Five guidelines

02: Five Guidelines to Make Product Experiences Instantly Gettable by Damien Vizcarra

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Guest contributor: Jake Childs

The product opportunity had been unearthed, its market potential established. Now it was time to fully define the experience. The designers rolled up their sleeves. It was a seemingly simple consumer product, requiring the user to load two disposable parts that would get used up after some period of time.

“Prototype to learn,” was their mantra. The designers created a handful of compelling concept architectures then generated physical, experiential models. As they began to interact with the models, they began to identify favorites (they couldn’t help themselves). “This one is obviously the easiest to set up and load,” decreed one designer. Another expressed, “but that one is the most familiar interaction,” comparing it to a common artifact. After some healthy debate, they were confident that they already knew the best path forward. It was a simple product after all. But, like any good designer, they knew they needed the perspective of the target user.

They put the experiential models in front of potential users, asked questions, and observed. To their surprise, some of the things they were certain were obvious were not; and for good reason. But this was the point – learning so they could begin to refine – in the quest for instant get-ability.

These surprises are not uncommon. At Continuum, sometimes our clients are looking for ways to improve their product incrementally. Other times we’re inventing the interaction for a totally new offering. In both instances, the goal is to arrive at “intuitive”. Through our experiences, we’ve gained insights into defining the best user interaction in pursuit of the intuitive. Here are five things to consider that we’ve learned along the way:

1. Alleviate Friction Points. We’ve all been there: That new product arrives, the one you’ve been so excited to receive. You pull it out of the box, go to set it up and…wait…how do I…where does this part go? Nope, not there. What about…no? Ah! Frustration invariably sinks in.  A friction point is anything in an interaction that causes confusion, frustration, or a lack of confidence that you’re doing things correctly. Clearly, in order to create an intuitive interaction, you have to identify and eliminate the friction points. Observing where people get lost in the task, simplifying procedures, and differentiating parts all play into alleviating friction points.

2. Create Action Possibilities. Buttons that look like they can be twisted. Tabs that look like they can be pulled. Action possibilities are latent cues that, well, indicate the possibility of a certain action. They invite you to touch, pull, twist, push…to do something. They can be subtle, harmoniously fitting in with an aesthetic design, or they can be a focal point, blatantly indicating where someone needs to take action. Either way, action possibilities are a powerful vehicle in influencing someone to lift here or twist there.

3. Utilize Continuity CuesContinuity cues are visual indicators that suggest two parts belong together. They consist of shapes or visual elements shared across two separate parts. Matching shapes that allow the parts to nest, shapes that key into one another like puzzle pieces, matching color markings, complementary patterns, and the completion of a shape when parts are joined are all examples of continuity cues. 

4. Provide FeedbackFeedback is not an unfamiliar concept. But it’s surprising to see how often it’s overlooked in product experiences. Feedback is a reaction that communicates the status. It may communicate that a part is placed correctly or it may communicate that things are ok from a distance. It can be visual (a light blinks), tactile (a vibration, perhaps), or audible (a “click” when something is positioned properly). Feedback instills confidence that a task was performed correctly and that things are in place. In the case of a disposable, it’s also a valuable tool to indicate when it’s used up and ready to be replaced (think the moisturizing strip on a razor). Without the appropriate feedback, a user may suffer from a lack of confidence that a task was performed correctly or continue using something past expiration.

5. Assure DifferentiationDirecting an end user to know where not to interact is just as important as directing them to know where to interact. A common friction point that’s worth calling out as its own guideline is a lack of contrast or differentiation. This is particularly crucial in situations where there are removable parts and multiple interaction possibilities and getting things placed correctly is critical for the product to function. Utilizing visual and form cues to say, “interact here, don’t interact there,” all aid in making the product experience intuitive, removing any confusion or frustration.

Consciously considering these five guidelines as you create your next product experience will streamline your path towards creating instantly gettable products.