Ten essential UX factors to create products your customers will LOVE

This week Apple launched the iPad 2, reminding us that creating a great User Experience (UX) is much more than providing a clean, simple User Interface (UI). Those of us who want to build products that are loved by our customers need to achieve a great UX across areas—not just one:

1.     Easy authentication. People have far too many logins and passwords than they can possibly remember. Making them create and manage yet another identity is a hassle that can potentially turn-off over half of your customers. Aim to enable one-click login that re-uses an identity your customers already love (like the Facebook SocialGraph).

2.     Clean, simple UI for mainstream users. It is so incredibly easy to fall into the trap of overloading a UI with some many features, making your product non-intuitive the 80% people who constitute your mainstream customers.  If you need to provide instructions for basic use, you have made you product too complicated. Strive for simplicity, like Twitter does.

3.     Configurable UI for advanced users. Over time, 10-20% of your customers will be your core, “power users.” To keep them happy, you need to provide them the ability to create shortcuts and customizations that let them use your product more effectively. The key is focusing on making their experience more efficient—not more cluttered. Facebook does a good job of this for consumers; Salesforce for business users.

4.     Open APIs for partners. Many are afraid to open their product (and data) up to others. In a “Web 2.0 World” this can be a fatal mistake. Build your product to make it easy for others to build create applications on top of your product. This social production taps the creativity and work of others to make your product more useful and valuable to your customers. Look at what this provided Facebook, Twitter, and Salesforce.

5.     Easy installation of partner apps. You need to architect your product from Day One to let make it simple for people outside your organization install and integrate applications that work with your product. When you achieve this, your customers see your product as an easy platform to add whatever the need. Contrast how Apple does this vs. RIM and WordPress vs. all other blogging tool to understand this UX firsthand.

6.     Device compatibility. If you are building applications for tablets or mobile, endeavor to be platform agnostic. This gives your customers the freedom to chose the device that best fits their need—a great UX—vs. denying them choice. Take a look at the explosion of Android to understand how much people love this.

7.     Built-in reporting. (Mostly applicable for business apps). The worst thing you can do to customers is providing them a product without the tools to enable measure and understand what it is doing for them. Build in intuitive reporting from the start. Make it easy for customers to export data for their own use. Be a source of insight—not obfuscation.

8.     Non-technical customization. (Another item mostly for business applications). Everyone has unique ways of working. Forcing your customers to conform to ways of working your engineers cooked up in isolation is not a good UX (nor is forcing them to spend obscene amounts of money on customization). Make it easy for non-technical people to adapt your product to how they work. Hint: look again at Saleforce to see how to do this well.

9.     Painless upgrade. Technology is an innovative business. If you want to keep your customers, you need to provide them regular improvements and innovation. Making this painful, costly and intrusive will guarantee you loose customers to someone who makes it easy. Making it easy makes you a constant source of improved UX. WordPress does this incredibly well—for individuals and business alike.

10.  Transparent pricing. This is one people tend to forget. You can make the easiest-to-use product unappealing if you make the purchase process complicated. Too many software pricing models can make buying software akin to buying a new car. Transparent pricing—based on what your customer value (not your costs)—provides a great experience. Pardot does this really well.

An interesting exercise to try for yourself

Look at the products you provide (and the ones you use). How many of them achieve all ten of these? How many even half? Which of those do you enjoy using the most?

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