User Interface: The Gateway to Outstanding User Experience
User Experience (UX) is the difference between an outstanding device and one that’s just good enough. Advances in technology have streamlined the user experience, allowing users to interact with devices in new ways. As expectations rise, users subconsciously compare new products to every best-in-class consumer gadget available. This trend has even reached highly specialized industries. Whether you’re producing healthcare equipment management systems or IoT monitoring devices for industrial applications, user experience determines whether your customers come back for more.
User Interface (UI) is the means by which developers can shape the user experience. Users interact with devices through an interface, like a touch screen, a TV remote, or even an IoT home assistant. As the interaction point, UI is pivotal in shaping UX. An intuitive user interface captivates its users and makes the process effortless. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) can realize outstanding user experience by consciously tailoring their interface to the target audience.
It’s clear why UI and UX matter in consumer products. We purchase smartphones and IoT gadgets for personal enjoyment – the user experience is the point. But it’s important not to forget that consumers are also employees. Specialized technology for regulated applications is operated by the same consumers who have become accustomed to leading-edge user experience from their personal devices. Whether your users are consumers or professionals, they’re likely the same people and they have the same expectations for intuitive technology. When OEMs begin designing a new product line, UX is a key aspect that cannot be ignored.
One of the most important tools for UI and UX designers is user research. Often referred to as design research, developing an understanding of your users is a pre-requisite to any user-centric design. OEMs can no longer rely on industry knowledge and experience to intuit what users want. Early stage user research strategies are already widely used. Interviews, surveys, and use cases form the foundation of early UX design. For many developers this concludes the research phase, but the beginning of the design phase does not mark the end of research. OEMs can refine their final design specifications by soliciting user feedback throughout prototyping.
UX research meets UI in the process of iterative prototyping. Iterative prototyping consists of creating numerous versions of prototypes for user focus groups. Gathering user feedback often throughout the development process allows electronics developers to test the interface while better understanding their users. Armed with an understanding of user preferences, engineers can refine the UI as necessary to ensure an outstanding UX.
User research and iterative prototyping can yield concrete insights, but it is equally valuable to consider the motivations behind users’ responses to your interface. These deeper insights into why users prefer certain features can be harnessed to anticipate what features will define the future of user experience. Not only does this strategy result in more intuitive products, these insights can inspire innovation that redefines your industry. When UX is expertly architected with real users in mind a device becomes an extension of self, a tool that is intuited rather than learned.
Consider the Journey
The user journey comes at the intersection of user experience and user interface. Considering the user’s experience from boot-up to shut-down is often referred to as journey mapping. This process-oriented approach is less about buttons or voice commands and more about how users feel while navigating your system.
What makes users feel good about a device? A user’s journey should be seamless and require the least effort necessary to accomplish the desired task. One of the easiest ways to achieve this seamless experience is by managing interface components. Sleek minimalist interfaces are increasingly popular for creating a streamlined user journey. By eliminating unnecessary buttons and views, users can be guided through their journey. Often the complexity of an interface is a function of the complexity of the task it performs, but it’s important to remember that efficiency is paramount. Any areas that could introduce confusion should be minimized. UI should work to achieve its purpose in the most intuitive way possible.
While flawless UI is an essential component of outstanding UX, it is not the whole picture. If your interface features come at the expense of functionality, performance, or load times, the value is quickly diminished. Journey mapping reminds us to consider the impact of any one feature on the system as a whole. A Google search won’t just yield thousands of results – it will do so in less than a second. The volume of results alone does not make the experience, users also care about speed, relevance, and navigability. These aspects of user experience exist beyond interface features, introducing the need for a holistic systems perspective.
Strategically Deviate from the Norm
Innovation is not achieved without change. But users expect a degree of consistency and predictability across platforms and brands. Once users have developed habits and shortcuts for controlling their technology, they expect these habits will carry over to future devices. These competing forces challenge OEMs to deliver improved devices without forcing users to relearn their technology. Deviating from industry norms can present a valuable opportunity for OEMs to differentiate themselves in the minds of users or a substantial source of frustration.
Several examples of norms exist but some are more rigidly followed than others. For example, if you look to close or minimize a window on your computer, you’ll find the same options in the top corner of your screen across nearly every platform. But whether you look to your right-hand corner or the left will depend on whether you’re using Apple products. This shows that consumers will tolerate a degree of differentiation but expect standard functionality.
These standard features of a user interface improve user experience. Universally recognized iconography for standard features (play, pause, Wi-Fi, power) allow users to navigate any system without extensive training. Users appreciate standard application of these best practices because this consistency gives users a sense of control and trust for the interface. Deviating from these widely accepted norms will generate frustration and confusion among users. For example, when Disney+ launched it lacked a continue watching feature. This feature had become a best practice for streaming services, popularized by competitors Netflix and Hulu. The absence of this feature on Disney+ sparked significant irritation from users, and Disney+ quickly released the feature to improve its UX.
User’s preference for consistency is noteworthy, but it seldom stifles innovation. Over time users can be retrained, and even learn to love UI aspects that deviate from their expectations. An example can be found in smart phones without headphone jacks. Users were accustomed to plugging their headphones directly into a mobile device. When Apple released its first iPhone with no headphone jack it encountered initial resistance. But as consumers became familiar with wireless headphones this resistance dissipated. Now Apple’s competitors have released ‘jackless’ phones as this change becomes the new norm.
Best practices of user interface design are in constant flux. For OEMs, the challenge comes in navigating which rules are made to be broken, and which are best adhered to. Design research and journey mapping can provide clues as to how users will respond to any given change, but developers should further consider why the change is being made. Any deviation from user expectations is likely to generate some pushback from users initially. If a change is being made solely to differentiate from competitors, it may be difficult to convince users of its value. But when deviations from the norm deliver substantive improvements, users will quickly adapt.
UI That Facilitates Outstanding UX
No solution is one-size-fits-all. Each individual user will have slightly different preferences and may want to interact with your system in a different way. Even when user profiles are relatively homogeneous, preferences and behavior may vary drastically. There should be multiple ways to achieve the desired result from an interface. Interface versatility facilitates a consistent, convenient, and positive UX no matter how one user varies from the next. By intentionally designing work-arounds, users are free to shape their own UX with the decisions they make.
However, adaptability is only valuable to the point it is surpassed by complexity. Above all else, a well-designed UI must never leave the user confused or guessing. This strategy does not promote redundancy or unnecessarily cluttering your interface display – rather removing restrictions to the greatest extent possible, allowing users to complete their task their way. When properly implemented, these strategies give users the agency to shape their own experience for the better.
The EMS Provider’s Role
As user expectations rise, EMS partners are taking a more active role in helping to shape user experience.
The right EMS partner can support your design research process with the technical knowledge to turn your insights into a solution that is efficient and implementable. They should be able to use their decades of electronics development experience to know the right questions to ask and the tricks to see around corners. The right EMS partner can offer a systems-level approach with cross-functional teams of experienced engineers. Such a range of expertise can clarify the user journey and which norms to follow or deviate from. This big-picture perspective resembles how your users will evaluate a device – not focused on a particular component but rather the experience from boot-up to shut-down.
EMS partners can offer valuable insights into UX norms. Electronics manufacturers have experience with a wide variety of devices and systems across a plethora of industries. This broad knowledge base helps OEMs identify trends and lead their industry in outstanding user experience. Flexible EMS partners can further offer UX support with the versatility to implement changes to UI and functionality in late stage development and production – ensuring your final product is the best it can be.