ease of use and task completion.
Our incredible and complex brains can perform more tasks at once. Technology has made it easier for us to do so.
We form part of the generation of multitaskers.
I admire the simple utilities on my desktop: my email, my calendar, my reminders, my browser and all its tabs. I love the fact that, while I am waiting for an email or virtual meeting, I can continue with my work undisturbed until I get notified automatically. I enjoy having the ability to swipe from a window where I am reading to the window where I am compiling my thoughts whilst keeping track of everything in the background.
Users might be in a constant frenzy, in the most natural way, as we neatly slot in with the speed of innovation. Now that the scene is set, what are the design considerations that aid the frenzied user?
Staying focused with a calm interface – distractions in peripheral vision
What draws the eye in the user’s peripheral vision is a basic recipe for distraction. Whether you are naturally aware of eye-catchers when designing, or this is the first time you’ve heard of this, peripheral vision is crucial for focused multitasking users.
People have two types of vision: central and peripheral. The eye uses central vision to analyse details directly before you, while peripheral vision makes up the rest of your visual field. Peripheral vision provides the brain with a mental oversight of what is before you, which doesn’t cause much mental strain. On the other hand, central vision strains the eyes and requires more significant mental effort as it processes detailed information.
Designers have learnt to use eye-catchers such as floating GIFs or spot colours sparingly so that users can perform a task using central vision, without breaking focus, for longer. Creating a calm environment on your user interface (UI) promotes task flow. It does not conflict with system notifications and error messages, which are usually urgent, anxiety-inducing and immediately distracting.
Moveable pieces, as explained by the IxDF (International Design Foundation), serve the purpose of allowing the user to have instant and convenient access to multiple tasks and applications so that they can prioritise their tasks on a single workspace or user interface (UI). These support the case for a multi-layered UI.
The goal is to prevent your users from having to close their existing workspace to access a task on a separate device, as this breaks their workflow and immediately inconveniences them before they have entered your platform.
An excellent design pattern relating to moveable pieces is the tabbed UI or card stack pattern.
Tabs are a simple yet ingenious design. After all, what is browsing without tabs?
Benefits of a tabbed UI:
- A tabbed UI increases efficiency and improves mental health by organising information.
- It allows users to connect similar tasks or ideas.
- It also eases navigation as the user can make tiered choices as they navigate the interface without getting lost.
- Having themes grouped in tabs, users can follow through on their objectives much better.
- Allowing easy navigation saves time, improves usability, and can promote exploration.
Tabbed UI best practices:
- Find themes that will serve as umbrella terms that are simple (one or two words long) and unambiguous.
- Lay tabs out horizontally at the top of the interface.
- Make sure that as the user navigates through the page. They can distinguish which tab they have clicked on by making it stand out, either with colour or a sort of boundary or border.
- Make sure the design is consistent across all the pages.
I hope this article has provided some food for thought on understanding an expert/multitasking user’s frame of mind when interacting with their devices. Secondly, we are becoming aware that these users are becoming more prevalent and have explored design considerations to cater to these users.
The long and short of the matter is this: we won’t have our user’s full, undivided attention because they are usually busy performing multiple tasks. The irony of creating an immersive environment as an interface is that it should be easy for the user to manipulate and navigate through as and when it suits their needs and should not interrupt their process.
von Hippel, E., 1986. Lead users: a source of novel product concepts. Management Science, 32(7), July
Hwang T.K.P., Yu HY. (2011) Accommodating Both Expert Users and Novice Users in One Interface by Utilising Multi-layer Interface in Complex Function Products.