All posts by Stef Ivanov

How about age-responsive UX and UI design?

When working on a new project, one the first thing I’d ask you is – what’s your target audience? Who’s your end-user? And most importantly – how old are they? It might sound funny, but this is one of the most significant considerations when building the UX and UI of a new product.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that age-responsive design is already a thing. In the last decade, we’ve been focusing so much on responsive design and making sure that our websites work seamlessly on all devices, that we left other, equally important considerations behind. This let to a generation of flat, clean, minimalistic sites that all look the same. When I get a new start-up client to build their UX and UI design, the examples of website they like are usually so similar, that sometimes it’s even challenging for me to experiment and build something that you haven’t seen before. We all love white, flat landing pages with an impressive image as a background and stylish fonts to spice it up. That looks perfect. But does it work perfectly?

It does, but only for a specific generation of users.

So how is age-responsive design influencing the future?

Think like this – the brain of a 7 years-old and a 70-years old work completely different. Their habits, vision, behavioral patterns when browsing, taste, interests, experience and legacy as web users is completely different. Now let’s add to this list – the teenagers, Generation X, the Baby Boomers. The picture got quite colourful. And yet – 90% of designer design mainly for millennials. Why? Because most of the designers you’d hire to do your UX/UI design, especially in London, are millenials. Even the top professional designers have their own taste and trends they follow. Hence, the samie websites we see all over the internet.

In a nutshell, each generation uses the web differently and has a different set of expectations of what is a good website. A fun animated video on the homepage is probably not the best approach for a pension advisors website. A flat stylish photo as a background though is equally inappropriate. The fact that is trendy doesn’t mean it serves the right need.

A few basic rules good UX/UI designers always follow:

  • Larger fonts and spacing for older people
  • Bright colours and interactive features for children
  • Practical and classic for the Baby Boomers
  • Trustworthy and stylish for Generation X
  • Time saving and a wow-effect for Millennials (less clicks, please!)
  • All about mobile for Generation Z (think Snapchat, instead of Twitter and Facebook)

One last piece of advice – monitor who your users are, this is now super easy thanks for Google and Facebook. Designing for the end-user is a good starting point, but once you have the data make sure that your users are really the people you expected them to be when you started your project.

The importance of reward systems in UX

Reward systems have been part of the digital world for years. They vary between direct beneficial rewards like flying club miles, points, cash, etc to social rewards that aim to keep users engaged. These could be unlocking new levels, earning badges, community recognition, etc. Authority is what matters and making the user feel significant and socially accepted  is usually the fast pass to successful reward systems. Products like Sony Playstation, Xbox, many fitness apps and social networks have based their logic on rewarding users.

Although reward systems have been used by marketers and business people for some time now, not much has been done to explore the connection between reward system and user experience. Just giving something extra is not enough to hook up your users. If there’s a mismatch between what they need and what you assume will bring them back, then you’ve  failed to achieve customer engagement.

When it comes to UX, the goal (on paper) is simple – users must want to use your product, not feel they have to or put too much effort to understand it. The design experience should make them want to come back and feel comfortable and confident using the service as opposed to explaining or educating how to use it. Rewarding should be easy, intuitive, smooth. You don’t need much to get a Facebook like and this is one of the best rewards people get online nowadays. Your friends liking (socially approving) your update or latest photo excites you and makes you feel better. You come back for more. Why? Because it’s easy and it makes you temporarily happy. It’s addictive.

User experience has progressed beyond making easy to use products. It’s our job as UX designers to come up and suggest rewards systems that enrich products and make them addictive. Let’s take Pinterest and Instagram as an example. The never-ending wall of beautiful images enchants you and you keep scrolling to come across this stunning image that will match your mood or will be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s so appealing and easy to use that you feel tempted to contribute, You can create similar images, people could be liking and repinning your updates! So you sign up and start pinning/instagramming.

Not every product could achieve the success of Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook, but every new digital service should aim to become habit-forming. I’ve recently read one of the best books I’ve come across “Hooked: how to build habit-forming products” by Nir Eyal. I strongly recommend it to everyone who’s in a process of building a new digital product. One of my favourite quotes re UX design is:

“Companies that successfully change behaviours present users with an implicit choice between their old way of doing things and a new more convenient way to fulfil existing needs.”

Nir Eyal explains the idea that to change behaviour, products must ensure that users feel in control of their choices. They’re not forced to change their habits, they choose the new way because they have the option to do it.

The bad news is that there’s no universal rule that will be the right move or feature to make your product the next digital miracle. The good news is that by understanding what your users really need above the obvious and offer it in the easiest and simplest way, you can make people repeatedly come back and be genuinely interested in what you offer. There’s only one simple always-working rule that I’ve learned in the past few years – you don’t have to tell users what to do when using your product, you have to offer them what they want to do. Sounds easy, but we all know it’s the the million-dollar question of today’s digital world.

My favourite UX and design quotes of 2015

I like reading useful articles about the current UX and design trends, as well as to research other talented UX/UI designers for potential collaboration or just for some inspiration. 2015 was a massive step for UX Design and I believe that the job of the web designer has never changed and evolved so much in such a short period of time, as it did this year.

I’ve shortlisted some of the best UX quotes I came across recently. Enjoy!

Design may impress, but content hooks users.

Jerry Cao and Kamil Zieba and Matt Ellis

Design tools that maintain quality of connection between designers, developers, and other makers will be on the rise.

Alexey Ivanov

Effective UX designers separate their own personal preferences from their design. They understand they’re designing for users that think and behave differently than they do – and a UX designer’s skill can be measured in how well they can empathise with personalities other than their own.

Jerry Cao

User experience is about solving problems and helping the user meet their goal.

Amber Leigh Turner

When designing for interaction, Designers should ask: Why do users want to undertake the interaction in the first place? and What are the possible set of circumstances that lead the user to exhibit such behaviour. Understanding this motivation allows us to unpick user behaviours, craft better interactions and optimise to achieve both user and business goals.

Nathan James Yates

Your design should always be telling a story. And that story needs to be told from the user’s perspective—not the business’s perspective.

Tom Tancredi and Laurence Adrian

And that’s something timeless that I always try to follow with all my project by the brilliant German industrial designer Dieter Rams.

Good Design Makes A Product Understandable: It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Dieter Rams

I’d love to find out what articles and quotes about UX design you have found useful while working on your project. Share in the comments below.

6 Common UX Mistakes Startups Usually Make

This list could be much longer, but I wanted to summarise the most common bad UX practices I usually come across when working with startup clients.

Skipping the wireframes

There’s no such thing as UX for a new product without wireframes and I’m stunned how often people think that jumping to the actual artwork (UI) is better than spending a few days to design comprehensive and so-much-needed wireframes. The wireframes won’t add extra cost to your project, they’ll actually save you time and money throughout the process.

Bringing the UX Specialist after starting with the design

This is still very common as UX is often seen as luxury rather than necessity, but if you’re serious about your product and startup success, I’d advise you to get a UX designer on board as soon as possible. What’s the point of spending time to design something that you’ll want fixed very soon. Involve a UX specialist during the process of creating the product to polish it as much as possible before launch, rather than relying on them to fill in the holes and fix bugs.

Ignoring mobile

Having responsive design is not the answer to your mobile prayers anymore, this is so 2014. Responsive design does the job and fixes many design issues, but it doesn’t necessarily take user intent into consideration. Which is the point of good UX. Most of your traffic will be coming from mobile (especially if you rely on social media referrals in the early stages of your product development), so thinking desktop shouldn’t be on the table. Make sure that your UX specialist, designers and dev team consider mobile users as much as your desktop ones, and if you have to prioritise start with mobile.

Not having enough clarity about the MVP

Starting to design your product without knowing what the actual product will do and deliver is a shocking mistake that so many startup founders make and I can’t get my head around how you can want something designed when you don’t know what that thing is. Building the MVP and then improving the product with some UX help is one thing, but relying on the UX to tell you what the product should do is just a waste of money, especially if the UX specialist is not one of your co-founders.

Cluttered Forms

The sign-up and onboarding process is the most important part of every new web product, so no surprise that there’re a number of studies, experiments etc in this area. It’s a no-brainer that the sign-up process should be short, intuitive and sleek, but achieving this while keeping up with your business objectives is not an easy task. Cluttered, busy on-boarding process is proven to discourage new sign-ups, so no matter how tricky it might be to keep it simple, there’s always a way. Don’t settle for less whatever your sales people tell you. You don’t need this mobile number so early!

Not having UVP at all

Unique value proposition or brand value proposition is this one simple sentence that explains what your product does. It sets up the brand tone and sometimes even defines the whole branding. It’s a marketing thing, but not marketing fluff, so having this clear vision and idea about your product and giving it to your UX and UI designer will be extremely helpful and time-saving for the design process.

The 5 UX Rules of Pre-Launch Landing Pages

Having a pre-launch landing page to collect emails of early customers is becoming a common practice for most early stage start-ups. Not long ago, a beautifully designed holding page with a cryptic sentence about the business and a field to submit email was enough. Not anymore. To break through the noise and persuade people to leave their email address you have to be very clear what the value proposition of the business is and how your potential customers will benefit from it.

From a UX point of view here’re my 5 golden rules of successful landing pages:

1. You need ONE Call to Action

When it comes to a pre-launch landing page where your main objective is to collect this extremely valuable email address, you don’t need any distraction. Forget about Read More, More Info, Details buttons. You only need Submit or Notify Me, or however you want to call your main CTA, but it has to be only one possible action button. Make sure that your social media links are also not too distractive. There are other UX and UI tricks to visualise and link to the rest of the pages.

2. Clear Value Proposition

Have no more than 2 sentences explaining the product and make sure they communicate your brand value proposition in a simple and clear way. You need one headline and one subheading, and the CTA. If you can’t shorten it to that, try again.

3. Clean UX and UI

Even if your product is a very visual animation game, the pre-launch landing page has to be as clean and simple as possible. Remove all the distractions and clutter. If the design element doesn’t have a purpose, bin it.

4. Pick the details carefully

Be smart when choosing how much information you should reveal and how to present it. People should be able to understand how your product works, but they don’t need to know the nitty-gritty of every feature. Make sure the content and graphics are balanced and positioned below the main VP and CTA.

5. Test

Some would say it’s too early to start A/B testing with the pre-launch landing page and I agree, but only if you don’t have any resources or time. There’re a number of tools to facilitate the A/B testing, so I’d suggest run a test with a few of options and stick to the one that’s converting best.

Happy to hear your thoughts on the best UX design tricks and tips for pre-launch landing pages.

Design for emotions

Please bookmark and check this article later on desktop for maximum experience 😉

A few years ago, it was super easy to find a horrible website or app that needed urgent re-design. Thanks to all the talented designers and new trends out there the web is a much more beautiful and exciting place now. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that even though there’re plenty of sleek responsive flat websites and products, most of them are soulless. Companies spend so much time on building the next Uber for bicycles, or Tinder for snails, or Airbnb for public toilets etc, but they forget that their product also needs identity. Just like any other product, today more than ever, web products need to create emotions in their users, they have to make people feel better, inspired, excited. That’s not only a marketing task anymore.

When it comes to design, I don’t think that there is a specific framework we have to follow in order to build an emotional brand, but there is definitely ? sequence of specific steps I always try to follow when working with small companies and starups that don’t have a solid brand strategy yet.

1) Identify the target audience of the product.

Who’s going to use the product? Who’s the main user, what do they like, where do they live and work, what’s their routine, their main characteristic. User personas are super useful here.

2) Your aim

That’s a tricky one, because my aim as a designer of course is to achieve sleek, easy to use and navigate product, etc, this is a no brainer. However, we should think beyond this. Yes, the UX has to be perfect, but so is the UX of many other similar products.

You don’t get people to remember you only because you’re perfect. That’s actually boring. We should think deeper about the audience and what’s that the brand trying to achieve. Do you need to build trust, do you need to evoke emotions that users have forgotten about, do you need to cheer them up. Or maybe you need to make them feel better about themselves without them realising this is because they’re using your product? Emotional design starts with immaculate UX, but it never ends there, good UX is only the beginning.

3) Identify what emotions you need to evoke in your users.

This should be part of your brand voice and marketing strategy, but it also must be incorporated into your design. Make a list and give it to your designers. They’ll be grateful.

4) How are you going to achieve this?

That’s where the magic starts. Every project is unique, but the components that always give soul to an online product are the perfect synergy between unique brand voice, colours, typography, imagery and logo. Remember – they don’t have to stand out on their own, they need to merge in a perfect emotional blend that leaves the user “Wow” and turn him/her into a customer.

I know you’ll remember this page. Now share to scare 😉

Happy Halloween!

The importance of a design brief

Having worked a few years as a freelance UX/UI designer I can’t stress enough how important is to start a design project with a proper (or some form of) design brief. I’ve been approached by dozens, even hundreds of people who email me asking about “the price for a website” or something along these lines mentioning just a few details that don’t give me any clarity other than that they want a website/UX project. We then start with endless emails, calls and meetings which take time and could be avoided only if they had one simple document in place.

To overcome this problem, I’ve created a questionnaire to make it easier for my potential clients to communicate what they need. However, nothing can replace a good design brief. Here’s why.

What is a design brief?

A design brief is document describing the design work that needs to be done, usually prepared by the business or person commissioning the work. It could be very formal and detailed, or it could be an informal one-pager describing the main components of the project and the work that will be required.

What should the design brief include?

There’s no specific formula or template for the perfect design brief, because every project is different, but to make it really useful you should include:

1. Project description
What’s the project about – is it a new website, product prototype, UX work, redesign, etc? Is it an ecommerce project, an app, an analytics platform, etc? You don’t need more than a couple straight to the point sentences here.

2. Project scope
Here’s where you need to provide a bit more details, depending on the size of the project. How many pages, what functionalities and features it will have. You’ll obviously need more details about a brand new software than for a simple 5-pages website. The quote from the designer will be based mainly on this section, so don’t skip any details and be as specific as possible. “A few more pages” obviously doesn’t say anything.

3. What services you’d require
Depending on the specialist you approach, you might need to specify what services you’d require. Is it just UX, or you’d also need all the UI artwork implemented? Is it a whole website or only the design part without developing? Would you need front-end development or design only? What about a new logo and other marketing materials?

4. Target audience
Who’s this product for? Who’s going to use it, when and why? This won’t affect the quote, but it will give the designer a quick start when he/she kicks off with the design work.

5. Do you have a logo or other elements that you want to be included?
This is essential, because a new logo would be usually quoted separately and will require some extra time; or if you already have a logo the rest of the design should be done around it.

6. Overall style and look
Give a few examples what sort of look and feel you like, including the relevant links. This will save time and money later on, as you won’t need many iterations and more than one design version.

7. Would you require new branding?
Some clients don’t realise that a brand new product without any previous design and marketing materials will also require a new branding. This includes logo, colours, fonts, styling, etc, which are usually included in a separate Design Brand Guidelines or at least in a UI toolkit.

8. Budget
You don’t need to include this if you don’t want to, but an approximate budget will help you rule out the designers and agencies that are out of your league. Skip this only if money is not an issue; or specify that you’re after a budget solution if that’s the case.

Why is the design brief important?

First and foremost, a good design brief will save you lots of time in pointless emails, calls and meetings. It will also help you get more quotes to compare from different designers and agencies, as they’re much more likely to provide you with a specific proposal if they see a specific brief.

From a designer’s point of view, a comprehensive design brief shows that the client has a clear vision what they need and are motivated about the project. Many people won’t even reply if they see that you don’t have a clear idea what you want, because they know that the project won’t happen in the near future and might see you as a potential “time waster”. The time that designers and agencies spend in acquiring new clients is not billable, so they always prioritise clients that are very clear with what they need. And the reality is that if you’re really serious about your project, you surely wouldn’t mind spending an hour or two to describe it.

What’s the best design brief like?

It’s concise, clear and comprehensive. You rarely need more than 1-3 pages for an approximate estimate and timeframe.

If the above motivates at least one person to write their design brief before contacting some freelance designers or design agencies, then I consider this post a success. Let me know if you’re the one 😉

Product Manager vs UX Designer – what’s the difference?

It seems that in the last few years Product Manager and UX Designer have become interchangeable roles in many organisations and start-ups. I personally have been dragged into projects where as a UX Designer I was put in the role of a Product Manager in less than a week, “Now-you-lead-the-product” kind of situation. Yes, I know it might be challenging to decide whether you need the two professionals or just one person to do everything that’s product and UX related.

So, to clear the air, in principle – yes, UX Designer and Product Manager could be the same person, as long as he or she has the right skillset, experience and time for the two roles. I believe that in reality this could only happen if this person is entirely dedicated to the product, they perfectly understand the business objectives, the market, the end user, the rest of the team and in the same time, they have a deep UX knowledge and experience. How many superheroes like this do you know? Well, that’s what I mean…

I’ve listed some of the main skills and characteristics that each of the positions should have:

Product Manager

Knows the market
Has deep understanding about the end user
Deals with product planning and product budgeting
Has deep UX and UI understanding
Has decent dev understanding
Communicates with all people involved in the project
Understands and constantly communicates the business objectives

UX Designer

Designs the start-to-end experience of a certain product
Has deep understanding about the end user
Has hands-on UX experience and skills (wireframing, prototyping, user testing)
Optimises the product
Has deep dev understanding
Understands and follows the business objectives
Is helpful to have good UI skills (applying the final art to the product)

Imagine we split a product development process into 2 main parts – user and business, then the UX designer is dealing more with the user, while the product manager is dealing more with the business part, BUT they always meet in between and sometimes even overlap.

If the responsibilities of the two roles are clearly identified within a team and the Product Manager and UX Designer are sticking to what they’re expected to deliver, then I think you’re on the right track. Yes, arguments might arise sometimes, but as long as they’re not ego issues rather than product decisions, that’s perfectly normal.

I think the risk of having one person for everything (even if you find the superhero) is that he/she will never have enough time and brainpower to come up with and execute all strategic decisions and operational tasks that a product development requires.

To be completely honest, I believe that for early stage startups the product manager role could easily be split between the founder and the UXer, each of them being responsible for specific parts of the project. The reality is that if you’re the brain behind a certain product idea you’ll never find someone more passionate and knowledgeable about the product at a reasonable cost. Plus at this early stage, a product evolves so much that only the founders could keep its integrity and should take key product decisions. I’ve seen many founders that after losing focus (and sometimes even faith) in what they’re doing, they start bringing people on board giving them titles and expecting them to fix a messed up product. But this is a topic for another blog post…