Being a UX writer for Shakuro, I narrow down all the product writing to two basic principles: being respectful and being useful. None of those are possible if you care. You can pursue your business goals and actually give a fuck. Psychology puts into a perspective the relationships between Aesthetics, Utility, and Care in UX of modern digital products.
We want pretty things. Even though beauty comes at a price of system resources, it feels good to be on a website like this.
MIND – Close Your Eyes by Anton Pecheritsa
We trust pretty things more. That’s the reason web design even exists. The easiest way to get people to understand you is show them beautiful pictures. Beauty also expands tolerance for some of the interface drawbacks. However, the more of those you see, the more thick-skinned you become. Eventually, it brings a diminishing return.
Beauty with poor utility is doomed to remain superficial.
If we were to choose between utility and beauty, utility is what we should go with. Context is what surrounds every interaction with your tool or app, or service. Using simple math, figure out the number of contexts people use your product in. The number of those that make beauty a factor will be significantly smaller than the neutral and urgent contexts. This means design has to work first. But it doesn’t mean it has to be ugly or plain. This is where care comes into play. It blurs out this opposition. Care implies deep knowledge of who you are designing for and what their pains are.
Since urgent contexts prevail, our job is to work towards easing those contexts and be aesthetically pleasing as well. If your product helps people solve a problem it’s a win. They will remember you for that. If you did that while looking and feeling good, they will remember you for that also.
Care for what they need, then care for how they feel.
In this contraption, the role of creative mixers like Dribbble is immense. Where else do you get to witness the birth of styles and trends dictating the game. This should not be considered stimuli, it is rather, an exaggerated example of beauty and unusualness in design. More about the topic including some Twitter heat here.
Progress with closure
Everything is a challenge. And every challenge requires a closure. On top of that, we want to know how close we are to that closure. It’s important not to overwhelm people with what you have, instead let them discover the chunks they need or want.
Success comes when user’s expectations and priorities align with what the product is pitching.
This is what inverted pyramids and progressive disclosure do. More on that here.
The second part of every hard task seems less harder than the first because we realize we are going down the slope and getting somewhere. It’s important to illustrate this feeling and reinforce it with some elegant design solutions.
People want to be in control. If we can’t make that happen, we have to make it feel like we can.
Indicators of progress and closure must be everywhere. Each period is a comma if you look further. For example, error messages. Most of them state the fact that something went wrong. Some might even give you the gobbledygook explanation that the remote server returned a 554 5.4.0. Because someone didn’t care enough to actually explain it, the product lost a chance to make it up with a user. The progress is lost. The closure is “fuck this. ❌”.
We know better. Instead of stating what’s obvious, give some insights on why it is so, what it means, and what comes next, or how to avoid it.
The progress you make with your user has to end with a closure where they leave and you stay. Not vice versa.
Heuristic is any practical approach to problem solving sufficient for reaching an immediate goal. It’s a mental shortcut that eases the cognitive load of making a decision. Heuristic is the foundation of numerous cognitive biases. You can leave it up to the user to form their own shortcuts of using your product. Or you can navigate this.
Care means dropping your own biases in favor of the clearest and simplest solution for a user.
In design, heuristic helps prioritize information and make the right choice, usually towards the simplest. One button – one pattern – one love.
Tamed freedom of choice
The paradox of choice is a situation where the abundance of choices that are supposed to give customers freedom, bring no psychological benefits to them. We tend to think that the more options we provide, the greater the audience we cater to. Turns out, according to Barry Schwartz, this is a destructive approach. The current abundance of choice often leads to depression and feelings of loneliness.
Try going through a Reddit thread with 800 comments. Meanwhile, they are all formulated opinions and (more often than not) have some sort of reasoning. In order for us to make use of such an abundance, it has to become friendly.
Care doesn’t mean burying people in choices. It means being sensitive enough to give them what they really need.
The extension of the inverted pyramid and heuristic principle is information parceling. You divide your functionality into comprehensible chunks. However, parceling also involves a great deal of cutting. If you simply group features and let them branch, you’ll end up sending users down the rabbit holes.
Below is an example of tamed freedom of choice where the selected few options represent the variety without being too specific. It has to be about what people can do with what you offer, rather than the amount of what you can offer.
Fragmentation is what helps us remember things. But the way your product is fragmented does not define what people will remember. Fragmenting the right way means lining up user expectations and your business priorities. Something that cannot be done without a great deal of care.
Versatility is your product’s ability to satisfy various user needs. The more it can do, the bigger its use. But the more features you string on your product idea, the more contorted and distorted the product becomes.
Care enough to stick to the features people appreciate you for. If you do shift, be bold and substitute.
To avoid rigidness and weak UX of certain features, the number of those has to be sustainable. Care enough to give up what you can’t back up. Contortion changes what your product is and dissolves the original design. Because not every skate shop can pull of a Supreme.
Along with a non-trashing opt out mechanisms, we should provide a safe environment. We don’t know who is using our product and what they’ve been going through. Edginess and dark UX patterns is a risk that you can only take if you are super confident you won’t do harm.
A user has a right to not get what is obvious to you. A user has a right to do wrong. Psychology helps prioritize information in a way that eliminates possible mistakes.
We should care enough to fix user mistakes without them facing the repercussions.
When you plan a trip like that, you need the system to protect your money from itself and from yourself. This is a great example of a conversational interaction that helps you through the process while being aesthetically pleasing.
If errors do occur, we can’t blame the user. The least we can do is be honest and helpful in understanding the situation:
- Explain what happened in simple terms
- Explain what to do next
- Explain why it happened without blaming anyone
- Explain how to avoid this in the future
Implementing this principle in design means addressing the safest mechanisms of perception. Personal growth comes from leaving your comfort zone. But this is not what they come to you for. Put the user into their comfort zone to help them make safe choices.
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We leave a lot of things at the mercy of an accident. Not with a bad intent but because we project our own experience on those of a user. Sometimes we separate design tasks from general project strategies. Care is what helps avoid this separation by putting it all into a perspective.
Aesthetics has care in its core – beautiful things have a higher tolerance threshold.
Giving closure is caring for a user’s mental balance.
Understanding heuristic means caring for how users view your product in various contexts of life.
Taming freedom of choice is caring for a user’s right to receive objective and unbiased information.
Not turning your product into a contortionist is caring for your user’s right to access the utility they’ve paid or came for.
Caring for your user’s safety while using your product is a complex thing. It involves a bunch of factors like restricting functionality while the user’s driving or during the night hours.