Cincinnati Design Week: Lessons from “Bending the Boundaries of Interface”

Sarah Eisenman

Associate Design Director

Friday, September 30, 2016

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For those who may have missed it, the AIGA Cincinnati Design Week event, “Bending the Boundaries of Interface," contained great nuggets of user interface (UI) thinking and strategy, which was shared by the panel of experts at Openfield Creative.

The discussion challenged us to rethink our traditional definition of user interface and user experience (UX). Since interfaces are evolving so rapidly, we should approach UI in a broader sense, deciding how we can design a specific experience for someone, regardless of the interface or even lack there of.

Here are five insights I compiled from the perspectives of the panel:

1. Approaching UX is not a linear process.

Traditional approaches to digital design have been static and linear (starting from concept and ending at deployment), but we should be thinking about the user experience as an ever-evolving process cycle. This cycle is defined by constantly introducing small improvements that are fueled by insights and testing. It’s applying the Kaizen approach to digital design.

Starting to think about user experience in an ever-evolving way allows you to continue your process and development of strategy even after you have released your product - ever adapting to the constant changing landscape of your users. It also frees you from setting goals on perfection. With so many variables affecting the user experience, only time and application can give you key insights needed to make minor, but immensely effective improvements along the way.

2. Putting something out into the world is better than not.

Aiming to solve an entire companies problems in one app or website is not only exhausting, but it’s unachievable. Starting with something small and prioritizing four or five goals for the project will keep the intent focused and the project moving.

It’s also more effective to put out a good product with room for improvement than to not address the needs at hand at all. By waiting too long or aiming for an all-encompassing solution, you are loosing valuable time to meet your consumers needs as they exist today. There will always be room to grow and new objectives to solve, but remaining static gets no one anywhere.

3. Empowering users to share their experience is beneficial to all.

It may seem very scary to clients to solicit reviews and comments from users. Many will think that negative public commentary is damaging and harmful, but in today's digital space, it's extremely beneficial to all parties.

Empowering users to share their experience allows them to have a voice in the process. They are able to provide feedback that could possibly improve the experience for many. They are able to express their frustration and pain points with the user experience and may even offer valuable suggestions.

It is their feedback that acts as a valuable tool to fuel constant progression and improvement. Within the digital landscape today, it is not expected that each experience is flawless. What is more important is that feedback is addressed in a timely manner. Most successful apps and websites offer frequent updates, which aim at improving the user experience based on the feedback gathered. It's only when feedback is left unaddressed that negativity exists.

4. Immersion is key to insightful strategy.

The app alone does not define the user experience. The experience as a whole consists of functionality and guided process as well as the larger experience happening as a result of the app. The real life outcomes are more important than the app itself and the bigger experience should be the driving force behind the digital strategy and approach.

It’s very easy to get lost in the details and debate the functionality of a specific component of the digital experience, but as a result, we tend to loose site of the bigger objectives. The ultimate goal should always answer the question: "Are we making our users' lives simpler?" If we get caught up in additional features and functionalities, we may be complicating the experience to the point of disengagement. Each benefit or goal of the experience should be intuitive and eliminate unnecessary steps for the user.

In order to define unnecessary steps, immersion should be key in developing and assessing the strategy. Often it is not until we have immersed ourselves in the daily routines and practices of our users that we see exactly how and why they are interacting with the digital tool. It takes this new perspective to define those missing links and develop a cohesive strategy that will make the product effective. Immersion allows us the opportunity to co-create based on the users' daily interactions and preferences.

5. Over curation kills discovery and spontaneity.

Today’s biggest challenge in the digital space is overcoming over curation. With so much of our preferences and needs predetermined by algorithms, we start to loose something very important...true discovery and spontaneity.

It is our goal to tap into user preferences in order to provide a more meaningful experience, but it is also our job to allow room for unique experiences to happen. Pure discovery and organic activity must still have a place in user experience as much as we would like to guide and determine the outcomes. It is through this process of user discovery and experimentation that we could find an even greater purpose and need to fulfill.

After thinking through all of the insights shared, I found these takeaways to be helpful reminders of things to consider when designing and developing digital experiences. None of us know what the interface of tomorrow will look like, but we do have powerful new ways of thinking that will ensure we are designing a helpful resource for end users.

A special thanks to Cincinnati Design Week for hosting this event!

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