Interview with a UX Expert

This interview was a part of an assignment for class where I had to interview an UX Professional to gain insights into the work environment, UX process followed in the industry and what does the future hold for UX professionals. I’d like to thank Mr. Varun Gupta for the interview, who was very patient enough to answer all my questions.

Finding people to do an interview was a difficult task because everyone is tied up with their busy schedules but thankfully I found Mr. Varun Gupta, who works for a big financial firm in the UX field. I talked to him about my assignment and he agreed to do the interview.

Mr. Varun Gupta is currently working as the Vice President in the Technology division at this firm. Our interview happened over a cup of coffee and it was my first time taking someone’s interview and I was very excited. It started off with me asking Mr. Varun about his experience at this firm, to which he enthusiastically replied: “ I’ve been working with the firm for around 7 years with a total industry experience of 10 years.” It was very clear that he was enjoying his work here. I remember him telling me one day, that he absolutely loves coding and even after reaching this position, he keeps doing it. I truly feel the only way you would be satisfied with your work is when you love what you do. Then we moved on to the Mr. Varun’s typical day at the office, what were his routine activities and responsibilities. He replied, “ A typical day for me consists of working with the various developers in my team, take their inputs to design and architect the new features for our system.” He acts as a bridge between the UX and development team. So, it is must to have some good communication skills to connect with your colleagues and the customers.

Mr. Varun told me that he mostly works with technology, which brought me to my next question, what kind technologies/tools does he work with. This was the lengthiest conversation of the whole interview. Mr. Varun’s reply to this was “ I focus primarily on the UI design/development for my team. I specialize in the.NET and web technologies and hence a major part of my day goes with their respective IDE’s designing, architecting and coding the software.” It seems like a ‘jack of all trades’ role except that he is a master at all of these things. This really got me interested and I started asking him about the designing process that goes into the making of the software. He said “We have a dedicated team which has experts to provide guidance on the UX design. We engage them through the design phase of the product. During the design phase, we try to remain as technology agnostic as possible in order to focus on the User requirements and system interaction patterns rather than being limited by the Technology options. We interact with our users and try to understand their interaction patterns with the system. We study these patterns and prepare the wireframes which are validated with the users and once designs are finalized, it is put to code.”

While talking about assessing the needs of the user community and user research, I learned that most of the software he was involved in, were being built for their internal users, their managers and analysts. In my view, there was no specific process for user research and testing. There is a continuous feedback capture from the user community in terms of research. Also, they usually make personas and use cases for portraying the user and discuss it with the software’s potential user (people within the firm) and find out whether it matches all the requirements or not. Even after the software is rolled out, the tweaks and changes are always going on, it’s an iterating process. According to me, this is a huge advantage in terms of time and efficiency of the software because the user is always there to discuss and give feedback, unlike for client based software where even after performing loads of user tests, we aren’t sure whether the users will like the product or not. We moved on to wireframing and I asked which tool he was most comfortable with. To my surprise, he said pen and paper. He said, “pen and paper are the best possible tool available at your disposal, you keep scribbling on it and keep reiterating the designs.” Honestly, I was expecting some fancy tool name but sometimes the most easy­-to-­use low-cost tools could prove to be the most effective.

I further asked him about some of the most satisfying elements of his work, to which he replied “One of the most satisfying elements of my Job is to see our software help increase the productivity of the users. A well designed and well-received software is a reward in itself.” No job is without challenges and when asked about the challenges his organization faced, Mr. Gupta replied “Uplifting a software or changing its behavior can be challenging at times as the user community is used to interacting with the software in a particular manner. It is critical to get certain things right in the first instance to avoid that re­learning curve.” But, the work environment at the company is very collaborative and tackle challenges together. The product development team and the UX team works very close to each other and work on the designs together. It’s a very open and fun environment to work in.

We were moving towards the end of our interview, I asked Mr. Varun about his educational background and he told me that he has a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He doesn’t have any formal degree in user experience. But, all these years of experience working in this field is more valuable than any degree. He also gave his perspective on the current job market for UX professionals. He said “Great designs and enhanced UX has transformed the software industry, and people recognize the importance of the UX science. In my opinion, the current job market is really great for the UX professionals going forward.”

As a student, I am learning a very streamlined process involving user research, designing information architecture, user testing. But, this interview has certainly changed my perception of UX and how it is carried out in the real world. Though it would be varying from organization to organization and I have to be prepared to adjust to all the practices because “UX in the real world is always agile! ”. Ten years ago there was no notion of User Experience, it was all making grids and buttons and figuring out the rest. The software we use today has changed significantly. User Experience design has become an integral part of the software development these days. The success of an app highly depends on the ease of the use of the software. For any modern app, a great design is a prerequisite and no longer an afterthought. I believe, that UX study and design has a great role to play in improving the software world. UX is slowly becoming the key ingredient in the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) which can decide the success of the product. So hopefully, this is a good thing for me.

To conclude, it felt good to be on the questioning side for the first time although I would say it’s still a long way for me to reach Mr. Varun’s position but I’ve got keep working and someday I might reach that level.

Animation in Mobile UX Design

Using animations to improve user experience is a great strategy, but it should be done in the right way. Animations when done right, make the users feel valued because of its human-centered design, which in turn gives them a sense of well-being. These animations are used to unite beauty and functionality within the application. Animations are not only eye-catching but enhance the meaning of user interface and create successful interactivity. One can use them to communicate all sorts of statuses, to instruct behavior, to draw attention and to add affordance, or simply to let users see what the consequences of their actions would be.

With animation, a motion should supplement the flow and not interrupt the flow of the experience. Also when the objects change and adjust on the screen, there should be a continuity and natural flow. Sometimes even a slight touch creates the most meaningful motions. In short, animation is not only about the look but also the feel of design.

Some of the widely used animations in Mobile UX design are:

User Onboarding

Most of the apps are deleted after their first use and this only because people feel completely lost when they open the app for the first time. This why one has to focus user onboarding and make as understandable as possible. Designers can use animations to create short visual stories during the onboard process about different features of the app and later show how to use them. It also reduces the need for long explanations of these features making the onboard process visually appealing.

Provide Visual Feedback

Visual feedback is crucial for any user interface. It makes users feel in control, which means that user is aware of the current state at given point of time. In terms of user interface design, building a responsive interface means building an interface that responds to the user at all times. Human software should feel as responsive as the humans who are using it.

Elements like buttons and controls should appear tangible. On interaction, it should animate and show some kind of feedback.

It can also be used to visualize the result of an action. When the user clicks “Submit”, a spinner briefly appears before the app shows the success state. Checkmark animation makes users feel like the process has been completed successfully.

System Status

There are many processes happening at the backend (e.g data is being downloaded from the server, calculations are taking place) and these things often take some time to load. At his point, animation comes to the rescue and it could be used to indicate the status of its ongoing process, where the user can know that the app isn’t frozen.

Also, indicate error state for example if a user by mistake enters wrong email information, provide him with some feedback that suggests that he has made an error.

Meaningful Transitions

Animation can conveniently move the users between navigational contexts, highlight the changes in the structure of elements on a screen or emphasize element hierarchy. It can successfully capture user’s attention and give information and delight and one can create visual connections between transitions with the help of color and regular elements. Although, the flow between two visual states must be clean, fluid and natural. The direction elements should move cohesively across the transition. Animation follows the information hierarchy, marking which content is most significant by giving a track for the eye to lead on. The moving elements must present a clear picture as to where to look for the user. Disjointed transactions do more harm than good; make sure to avoid them. Stick to coordination in transitioning objects as haphazard motions are very distracting for the users.

Create delightful feeling

Use of animations make a boring design come to life, use of motion design at certain places can create delight among users. It makes your app stand out and also create memorable experiences.

For example, using simple animations to communicate the change between the different graph views when the user toggles between the ‘Line’ and ‘Column’ option creates a sense of immediacy from their action by bringing the result to life through movement.

Conclusion

Animation is a very useful tool when used in a right way to create meaningful experiences. But the unnecessary use of it will obviously ruin its value. So, always use motion design in a judiciously way wherever it can create an impact and enhance user’s experience.

Chatbots: Mobile UX of the future

Chatbots are taking the world by storm, it is one of the most talked about topics when it gets to latest Mobile trends.

What is a Chatbot?

Chatbot is a messaging application, sometimes referred to as a conversational interface, designed to simplify complex predefined task(s). This task could be anything, ranging from functional to fun like managing your expenses, learning new languages, scheduling your meeting, find and picking up groceries and buying other things. It could live in any major chat product (Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Text Messages, etc.) or have its own application.

There are two main types of chatbots, one functions based on a set of rules, and the other more advanced version uses AI. The first one is as smart as its programmed to be whereas the one which uses AI actually uses machine learning to improve.

So why is it thriving?

In this generation, people love to chat on mobile phones. One would actually prefer chatting/texting over talking. With most of the users inclined towards chatting, companies want to provide a feature that is making their customer happy and in return grow their business. So instead of filling up forms and ticking checkboxes, all one has to do is to chat with the bot and tell it what they need.

Examples

Weather Bot: Poncho (Facebook Messenger)

Gives you the weather forecast.

Education Bot: Duolingo

One can new languages by talking to the bot which is the best of learning a new language. Bot can correct them if they are going wrong somewhere and also track their progress.

Medical Bot: Babylon Health

One can get medical help anytime they want. People can enter their symptoms and bot can analyze them and provide recommendations. Users can use it instead of searching on google and get tailored and personalized answers.

Finance Bot: Chip

It is an intelligent money saving app, which can automatically transfer funds to your savings account. People can track how much they are spending and how much they are saving and manage their expenses.

Chatbots in applications are an upgrade to mobile UI and provide a better user experience for users. People find it simple, faster, intuitive and convenient and that it is being adopted by many e-commerce companies and businesses. It is something which is going to be seen in more and more applications in the future.

Design Critique: Wodify (iOS App)

Wodify is a membership management and performance tracking system designed specifically for local CrossFit gyms (aka “boxes”) and its athletes. Apart from providing a comprehensive membership database, Wodify also allows owners of the gym to handle billing and payment, schedule and maintain classes. Athletes, on the other hand, can use its mobile application to check the workout of the day, register for a class, pay for their membership, record their performance and nutrition and compete with other athletes.

Recently, I joined Bay Ridge Crossfit and that is how I was introduced to Wodify. It was quite confusing when I first started using its mobile application. As a newbie, I was really having a hard time figuring out the CrossFit abbreviations and acronyms and the using the app made it more difficult.

After logging in, you land on this page, which shows you the workout of the day but only when you select WOD in Program option. Otherwise, it is selecting any other option and waiting for something to show up. We don’t use any other program other than WOD and when I asked my coach about it, he said that the software doesn’t allow them to customize certain things.

Registering for a class is fairly simple and is the only thing that works perfectly. There are different time slots available and all you have to do is click on reserve to reserve a spot. It also shows how many other athletes would be joining you.

Adding the results is easy and only works for logging your score onto the whiteboard (leaderboard) for that day. Even though there is an option for performance history but the results never show up even after recording all the scores. All I get is “Sorry, no performance history.” Again there is a long list component in the performance sections, things we don’t even do (again it is not customizable). There is no “Back” button anywhere on the app, you have to click on the same tab to go back.

A vast number of small gyms across the country are using this system simply because it’s doing the job for them and they don’t have that kind of finances to build their own system. As for athletes, most of them are struggling to use this app (based on reviews on App store and personal experience).

An effective research strategy should involve:

  1. Conducting surveys and interviews involving both the gyms and athletes.
  2. Conducting usability tests to see where people are struggling.
  3. Competitive analysis of other fitness and gym applications. Look at their strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Creating personas from your observations and research to represent gyms and athletes; to help align strategy and goals to specific user groups.
  5. Creating scenarios and storyboards to create, discuss, and communicate how users interact with the product.

Using insights from all these research methods, one could design an effective system and an application for the users.

 

 

 

Disney’s MagicBand: The future of seamless User Experience

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Using MagicBand at Disney World, exactly portrays how the future will look like in a few years from now. The only thing you need to have while visiting Disney World, is the wristband. It is a simple, rubber wristbands (which can be customized- get your name added on it) offered in shades of grey, blue, green, pink, yellow, orange and red. Inside each is an RFID chip and a radio like those in a 2.4-GHz cordless phone. The wristband has enough battery to last two years and is waterproof. You also get a 4 digit pin number (just like the credit card) for security purpose.

After booking the ticket and receiving the band, one download the Disney’s app or use the website to make reservations of the rides (Fastpass). This will automatically create an itinerary for the rides you want to go to, this will save your time, moving back and forth searching for the rides. You also get a free shuttle service from airport to the hotel and back. The band acts as key to open your hotel room. Once in the park, it give you access to the rides, so it’s like a ticket. The band also connects to vast system of sensors within the park. One could make dinner or event registrations months in the future (reservation pass). You could use it as a credit card, to instantly pay for food, services and merchandise using the 4 digit pin. Just enter the restaurant and sit wherever you want. Soon, the food will find you (only if you have made a reservation for it before). Tables have radio receivers which pick up the signal from the MagicBand and the kitchen is notified.  

https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/my-disney-experience/bands-cards/?CMP=SEC-WDWShareEmailNGE-MDX-MagicBand-video#video=0/0/0/0

All these things together can give an experience that is frictionless. Using the MagicBand eliminated a ton of the friction that typically comes with visiting a Disney park. You don’t require a ticket, don’t have to wait in long lines and pay for everything using cash or credit cards. It made for a much more enjoyable and stress-free visit.

Why is MagicBand the future of an Excellent User Experience?

With all the wearable technologies available in the market (apple/smart watch, fitness band ), a very similar experience like disney could be created. Half of it already exists but imagine this, using a wristband if you could access your front door, your car door, your apartment building front gate, your office door at work. If you could enter a venue whether a movie theatre, a Broadway theatre by just touching the band to the sensor. Pay for everything you buy whether at the grocery store, a retail store or a gift store. Track your body stats (heartbeat, steps, altitude, GPS, map your journey, etc.) It can also be your be your watch and phone and personal alert system.

Life would be so much easier with this kind of wristband. It will revolutionize your daily user experience and eliminate a ton of your annoying friction.

But there can be some drawbacks too, the system as whole would be very expensive, Disney invested about a billion dollars into the research and the making of this system. It would require multiple networks, readers, antennae and tons of integrated back-end data systems and points that all have to play very nice together by connecting seamlessly. Also, every sector needs to be integrated with this technology, the financial institutions, retail firms, restaurants, event places, mobile networks, hotels, houses, stores, restaurants etc. So in all, it is very expensive to do it but slowly sector by sector, we can get there.

But, MagicBand still reflects the future our world is getting at representing a hassle free way of conducting various tasks for different needs without even thinking about it.

 

 

Design Critique: Zillow Rentals (iPhone app)

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Introduction to Zillow Rentals

Zillow Rentals is a mobile application (with website support) for searching homes and apartments for rent by location. One could view rental listings and also apply filter for listings that fits the budget, rooms, area and needs such as in-unit laundry, on-site parking and schools. You can connect with the landlords and property managers through phone or email. It also provides option of saving the homes by adding it to the favourites.

 

Design Problems

Problem 1: Schools option in the filter settings shows a drop down arrow but works only by clicking the button next to it, causing confusion.

As you can see in the images (1&2) below, the drop down arrow and button are given side by side. User would always go for the arrow, (which is the obvious affordance here) to see the content in it. But soon he finds out it has no function and the school menu only comes down when you click on the button next to it. Having these 2 things side by side only creates more confusion. Clearly, the affordance and mapping has gone wrong which has led it to become a bad conceptual model (as per Don Norman’s principles).


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Suggestion:

The best way to avoid confusion is by just keeping the drop down arrow (usually these controls match the real world practices) and removing the button next to it. By changing this, the arrow will work in a way its intended to work, resolving the mapping issue and building a system image which would be consistent with the user model. 

 

Problem 2: Saved Homes 

Saved Homes shows the list of houses you added to your favourites. The main issue here is that when user views a house in the saved homes option and wants to go back to see the list, he is directly taken to the top of the list (image 3&4). There are options for viewing previous and next house, but what if I have list of 35 houses and I am currently viewing the 10th house and I need to view the 20th house ? Now, I only have two options, either to swipe through 10 houses or go back to the list and search for the 20th house. This is a example of bad design.

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Suggestion:

One of the fix could be, after going back to the list, the recently viewed house should be highlighted and the user should land on same page. This way, user will be aware of the house he viewed recently and could easily navigate through other houses as well. Also, the size pictures shown in the list could be reduced and the way how it is presented could be improved.

 

Problem 3: Zooming on the map, doesn’t work.

Zooming in on the satellite version of the map displays a grey screen (even after loading) as shown in image 5&6. This app is about locating houses on the map and if the map is only not available, what’s the use ? This again shows bad design and insufficient testing, it needs to be rectified by the developers soon.

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Image 5

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Final thoughts for the App: 

It is difficult to read the text present in the main page of the app and also hard distinguish things (image 7). The colours of the text are muted and lack contrast. Some important features like logging in using social accounts, automatic GPS location detection are missing from the main page.

Solutions:

Increasing contrast and darkening colours for easy readability and navigation, thus providing justice to the visibility principle. Providing options to sign up and login using other apps like Google, Facebook account to share houses. Adding automatic GPS location detection functionality. IMG_2020

Image 7

Thank you!