The Integral Role Design Plays in Technology - Inside UX and UI
Technology is developed in order to solve a problem or fulfill a need. How it does that depends greatly on its design. Design acts like a compass, giving direction and guidance for the entire user experience. You might not realize it, but technology companies spend a lot of energy on the design of their solution because how it makes you feel will ultimately determine how often you use it.
Designing the User Experience
Design is what determines a technology product’s or service’s ease of use. While the underlying technology that powers it—all the backend workings that we don’t see—does impact how user-friendly it is, its design—the layer that we interact with—is fundamental to the user experience. How we engage with a product, and the steps we take to make it work, all comes down to smart design. User Experience Designers, or UX designers, are given challenges such as defining task flows, creating interaction models, and determining the User Interface (UI) specifications. They look at the entire user experience from start to finish and determine how the product or service will feel overall.
Designing the User Interface
UX designers work hand-in-hand with UI designers to craft the best possible experience for customers. Think in terms of building a house: the UX designers are the ones laying the foundation and building the frame and the UI designers are the ones selecting the paint colors and the exterior materials. Whatever path users will take when navigating a product must be clearly communicated and make sense. These are the types of challenges UI designers have in mind when designing the individual screens or web pages. Their decisions include what content to include and where; what graphics to include and where; and how to ensure it’s all consistent and portrays a cohesive design.
Communicating the Brand
A product’s design is a visual representation of a company’s brand. The best designers can effectively project the visual identity of a brand throughout the entire product or service. Some companies tout themselves as easy to use and thus have very clean, straightforward designs; other companies promote themselves as hip, young and relevant and thus build funny, quirky vernacular into their designs. Inconsistencies that exist between how companies advertise their brand and what their products or services actually communicate cause frustration and confusion to customers.
In contrast, companies that effectively and consistently portray their brand build loyal followers. Some good examples include Groupon, Apple, Bandsintown, and Starbucks:
- Ever read the funny taglines in Groupon postings? Its app is user-friendly and fits the profile of its social, cosmopolitan audience.
- Remember when the first iPhone® came out? Apple’s revolutionary app-based design paved the way for all smartphones.
- The Bandsintown app learns music lovers’ behaviors and tastes and notifies them when bands they might be interested in come to their area.
- The coffee powerhouse really understands its audience and it shows. The Starbucks app makes the loyal coffee buyer’s experience faster and easier.
Consumer technology is paving the way for great design; even non-profits like CrowdRise are designing user-friendly technology. But what is business technology doing to improve the user experience?
Making Business Technology User-Friendly
With more companies adopting the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend, business technology is beginning to satisfy the demands of professionals who want the same ease of use, flexibility and personalization that they get with their smartphones and tablets. It’s UC that’s answering their needs. With Unified Communications (UC) systems, busy professionals can manage multiple tasks (phone, email, voicemail, web meetings, IM, fax) with one solution.
UC systems that are completely hosted in the cloud allow people to switch devices seamlessly so they can work whenever and wherever they want. Some UC providers take it a step further and let people personalize their whole experience. A great example of this is Broadview Networks’ new MyOfficeSuite™. This customer portal lets end users customize their communications, from phone calls and voicemails to emails and video meetings. They can even use the portal from their smartphone or tablet to make instant changes depending on where their busy day takes them.
Look for technology that is mobile-responsive and fits well on any size screen.
There is No Right Answer
When it comes to designing technology, there is no one ‘right’ answer; the options are limitless. The best technology designers conduct user tests to better understand people’s behavior and tailor solutions to meet their expectations. But they don’t stop there. Initial tests must be combined with the continual gathering of customer feedback to ensure technology is still aligned with users’ changing wants and needs. The “best” user experience is the one that’s always evolving and morphing into a better, fresher version of itself.