UX trend predictions of 2012 A:

Whenever likeminded creative people try to innovate trends emerge. Ideas give birth to ideas. As ideas keep combining in the heads of creative people everywhere some ideas become more sticky than others. I'll document some of the trends in user experience design I predict will become the norm in 2012. An example trend from previous years is the scroll down to refresh design. Created by Loren Brichter for his famous Tweetie iphone app it has since become the standard for refreshing feeds and lists in apps everywhere.

Example from mobile webKit build

Related function Panels

You've seen them already. Open your Facebook app and look at the button in the top left corner. Tapping the button or swiping the interface from left to right opens the menu:

Facebook iPhone app

Facebook iPhone app menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This background panel is always there. Neatly integrated in iOS navigation panel.

The iOS navigation panel? At the top of all iOS apps with many views is a bar that usually has two buttons on it. This bar is called the navigation bar in the iOS SDK and intended to be used like this:

  • the left side button steps you back in the app. Just like the back button in your browser.
  • the right side button steps you forward. Showing the next step or function in the app.
Related function panels will become a trend become complex apps need menus, and no one wants to start the app in a menu. Instead starting the app smack in the middle of activity giving the user an option of accessing the menu by "stepping back".

Why is this different from a menu

But the reason I call the panels related function and not menu panels is that when a menu is that as soon as we have this paradigm, panels on either side that are "behind" our current view in chronological order. We can show the user all sorts of related information and functions, regardless of the apps functions.
Take for instance Path 2.0, a beautiful example of UI design. It too uses the left side menu, but to the right it shows your friends list. In the Facebook app this right side button opens sorting options and not a panel at all. This doesn't matter. As long as the paradigm is in place, panels will start showing up with the most important related functions in apps of all sorts.

Is this good or bad

The design works great in the Facebook app, in the Gmail app and in Path 2.0. But if it will work when lots of apps join the trend? We can't know beforehand.
The design is solid from a perception and usability perspective. It also looks great. So I'm hoping to see some innovative use of it shortly!
Gmail appGmail app

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Path 2.0 appPath 2.0 app

Quora - win or fail? A User Experience study

I recently was asked to check out Quora again. This time from a UX standpoint. I found a lot of strange design decisions and an almost crazy implementation of "Gamification" so I thought I had to share it: Quora logo

First Impression

What does this do? Quora is a mess of questions. That's a good thing. But it's also a mess of features. There is no real overview to how the service is supposed to be used nor how the features fit together to create a whole. It feel like a mess of somewhat related features that have been randomly added to a wiki.

User feedback loops

All services and products intended to be used more than once work because their is a loop in user interaction. After we've done what we came for we're back at the start and can do it again.

Feedback loops is a way to look at how feedback is introduced in the loop to keep users going forward and using the product. Quora does this really strangely.

There are two ways to understand what happens in a loop, one is to look at emotional impact or internal steps in the process from the point of view of the user. This is called the intrinsic loop. The other is to look at the service's constructed steps from the point of the user. This is called the extrinsic loop.

Intrinsic

The value in looking at both of these is to see where they meet and reinforce each other. So how does the intrinsic loop look?

answer questions -> gain social proof in form of replies, votes and followers -> answer ranks higher on lists of answers -> return

This loop works well. Interacting with the site gives you a sense of communicating with other users. Though notifications are bad and it's hard to really understand what is happening, there is a definite sense of activity spawned from other users interacting with your content.

Extrinsic

So how does the extrinsic feedback loop look?

Add information (unidentified) -> earn points -> use points to request answers -> no return

Basically it adds points but not to obvious steps in the loop. In fact, Quora only seems to add points for adding information. But Quora doesn't tell us why, how much or for what we earn these points.

This is an extrinsic loop set up to give users rewards for interacting that doesn't reward user for interacting. What went wrong here? Quora is giving out points for interacting with Quora, but not with other users.

The problem is humans don't think of services as independent entities and don't expect to interact with services, humans expect to interact through services. Another problem is that these rewards aren't reinforcing the intrinsic loop but instead starts rewarding an entirely different behavior. And last but not least, there is no clear end or way to start again from when you receive rewards. Rewards are doled out in the middle of the intrinsic feedback loop.

Gamification or What Bumblebees feel about Bicycles

Points. Just add points and it's a game. Just add points and the weird statistical exercise has miraculously turned into "fun"! Right? No. That's not how it works, you can read all about how to add the fun here. But Quora doesn't care about that, you get points for adding content but aren't told when or how much. There doesn't seem to be a differentiation between how you add content, you simply receive an arbitrary amount of points.

There's only one way to use points. You can pay others to answer questions. That's it. You can't even compare your points to another users.

Quora app icon

Summing up

Quora is awesome. What makes it awesome is the high level of interest from other users. The problem is, Quora does little of anything to enhance this. More often it gets in the way.

The service quickly became famous for supplying answers from high level CEOs and business savvy high performers. Sadly though, it took me hours to find any such answer. It took me hours just to find some interesting questions.

The random points thrown in just increases perception of randomness. Quora is a great idea, close to a good product. Over designed and under thought. It's confusing as hell and weird to use. But if you're lucky you can at least get some answers. Just don't expect the question to be the same one you had in mind from the start...

Facebook Messenger for iPhone and poor user experience

facebook messenger logoSome time ago Facebook launched it's cross platform messaging app: Facebook Messenger; the mobile stand alone app that fully integrates Facebook messaging with your cell phone. Sounds awesome right? Sadly, it's badly broken. I recently tweeted a designer at Facebook to ask why the UX of the app is so bad, in turn he asked me to describe what's wrong so they can fix it. So are you listening Facebook? Great. Here's what's wrong with the iOS version:

Starting the app Takes time. A lot of time. Why? There is no large graphics in use. Why does it start slower than some third party messaging or twitter apps? Short messaging on mobile devices is supposed to be fast. Loading the app for over a full second is bad user experience.

If I'd have to guess what's wrong I'd say Facebook Messenger is loading the entire message database at startup when all the user really needs is something like the last 5 messages.

Loading and responsiveness So the app is now loaded. Let's start messaging! No? Unresponsive?! But why? Why is there a second load time?

This second load becomes even weirder when I start the app from a notification. The app should be loading the message I was notified about but instead it seems to load for several full seconds. Even on WiFi.

If I'd have to guess what's wrong I'd say you're syncing ALL the messaging data with the server...

Don't, do, that. Ever.

Always smart load, download only the essential information to start using the app. Then download the rest in the background while the user is happily messaging away. This is critical on mobile devices.

Feedback If even Apple, that clearly doesn't get social at all, get's the importance of user feedback in short messaging. And the Facebook web interface clearly shows when the other party is writing something to you... Why do you not show this information in the Messenger app? If someone starts typing, send that information. Show an indication of this in the app.

And please, don't make my phone vibrate with every new messages when the thread is open on the screen.

Notifications  Notifications on iOS  are a bit strange. They don't sync between iPhone and iPad and the app can't receive any data from the notification. So some odd behavior is simply inescapable. However, most of the odd behavior with notifications from Facebook's Messenger app have nothing to do with that.

The main problem is that notifications aren't consistent between mobile app and web. As a matter of fact I haven't even been able to understand what triggers mobile notifications. In my tests some messenges have triggered notifications on both web and mobile while other, identical tests, have triggered only one of them. Once I even received a mobile notification while typing a response in that very thread on the web.

Notifications are hard. Really hard. But a few simple basics should at least get you of out this mess:

  • If the thread open on web and the page is active (focused some time the last minute or so) - don't send a notification at all.
  • If the thread not open and the page is not active - send a notification.
  • If the thread minimized in the web browser but the page is active - send only a web notification.

Facebook Messenger

Do I realize that these features are more complex than I have described them here? Yes. But they're not very complex for a product team such as the one behind Facebook.

Do I realize that Facebook usually releases features and then iterates on them to improve the user experience? Yes. But this is a web strategy. A mobile app is often, like in this case, just a good interface on top of a web service. If the interface is bad, the service is bad. Iterate all you want on the service. But "release early, release often"  is not a viable strategy for a mobile interface.

So why am I taking time to complain write all this? Because Facebook Messages, and Facebook Messenger, is a great product. It will help me organize my communication even better and have faster communications with my friends. No longer will discussions be spread through WhatsApp, iMessages, SMS, Email etc etc.

And the reason I can't do that today is the Facebook Messenger interface. With god damn enourmous amounts of some luck this post might help Facebook create a really good Messenger app faster. Fingers crossed. Also, I'm available for hire.

Thanks to @MagnusEngdal and Sara Öhman for helping me with the testing.

Update: Ben from the Facebook Messenger team replies with some information about the upcoming version 1.5 of the app. Early the next morning I had it and started using it. And I must say it's a big improvement. I'll write a follow up shortly about this new version.

Path 2.0 UX review

Path was a weird app when it launched about a year ago. It was a photo sharing app with checkins, directly competing with Instagram and Foursquare but without the simplicity. It also had the really weird USP that you could "only share with 50 of your closest friends!"... Now, most people don't have more close friends than that. Hell, most people don't come close to that. But the early adopter crowd that usually takes these new apps for a spin were appalled. But Path was beautiful.

Path 1.0

It didn't work.

But Path is back! Path 2.0 is better, faster, turbo, everything you could possibly want. But is it good enough?

Path first impressions

Path is incredibly beautiful. No other mobile experience comes close. Seriously, it's not just pretty graphics, all the animations and interactions, the structure of information, the loading bars and even the damned typing experience is just plain better than in other apps. It's amazing.

Path 2.0

So what is Path?

Path is a digital diary for your life. Everyone on Path has a feed. And at any time you can add stuff to your own: where you are, a piture, who you're with, music you're listening to or when you go to sleep.

Using Path

Is lonely. Sure it launched today but that's not the main issue. Path is clearly going for the same feature set as Facebook Timeline (which is tied up in court and has yet to launch) but there's no way you'll get all your friends to come over. I'm an early adopter. I talk to a lot of other early adopters. And I'm still lonely on Path.

Still, it's an amazing experience. Enough to make me want to use it. Maybe that's enought? I'll update in a few days and let you know.

User Experience Design terms - Resistance

All fields of technology and design needs terms to define complex meaning regarding their subject. This is my attempt to create a few such terms for user experience design. Please help out through the comments or DM me on twitter! Resistance refers to the resistance of experiencing the design. This can encompass the macro experience of, for example, music:

  • Find a song you like (resistance)
  • Purchase the song (resistance)
  • Listen to the song

But resistance can also mean the micro experience of the music:

  • BPM might not match the listeners mood (resistance)
  • Singers voice might hit strange notes (ever listened to death metal or opera and hated it despite a catchy tune? resistance)

So resistance can build both from the users cognitive or psychological experience of the product as well as the practical obstacles the user has in order to experience the intended design.

Since all negative values are experienced as twice as important compared to a positive value, resistance is important to reduce.

Reducing resistance as much as possible is in fact the process of making something accessible but the term is a lot more exact. Defining what we're really intending to do.

Reduce resistance of user experience, make the user experience flow in using your experience!