How do your customers feel using your application? Have you ever watched someone brand new muddle their way through your website, or struggle to figure out what your app does? This kind of shadowing and user task testing is critical for getting past your own

familiarity bias with your product and seeing it through the eyes of the only person that matters. Your user.

Just off hand, I’d say the number one fail of any UX/UI is a failure to consider the user’s priority of use. Here’s a good academic article about figuring out which of your features deserve to be prioritized. Well worth the read (if you can get past the ginormous modal demanding that you sign up for a newsletter). In this article, I’m only going to discuss why you need to know the top three things a user wants from your application. I’ll save how to figure that out for another, longer article.

Signal v Noise: What are the top 3 things the user will want to do with your application? Be sure that you’ve made those 3 activities the easiest to find and complete. The better you are at eliminating the noise the better your customer retention. What is noise? Anything that isn’t the top three things the user wants to do: ads, features, sign-up forms, registration, etc.

Don’t be selfish, think about your user’s goals and not your business goals or your advertising goals. When sites put their own (or their advertisers’) goals first, users get frustrated. And a frustrated user is not a loyal customer.


The Good

Your goal is to get returning customers. Key word in that sentence was returning. Anyone can get someone to take one look at their scanning app or handmade ice cream-selling ecommerce shop. Any old consumer will click your link and open the homepage of your website and spend five-35 seconds checking out your goods and services. But if you ever want to see them again, then now is the time to pull up your big-boy pants and show us what kind of concierge quality service and gentlemanly manners you have.

Your goal is to help your customer do whatever it is they came to your website or application to do. Whether that is to read your witty blog post, find a birthday present for their sister, or scan a document and email it to their attorney. How do you do that? By anticipating their needs and being at the ready when they need it. This is the user experience approach that put Apple ahead of every other software (and, I hazard to say, hardware) company in the world.

Companies have to hold themselves back from always putting their needs first. There is a bigger need, a higher need here. That is the need to earn customer loyalty.

They’re not Microsoft, offering every possible option at every possible decision point. This is crazy-making. This amount of noise will overwhelm and give your user a migraine. They are also not Google, assuming the users always know exactly what they want to find and so providing zero contextual help. We don’t always know what we’re looking for. Sometimes we have no damn idea what we’re looking for and we need to browse around first. This is way too much signal, not enough noise.

You want the porridge that is just right: Contextual User Interface. Offering the user what they need, when they need it. And keeping everything else out of their way but within reach. Do that and you’ll win the heart and loyalty of your customers.

The Bad

All those modal ads that interrupt the user’s flow in order to sell them something (or get them to sign up for a newsletter, or make an account, etc) are bad.

Let’s do a real world thought experiment. You’re walking into a store you’ve just discovered, taking a quick look around because you’re curious, and to be honest, the stuff in the window looked pretty awesome. You get about three steps in when a nosey, pushy, edging-toward-desperate salesperson blocks your path, demanding to know what you’re looking for and insisting on hanging around you just in case you need any help. Here’s the problem with those questions: What am I looking for? I dunno, sometimes I’m just looking, you know? Can you help me? Sure, what does my sister want for her birthday? Oh, you can’t help with that?

No smart salesperson would pester you like that. They don’t want to block you from wandering around and seeing what great stuff they have. They want you to touch the fabric, peer into the watch case, check the prices on the handbags. If they jump on you right away, play it too hard, you’re going to do what? Turn around and walk swiftly out of the shop never to return. Sale lost.

Yet, this is exactly how so many approach their customers online. Three seconds into reading that blog post, and some giant popup window blocks that hilarious sentence you were reading, demanding that you sign up for the newsletter. Your first thought is probably not, Hey! I was just wishing there was a newsletter I could sign up for. No, you were (hopefully) engrossed in the witty, intelligent things the blogger had to say. You were mid sentence, and now you’ve lost your place, lost your focus, and maybe even lost interest entirely.

Companies have to hold themselves back from always putting their needs first. There is a bigger need, a higher need here. That is the need to earn customer loyalty. There’s a reason people don’t like used car salesmen. Don’t be the used car salesman of the internet. Make your customer’s needs the important goal for the application. What are they there to do?

Looking up movie times? Don’t slap that full-screen ad right in their face blocking out everything including the UI.

Reading a blog post? Don’t pop up one of those giant, god-awful modal popups telling them to subscribe to your blog right now so they never miss another article by you. Guess what? If they like the article you’re preventing them from reading, they’ll sign up for your blog. If they don’t–or don’t even get a chance to read it without your desperate attempt to grow your email list–then they won’t. And no amount of annoying, bullying, in-your-face prompting will get them to do it.


The Ugly

The really ugly are the black-hat UIs that actually intend to annoy or trick users into clicking where they didn’t want to click. There are some lowlife websites, the sleazy guy in the fedora calling you into the alley with gold watches hanging out of their raincoats. They don’t care if they ever see you again–in fact, they’re counting on not seeing you again.f_6611

They make ad banners that look like site navigation, buttons that only lead to advertiser’s sites, and–the worst–the subscription model where users can’t even browse the site without being a member. Here is the sad truth: if you trick your customers into clicking a button that turns out to be an ad and takes them far far away from your website, they will never come back. Congratulations, you got a click and lost a returning customer.

And if you require users to sign up for your extra special, super exclusive website where you won’t even show them the products you’re selling until they sign up for your service, well, how many other ecommerce sites do you think are out there that are not walled gardens? (And if you do get someone to sign up to see inside your kimono, you better have some pretty hot goods.)