3 ways to make your brand more human centred
How can we make the world easier for all? That’s the main focus of World Usability Day, which is celebrated across the world today, November 12th. As this year’s theme is Human Centred AI, let’s discuss 3 factors that can a) help within the context of AI and b) function as general guiding lights to improve the general usability for your brand, product or service.
Usability is more important now than ever, as we are in a moment of great change, both technological and societal. On the one hand, there’s the increasing application of AI and machine learning, utilising huge amounts of data. On the other, there’s the current pandemic causing mass changes in user behaviour, such as the increasing effects of the low-touch economy.
In this mass change event, the businesses that will flourish, will be those that continue to focus on how they improve the usability of their brand, products or services.
So, here are some key points to help you improve the usability of your product or service. These 3 factors focus on the most important piece in any brand, product or service: the people who are meant to benefit from it. How and where do they interact? What motivates them? What frustrates them? These are the key questions you’ll need to answer if you want to make their experience more personal, entertaining, informative or reassuring.
The big picture: understand your user-context
A lot of what people do, say or feel has to do with the context in which they are interacting with your brand. If that has changed, such as during the pandemic, you’ll need to realign your assumptions. Ask yourself: are you still providing value in this ‘new reality’? You’ll need to make an effort to understand your audience in order to be able to empathise with them. This means getting hands-on with solid research.
The same goes for your internal teams. Assumptions and unconscious biases’ (it’s human, we all have them) can lead the team in the wrong direction – which means the proposed solution may not be of value for the end user. So, make sure your research insights align all of the stakeholders on the challenges.
This will become especially important in the coming years, with the increasing implementation of AI and the mainstream use of experiences such as Voice, Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR).
For AR and MR, you’ll need to thoroughly research the user's physical context. Think in terms of space, not just of the screen. For example: a cooking app where users can read and follow recipes on a kitchen wall, while they control the interface interaction with their voice.
For a problem that your AI solution is solving, you should take into account how the end user would expect a human-to-human interaction to go. It makes the overall experience feel natural, and it provides the results expected by the user.
Research methods to achieve a more user-centric approach
In most contexts, we are ultimately people trying to help other people. We discover insights by asking the right questions and by listening. We should try to understand the user’s needs before starting any new project. This can be a fast, efficient process – or a long, detailed one. For example, it's best to go for a detailed study if you’re a start-up, starting a new project or entering into a new market.
For quick feedback, try ...
- In-service surveys: want to know if a specific new service or feature will be useful? Do a quick in-service survey, such as asking for ratings after an Uber Eats delivery.
- Email surveys: a survey sent by email is a fast way to generate insights and validate assumptions.
- Social media: go where your users are to gain direct feedback. This can be a faster and more cost-effective way to gain quick insights. Use common features like polls, or ask questions directly to your audience.
For more detailed insights, try ...
- User interviews and focus groups: a traditional, yet effective method to generate quantitative feedback.
- User diaries: dealing with a more complex or new product discovery? Recruit users to keep a written or video diary of experiences, with specific scenarios. If we take the cooking app example again, such scenarios could include finding recipes, trying out recipes and shopping for food.
Inclusivity: leave no-one behind
Good user research aims to reduce bias and assumptions, but it also helps to illuminate other issues that can be commonly overlooked, such as accessibility. Over a billion people have an impairment of some kind. To be inclusive means to design for a wide range of diverse people – with and without impairments. Unfortunately, there are still many digital products that have accessibility problems for a vast number of people. Solving them helps provide mass market solutions that benefit everyone.
The benefits of inclusivity
- Wider reach: by improving the accessibility, you open up to more users and also will create a product that is easier to use and better for everyone.
- Less liability: It reduces risks of lawsuits against discrimination, especially if your solution is used in many different international markets.
- More ethical: being inclusive is an investment into building a more equal society.
Understanding and promoting accessibility now, will place teams in a better position in the future. Especially as new technology such as AI and AR become more mainstream. A new challenge that’s emerging with the technology – and one that’s facing more and more businesses – is inclusivity in the data used to train models for machine learning and AI. An inclusive mindset helps us to reduce our own biases in the algorithms that are built, and to take responsibility so no-one gets left behind.
Inclusivity starter kit: try these 5 tips
- Create a mindset within the team to always consider accessibility, which goes beyond best practices and guidelines.
- Listen to people who face accessibility issues.
- For digital solutions, buy and use assistive technology, plugins and software so the team can understand the experience of people who use them.
- Educate internal teams, find suitable courses and books that can be shared between the team.
- For screen-based digital teams: promote the team to use WCAG, VOX accessibility guidelines and other brands guidelines such as Apple and Google’s Material design.
Precision: don't forget the little, big things
A key aspect of making any product more usable is focusing on the smaller aspects. First of all, it means making sure your product is accessible on the devices the users need it on. And, if mobile is the most used, then truly taking a mobile first approach in the project.
Secondly, pay attention to such elements as error handling, component design (use of colours), micro-copy and micro-interactions.
Providing feedback to the user
There is no bigger usability killer than when a person takes action and receives no feedback from the interface. Always remember to give the user feedback when they have taken action. The copy must be instructive, so the user does not become frustrated or stuck. An important part of this is error messaging.
Well thought through component design is also imperative to a usable product. Like using good colour contrast – and no, it doesn’t need to be ugly to be usable. Well-selected colours can make a huge difference to the readability of components. Form components are also a key element for web interactions: making sure to provide well-written and clear labels that do not disappear when clicked.
Here is an excellent article explaining the best practices for forms.
Focusing on the finer details when designing components is the key to creating a usable site. There are many best practices to follow on component design – which could be a whole separate series of posts by itself. But remember the key things:
- Reduce the need for the user to learn your interface by using common interactions as much as possible – such as searching, filtering a list, or adding an item to a basket
- Focus on improving efficiency and simplifying tasks, a general rule of 7 options per task is useful to follow.
- Don’t make users guess or force them to have to remember how to use your product: make sure uncommon action icons have a label.
The importance of testing
Most importantly, always factor in usability tests. They will help you identify usability issues in your components. Using best practices will get you a long way, but nuances of your users and truly bringing value and delight will only be discovered and validated by testing. You can test with 5 participants and identify 90% of problems, although this depends on what you are testing. It’s essential to factor this into the production cycle, ideally testing concepts before development begins, but A/B testing post go-live is also a viable and lean process.
Bonus points: micro-interactions
Micro-interactions are small events that allow you to really trigger a big emotional reaction. They provide the opportunity to make your users feel a real connection to your brand, by entertaining, surprising or reassuring them.
You will see this primarily when giving user feedback that an action has been recognised by the system. A good example are food delivery apps like Deliveroo or Uber Eats: when the kitchen has confirmed your order, you get a text system response and animation of an illustration of cooking.
© Gary Der
There are many more aspects that can be improved, but focusing on the small things from the start is the key to making a design more user-friendly.
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