When designing a UI (User Interface), there are many factors that contribute to an overall great experience.  Of these factors to consider, the most important by far is of course the user. It seems obvious that the most crucial part of a user experience would be the people it’s designed for. Right?  However, user research is often one of the most overlooked steps in the design process.

Using a people-focused methodology is the best way to reach our common goal as experience designers. That being, to create a useful product that is:

  • Easy to learn
  • Efficient
  • Effective
  • Elegant

In this article I’ll be using the example of designing a user experience for a new mobile “app”.  However, these principles and tips are applicable to websites, video games, virtual reality, or any other project where you are tasked with designing a digital experience.

Dig Deeper!

The first step in many design processes is often referred to as the “define” or “discover” phase. However, this part is rarely done to the extent it should be.  It’s common during this initial stage of the project to ask questions such as: What is the problem?  What are your goals?  This is a good start, but we need to go deeper!

These questions tell us what to build, but not how to build it. What, or rather who, we should be concerned with though is the individuals that will be using our creation.  To get started, we’ll want to find detailed answers for the three following questions.

WHO will the users be?

Knowing who your users are is key to designing an experience that will fit their expectations.  Intuitive expectations are unique for every individual and in most cases are based on our past experiences.  Therefore, what we may consider an intuitive experience, may not be so intuitive for our users.

Get Personal. If you are able to acquire such details as age, occupation, or location.  It’s now possible to begin formulating an idea as to the user’s expectations based on their past experiences with other mobile apps or websites.

For example, if our target user-base is made up of mainly sales people.  We might inquire about how they currently find product information and what CRM they use. Say we discover that use their company’s website for product information and Salesforce for their lead tracking.

Now we’re able to study these two user interfaces in order to find commonalities and design paradigms the user may be used to.  As we peruse these other digital experiences our users are already familiar with, we can begin to start thinking of ways to make our experience easier to use by matching their expectations where it makes sense to.

We can also use such details as age or geographic location in order to research what other apps are popular among their age group or in their region of the world.  Whether those apps be social media, travel, weather, or even games. The clearer picture we can get of their user experience expectations, the better.

WHY do the users need a new solution?

If you know why people will be using your app, you can design it in a way that focuses on excelling where their current process is lacking.  This includes both listening to the complaints of the user, but also any less obvious areas for improvement you notice when using their current solution.  Sometimes, these more subtle things are very big pain points, but possibly the user has either gotten used to the annoyances or didn’t even see them as a problem to begin with.  That is of course until you come along and improve it!

For instance, if the client complains that their current solution is too slow and frustrating to use.  You could focus on reducing the number of taps and swipes it takes to get from point “A” to point “B” in the app.  Milliseconds matter!

Here are a few simple tips to speed up your user experience.

  • Dropdown Menus: Rather than require the extra click of expanding a dropdown menu, if you have less than 7 options, it’s best to just show them on the page. This rule-of-thumb generally applies to devices with the screen real estate for it. Although unattractive, craigslist.com is a good example of this UX practice.

  • Action Buttons: In most cases, as the designer you know which 1 or 2 buttons on a given view the user is most likely to tap next.  Using visual cues such as increased size, color difference, or even animations will reduce the time the user has to scan the page looking for it.

  • Repetition:  If you notice a pattern in your design of a similar action that is required to be done repeatedly.  Can you add functionality to complete these actions in bulk? Rather, you may have a UI element such as a label that is duplicated on the same view.  Could you show this label once in a way that conveys it applies to every element it currently shows on?

WHERE will the users be?

Where your app will be used is just as important a question as any. To show you exactly what I mean by “where”, I’ve created a list of potential details we could get from our client and how we could design accordingly.

Client: “We’ll be using this app mainly in front of customers during trade shows where wifi is spotty.”

Solution: Consider erring on the side of aesthetic when it comes to the design vs UX balancing act since it will be customer facing.Then due to the spotty wifi concern, we’d want to insure a seamless experience when going from online to offline.

Client: “Our yoga app will be used both indoors and outdoors.  We’d also like it themed to match our company colors, black and dark grey.”

Solution: Dark colored UIs aren’t very readable in direct sunlight. So you might include a day/night mode that will invert the colors from their dark branding colors to a lighter, easier to read theme.

Client: “We’d like to include a navigation feature to our personal assistant app that warns of traffic jams and works all over the world.”

Solution: The user will obviously be driving while using our app.  So insure buttons and text are large enough to be easily read and tapped while behind the wheel.  Also, the app is going to be used internationally. So we can’t rely solely on the color red as a warning indicator. Fun fact, red isn’t universally recognized as a warning color, especially in many eastern cultures.  Having duplicate cues such as clear warning text or a universal warning icon to alert users of traffic jams will resolve this issue.


Ultimately, the questions you ask and the details you need to create a great user experience depend heavily on the specific project. However, I hope these general tips and examples give you a better idea of the mindset to have when starting a project and gathering user information. By taking these finer details into consideration, your work will surely stand out from the competition. Happy designing!