Digital products no longer compete on features. Now, user experience is everything.
As an interface designer, I live in an interesting time — a lot of the interfaces that we use are a commodity. People know how to scroll through a feed in their social media app. They know how to play a video in their streaming app. These interfaces are common enough that a user has an understanding of how this dance works. This has obvious benefits, in that that I no longer have to explain to my grandmother how to use a specific app as often as I used to. She’s seen them enough to know that if she taps on the ‘play’ icon on that handsome young man, she can watch her Joe Dirt.
This sort of familiarity is great for a user, but less exciting for a designer who might want to push the envelope. It takes discipline to know that you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel when you run into commoditized UX. I’ve designed enough streaming services to do it in my sleep. Browse screen, details screen, play screen, rinse, repeat. Every time we take on a streaming video-on-demand project, we optimize it to take steps forward in being a better and more modern interface, but the baseline experience is a commodity.
Commoditized UX creates several problems for businesses, one of which is that these commodity interfaces make it harder to differentiate your work from that of your competitors. Some of the go-to-market strategies start with features and pricing, but part of being a commodity means that your features are likely matched by your competitors. This forces the business to now concentrate on creating an experience, which is where things get exciting again for a designer.
In a commodity design market, in which your features and price are matched by your competition, you have to find new ways to build a connection with your users. Luckily, if we no longer have to invest huge amounts of time in the information architecture of a commodity design, we’re free to spend that time making the experience delightful. How can you update your experience to better express your brand? If appropriate, add some memorable sass to your copy. Add some subtle animations that reward them for completing tasks. Use color and typography in ways that create stronger associations.
Now more than ever, commodity designs need to create emotional connections with users to keep them connected to the brand. If businesses don’t prioritize connecting with their users in this way, they’ll lose Grandma to the company whose app has the same features as theirs, but who cared enough to concentrate on the little things that she’s not even consciously aware of—not just how the app works, but how it feels. The colors. The typography. The illustrations. The motion. All these things add up to creating great, rewarding moments. Then Grandma becomes a customer for life, even if you don’t have Joe Dirt.
Image courtesy of Kotagauni Srinivas for Unsplash.