When designing a product interface, you can quickly run into subjective opinions. People have preferences and sure, that’s what makes us human. That said, there are important considerations when taking on a user interface (UI) project, whether for a new offering or a redesign of an in-market product.
Here at Simpo we just completed a redesign of our own platform. This post is to share some learnings and considerations we went through to complete this exciting project. For a SaaS product team you may find this useful as you consider how users rely on your product’s interface to get work done.
Consistency across all customer touch-points is important as a SaaS business. We recently underwent a total brand redesign with an expanded palette, iconography and typography and we want to give users a consistent brand experience, especially when in-product.
Because Simpo helps SaaS companies guide users throughout the journey for smooth onboarding, our platform therefore must provide a streamlined, pleasant experience to achieve that end-goal. Essentially we eat our own dog-food.
We believe if customers think less and do more, they are likely experiencing a well designed, consistent UI. For a successful design, you should consider the following:
When a product UI frustrates a user, it can be painful. On the other hand, when the UI is successful, the actual design becomes almost unnoticeable. If buttons or actions are hard to find, abandonment goes up and worse, higher cancellation rates.
SaaS users expect a modern interface, consistent tone of voice and style and in many cases standard naming. By focusing first on the design-only aspect of a product, you give users the experience of using an advanced system, and a feeling that the team really thought about the product’s fluency in the context of the use-case. The ultimate goal is a smoother end-user experience.
Most product and engineering teams think about UI and UX inextricably. It’s challenging to pull them apart but we found that when you separate the work and address one aspect at a time, you make faster progress and importantly, take time to incorporate feedback from the right stakeholders.
An interface conveys so much in mostly abstract, visual ways. The goal is to make it ‘second nature’ so a user can move quickly without a mental pause to decode meaning from a particular icon or button. Throughout this process, if the brain starts to clog with more and more questions, you’re likely out of scope.
Have you seen the Simpsons episode where Homer’s long lost brother asks him to design the next innovative car. Well it didn’t turn out so good. The car was not just ugly, but it also put his brother Herb, out of business. Homer’s maximal approach had no hierarchy, stuffed all imaginable features in and ended up with a totally impractical design that did everything, and suited no-one. That was in the ‘90’s and things have changed, not just in the automotive industry. The basic principles of design have not changed much, however.
You must always put the end-user first and think about what they are trying to accomplish. Also, how critical it is to complete the particular task at hand and how persistent will that user be. With different types of end-users, even within a single offering, you need to factor-in the experience for an advanced, super-user who may command a different experience compared to a casual, less frequent user.
By taking into account all user-types, design for the lowest common denominator and expand from there. One way to think about it is “what would a more technical user expect” and “what would a non-technical user like to see”. In the words of a Simpo designer,“What would my Mum expect?” In most cases, the user just wants to get the job done, quickly and with ease.
Balance is important. By aiming for the minimum, you will hopefully strike it right. Where could you make changes, then play with it some more and aim for simplicity and more white space. Ultimately the UI should fall into the background because success comes when the product does what it is expected to do.
Depending on whether it’s a completely new design or a redesign, you will conduct the following steps. At the outset, decide if you want to separate UI from UX, which we recommend.
Project planning 101 includes goal setting and a clear definition of success. Timelines, owners, responsibility, accountability and budget need to be agreed upon, which seem obvious but worth a reminder, nonetheless:
As a design team working alongside engineering, product and marketing, there can be a lot of strong-minded opinions. Grappling with all of that could delay a project. Teasing apart the work for UI from UX does help streamline decision-making.
Most designers have strong personal taste and style preferences. Having worked on many projects over their career, designers do come to appreciate all styles and tastes and tend to focus energy on what works for the end-user.
Back to those grounding design principles. Ultimately it’s about what’s important to the end-user and what helps get the job done. Consistency is key too. After all, that is what builds brand equity over a company’s lifetime.
Selecting the right font is an important part of the UI and once groupings and hierarchies are established, color highlighting tends to come next. Swiss typographic design follows important basic principles and a great easy-to-understand read can be found in Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type.
A product UI that is well thought out and provides a positive, smooth experience is a delight for many reasons. For product-led SaaS orgs, it is the very first experience users have with your company, besides maybe reading the corporate website and some content. Self-paced trials are the norm and if the product doesn’t live up to expectations and design standards, conversion rates can become seriously compromised.
Good design takes time and involves many different stakeholders. However, keep the end-user at the center of all your focused thinking. Don’t let subjective, uninformed opinions spoil your design and keep it simple. For that, your users will thank you.
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