UI Matters. UX Matters More

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I recently switched from a top-of-the-line Android phone back to a 2 year old iPhone because of the much much better user experience on iOS, even if it means it takes me a second longer to open up the web browser. There was a survey recently studying the reasons behind user migration between mobile operating systems which demonstrated an overwhelming 47% of users switched from Android to iOS because of the better user experience, even when iOS devices are significantly more expensive. 

The days are over when computers and gadgets are for geeks and people who like green texts rolling around on a monitor. Technology needs to be user friendly and intuitive for the consumers to adopt to it. It is too often the case where the brands over-promise and under-deliver on the UX front. “Revolutionary user interface” might not be a great idea if it requires people to change their habits to adopt. Look at qwerty keyboards. The design principal for this layout is to slow people down so that the typewriters wouldn’t jam. Dvorak uses maths and science to optimise the typing experience, and is designed to speed people up. Who wins? Qwerty does, because it’s become a habit for people to type like this. Changing this habit is too unintuitive, requires too much effort. Speaking from experience – I once tried to adopt to this Dvorak layout about 5 years ago. I swapped all the keys around on my mechanical keyboard, changed the soft keyboards on my phone and tablet, and typed unbelievably slowly for a few days. Then I gave up – it’s just not worth it.

Apple knows this. When they introduced the iPhone in 2007, one of the revolution was the way that the user interacted with the phone. They introduced a myriad of new gestures and it all made sense. Scrolling through a list is just using a finger and flicking it up. There was no scroll bar. Zooming in and out of a picture or a web page is just a pinch away. Everything just made sense. However, recently Apple has been under criticisms for some of the ways that the iPhone X and the iPad require the user to interact with. Sliding down from top left for notification, and sliding down from top right for control centre. Why? I am all for creating better interfaces and gestures, but they should be built upon the habits that we already have. If we are switching to something brand new, it will be an uncomfortable and difficult transition. So perhaps we are in more dire need of evolution rather than revolutions.

There are two types of users – those that have to use it, and those that want to use it. The former shouldn’t be of much importance to people who market user interfaces because it is an incredibly inelastic market – they have to use it, period. The latter is exactly the contrary – it is a very elastic market. If you don’t offer what they think is great, they’ll ditch you for something else in the blink of an eye. I recently got a temporary job filling in the gaps in my time for a company which shall remain unnamed. I’ve worked here for a week now, and their CRM system is absolutely horrid: they have an old old system, an old system, and this new system they are trying to implement. However, these systems are relatively independent of each other, so whenever you want to look a customer up, the worst case scenario is that you’ll have to search three times because they could exist in any one of these systems and not the other ones. However, every body in the company uses it. Why? They have to. They have no other choice. I’m sure if they are given a better alternative, they wouldn’t blink an eye before switching because the current pipeline of operation is just ridiculous. Despite this not being the focus of the UI marketer, it should still be a focus on the UI designer as this can drive immense cost reduction and productivity boost. 

This segues to a good point that was raised by Computerphile – system designers should almost always avoid securing the user login information yourself. Give it to someone to do it – Google, Facebook, GitHub, PayPal, or any other well-known sites which offers SSO services, because they spend big dollars on security to come up with good, reliable, and safe way of storing the login information. Microsoft is capitalising on this technique by offering packaged office suite like SharePoint, Office365, Dynamics365, etc. to companies that require intranet and email services. Zoho and Salesforce are trying and failing to capitalise the market before big players slice it up between themselves. WordPress, Drupal, and Droomla are good players in the DIY CRM market, but nobody has made a significant impact yet. At least not significant enough that when you mention CRM some particular platform comes to mind, like Microsoft Exchange when emails are mentioned, Windows with OS, and BlackBerry iPhone with enterprise mobile solutions.

UI design is hard. It’s hard because it’s what you touch, feel, and see all the time. It’s hard because it’s not an exact science. It’s hard because when it’s well designed, nobody should notice it. It’s hard because when it’s poorly designed, it’s so easy to complain about. UIdesign is also hugely beneficial. It brings productivity to a whole new level and reduces time and fiscal costs by enabling efficient pipelines to be executed and monitored with little effort. It enables more effective and precise communication and easier follow-ups. Last but not least – it makes you feel good, and isn’t that what’s important most of all?

UX on the other hand, is a whole new level above UI. It interacts with feelings. Do you want your company to come off as being playful and fun, or serious and enterprise-like? You’ll have plenty of ways to customise the user experience for your customers, from the wait music on the phone, to the logo design, to the people you hire, to the shopfront arrangement, and to various company policies. You can’t talk about UX without talking about Apple who has a famous phrase – “It just works!”, and that is (or at least was) the UX that they were striving for. When you purchase an iPhone, the on-screen guide clarifies what you are doing without giving you all of the inner workings of everything. When you walk into an Apple Store, there’s no tellers desk, no cashiers, just a bunch of people in t-shirts helping you out on their iPad’s, when you want to pay, easy – just swipe your card on top of this iPod Touch, and someone will bring it out for you. Linux has gone the complete opposite direction – they want you to know, and control, no matter how painfully, every single detail on your machine. As a result, only geeks and nerds (and people who have to) use it – I do, sometimes. When stuff goes wrong, iOS doesn’t give you a pop up saying “Would you like to Force Stop this app”, it just kills it; macOS doesn’t give you a blue screen with error codes on it, it just shows a grey screen, and reboots; Linux shows you enough error debug traces to print 500 A4 pages and makes you wonder what has gone wrong with your life that you are here at 4AM debugging for the driver that caused the kernel panic.

UX makes and breaks an ecosystem in this day and age. Many are switching from Windows to macOS simply because there are less things to worry about. However, simplicity doesn’t equal to great user experience. As a photographer, I engage in pipelined processes a lot – take photos, take card out of camera, put it into my computer, import photos into Adobe Lightroom, generate 1:1 preview, flag and rate the photos, edit them individually, and export with preset settings. Frankly, it is a rather tiresome process and quite time consuming. For a typical consumer, this is simply not worth the effort of making your photos look a little bit nicer. This is perhaps people prefer Instragram – snap a photo, put filters on it, boom, done. However, for a professional, or a pro-sumer like me, more functionalities is almost always preferable to better user experience. Adobe is working on improving the user experience with their mobile app, as well as the new UI for Lightroom, but I still use the “classic” layout because I’ve been using it for years and have gotten used to it. Apple was in the market for photo editing with their Aperture application, but discontinued it a few years ago in favour of their Photos app, which is much less powerful, but much more user friendly. I think Apple is taking the “It just works!” mindset quite seriously, but then they still have Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X… which are comically user-unfriendly.

A streamlined process focuses your mind on the more important aspects of the job instead of the logistics of it. Decision fatigue is a real thing, no, seriously. We have immensely powerful computers to automate and manage the pipeline, so why not use them for those boring, mundane things and let the humans focus on what the machines can’t – high level thinking. 

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