My Four "F"s of User Experience
Having a dedicated UX person or team is great for many reasons. They are experts in the different areas of user experience. They are another set of eyes on ideas, constantly thinking about how users are going to interact with different products and features. But that doesn't mean that UX should sit with a dedicated person or team. Everyone is responsible for thinking about what the user experience is going to be. I think that is especially true for product managers. We can't deflect the responsibility simply because there is someone else who does it.
So with that, here is a framework that I've used in my own product management experience. It is my four "F"s.
First off is function. Because you simply can't have a product or feature that doesn't function. For me, nothing else matters if this part isn't there. Of course, this is driven by the user's goals. What is it that they want to do? What problem do they have we are trying to solve? How are we best positioned to solve the problem?
When it comes to beautiful design, it's hard not to think of Apple products. And usually the function is there too. But in the case of the Magic Mouse 2, design clearly took precedent over function. While adding the ability to recharge it was great, the lightening port was put on the bottom of the mouse, making it completely unusable when you need to recharge it. Putting the port on the front of the mouse may have made it a little less beautiful, but it would have made it usable when it came time to charge it.
Fortunately most of the products and features I've worked on, especially recently, have always been about function first. But I do recall a time when that wasn't the case. We wanted to create a new web page for clients with lots of information that wasn't currently available. It had lots of nice looking charts and graphs and information, but unfortunately got pushed live before any historical information was available. So while it was very pretty, most of the information it promised wasn't there yet. Users got a snapshot of the current day, but without being able to compare that to other things it was useless. Needless to say, we had to pull it back down since it was causing confusion rather than helping users.
This is the next building block of the user experience for me. Once the function is there, the problem is being solved or the goal addressed, it has to have some aesthetic appeal.
When I first started my coding bootcamp, the idea of form was addressed by one of the instructors. He was teaching CSS and showing some cool tips and tricks. At the end of his lesson, he begged everyone to not forget about the look of their products. He said it happened in every cohort, all the time. People became obsessed with getting the functionality of their apps or sites or projects, only to run out of time to make it look good. So at the end of the bootcamp, people demonstrate their apps with awesome functionality, but they all look like crap. I tried to take that lesson to heart for my projects during my time there as well as after.
Products have to look good or people won't want to use them. There is a certain level of distrust we have if an app or site doesn't look professional. The alarm bells start to go off that it might not be legitimate. This doesn't mean that every product has to go out perfectly polished, but good form has to be there from the start so it can be improved upon.
Once you have the function and form, the next step for me is thinking about how a product or feature fits into the user's life. Solving a problem and making it look good are great, but if it doesn't fit into the user's life, they simply aren't going to adopt it.
This tends to be the problem with many fitness and weight loss tools. I think MyFitnessPal is a great app and I tend to start out using it periodically with the best of intentions. But unfortunately I just can't ever get into the habit of entering information after every meal. It simply takes me too far out of my routine to be useful.
I had this problem with a financial product that we launched. It was useful product, at least in our view, that people should have in their portfolio. But no one seemed interested and it didn't go anywhere. So I set out to do some customer research. Among a few other problems, we discovered that people just didn't see how it fit into their portfolios. So we addressed that issue with some new online tools to help them see where it would fit and we saw much more success after that.
Finally, it has to be fun. When I think of something "fun", I think of something that I want to come back to, something I want to do again. To me, the "fun" is the culmination of the other elements. When things are done right, you should have a product that makes people want to come back to it again and again.
Pinterest seems to have fun nailed down within its product. It's easy to use and a fun way to find new ideas for cooking, DIY projects, clothes, styles, etc. It's got the functionality, the form and fits easily into people's lives. Nothing is simpler than pulling up the home page of Pinterest, scrolling and pinning things. It is something that many, many people keep coming back to. Now I'm not an avid Pinterest user, but I can certainly understand the appeal.
Many of the products I've worked on recently aren't what you'd traditionally think of as "fun". But it is an aspect of UX that I've tried to always keep in mind. How can we make this product or feature something that people want to come back to again and again? An example is a redesign of an internal website that I created to help our sales and marketing teams. I took several sites and consolidated it all down to one, easy to use site with only the most relevant information. We added data that was useful and suddenly had a tool that people were checking frequently because it was the quickest place to find what they needed. Not a super sexy app, but fun enough to keep people coming back.
UX and product management tend to distinct roles at many places, but I don't think we can really afford to completely separate the two. Product managers need to keep the full user experience in mind as we design and implement new products and features. And by keeping UX in mind through the process, we will certainly always come out with better products.
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My personal musings on a variety of topics.