All products are about the users. Knowing the average user is critical to understanding how to build a product. Even after having a successful product, continuing to know the user and following the evolutions users go through is critical to be able to innovate. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about user experience on applications, particularly mobile apps and have been realizing that some of the most successful applications have pockets of bad user experience and in some cases, even below average overall experiences. Here are some examples that really make me wonder how the usability of these apps get impacted, if at all, by these less than ideal experiences.
Granted Facebook wants users to really try graph search and explore it – but a popup that is in your face all the time, even as you scroll down the page? And that too, to a user that has actually tried graph search and hasn’t found it compelling to come back often yet? Not too long ago, they tried a popup on the mobile that forced you to find friends from contacts or dismiss it every single time you opened the app! If Facebook didn’t have the kind of user base it does already, would users tolerate this?
Forcing a tie between functionalities when not required
I used to pretty regularly email myself articles from Pulse, but I have not done it a single time since they started forcing me to highlight the article in order to share it. In fact, I consume more of my news via Flipboard, as I find the highlight icon overlay on the screen all the time quite annoying. Seen the reviews on the latest Pulse update yet? It is clearly not in the direction of enhancing user experience.
Clutter on the main screen or dashboard
Microsoft products (Powerpoint is shown here, but Word and Excel are no exception) pack all kinds of actions on the main dashboard, while Apple is picky about what is contained in it. I’m a power user and use the Inspector in Keynote quite a bit to have access to other functions – but, I much prefer the cleaner dashboard!
Buried and/or complex functionality
Sometimes, you truly want certain functions to be hidden and hard to get to. Facebook’s privacy settings have been notorious for that. Studies have shown that links placed on websites in areas that typically contain banner ads are not widely visited.
Here is an example of a complex topic (privacy) made easy to read and understand (a product of the CMU CUPS lab).
The human brain tends to remember meta elements such as the portion of a screen where a particular functionality typically resides or a typical action that occurs upon clicking a type of element. Inconsistencies in this can cause confusions!
Facebook has several such inconsistencies, especially on the mobile app!
Poor handling of connectivity challenges
Sure, everyone wants the connectivity issues to be fixed and the applications to not have to worry about it. But, we live in an imperfectly connected world. Some applications particularly handle it poorly.
Here is a case where an upload to Facebook failed due to a momentary disruption in my wireless connectivity. It not only does not resume when the connectivity is back, the only way to clean up my notifications screen after this happens is to reboot my phone!
Ongoing slow experience on mobile
Not to pick on Facebook here, but the performance of the mobile app, even in conditions of good connectivity, is sometimes abysmal. Flipboard is another one that I sometimes have issues with in terms of speed and handling pockets of bad connectivity. Some apps, however, have really nailed the caching and rendering strategies and while may have an initial delay, work flawlessly once launched.
It’s challenging to perfect this on all fronts, but paying some careful attention to detail can go a long way in designing an app well.