UX is evolving at an exponentially increasing rate and for consumers, what was on the cutting edge yesterday is old news today, never mind those within the industry who are driving change.
So when it comes to continuity, in a digital world in a permanent state of flux, what approach is a UX professional meant to take when users are so used to change? And what are the benefits of trying to achieve a design and user flow which can evolve but remains familiar?
Before we answer that question, we’re going to dig deep into why continuity is so critical for humans to learn and develop an understanding of the physical and digital world.
We’ll then explore and dissect the key constituents of what User Experience really is while demonstrating what the overarching benefit of strong UX, not that we need to convince those of you working as UX professionals…
Understanding the User
People love patterns, it’s one of our most critical skills and a quality which has allowed us to master the environment and grow as a species. We learned that weather could be predicted based on the seasons and worked out when the best time to plant crops and store food in time for the winter.
Every single day, you’ll be utilising your ability to see patterns to learn and develop yourself as a UX professional. Whether that is looking at click-through rates on a certain link or scroll time on a certain blog post, you’ll be looking for patterns from which you can make changes and gain an advantage.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the real experts across every industry, are the ones who recognise patterns better than anyone else in this brilliant article by Kevin Anderson.
Patterns alone are a form of continuity, which is why we like simple UX patterns so much if something is easy to follow, the brain literally uses less energy to think, allowing the body to reserve it for something else, like running away from a lion!
The human brain is also constructed to build connections between synapses when a person is learning a skill. By repeating something over and over, more connections will be bridged within the brain and it will become easier to perform the new task as it becomes more familiar through continuity.
The bottom line when it comes to our basic instinct, we’re literally hardwired to enjoy the familiar and patterns, so it makes sense to hear us out on continuity in the next section.
Defining Continuity in UX
Taking the natural instincts of the human into account, it is clear to understand how important continuity could be.
We interact with digital products logically along linear processes, some which may vary in complexity depending on the nature of the application, but ultimately conform in principle.
The user’s journey has a beginning, middle and end which includes a finite number of steps and every single user expects a sequential and uninterrupted experience while completing their task.
This is a simple but important point to make because if a user IS interrupted or they’re exposed to something unfamiliar, they will not be satisfied and their smooth experience will be lost.
However, does that mean that you, as a UX professional, should ever stop taking risks to improve your users’ experience? No, but there are ways you can ensure that you maintain continuity while introducing new features and improving the user experience.
Achieving the perfect alchemistic level of continuity in UX is no simple task and there are major barriers to overcome in order to reach equilibrium. Here are the biggest roadblocks currently challenging professionals and the industry as a whole.
Lacking empathy, in general, is a bit of a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a billion dollar multi-national or the intern working in a start-up in your first job if you don’t want to understand how other people feel, you’re not going to be very popular or last very long at the top.
Theresa Wiseman studied a range of diverse professions where empathy was relevant and came up with four qualities of empathy itself.
- Perspective taking
- Staying out of judgment
- Recognising the specific emotions of another
- Making an action to communicate understanding
Effectively, empathy is feeling with people. Now, we’re not saying that your UX has to be able to comfort an individual who has gone through some kind of trauma, but what we are saying is that empathy is powerful when done right within UX.
A strong UX professional will be able to channel and prioritise the thoughts and feelings of users over their own, thus making decisions based upon the behavior of the people who really matter.
Looking at the four qualities of empathy within a UX framework, it is simple to see how a process is developed.
Perspective – Think about what your user wants and get into their mind frame.
Don’t judge – Don’t get angry or upset that your users are circle-navigating your UX and behaving ‘badly’, users are lazy as we know, they’ll do the least possible to get what they want, so don’t fight them, find a happy middle ground.
Recognising the emotions – If users are getting stuck at a certain point in a sales funnel, this is the perfect place to place a micro-interaction which expresses that this particular section may take longer to get through.
Action your understanding – If a user has a bad experience, send a message that you’re sorry and you’re working to make improvements.
It’s simple stuff, but you’ll know that plenty of businesses lack empathy in UX, don’t be one of them.
Tie UX into Product Development
Regardless of the size of a UX team, it must be involved in the product development process. UX needs to be considered during feasibility conversations because what is the use of having a dynamite product unless users are able to interact and enjoy it properly through strong UX?
A Holistic Approach
Taking a holistic approach to UX is critical to maintain continuity. If you decide to work on the first few steps of a sales funnel but neglect to change email template designs to match, you’ll create a serious amount of confusion and distrust for your users.
The Challenge and Potential Danger of Achieving Continuity
As a practice, UX is still in its infancy, meaning that we have a long way to go until some kind of plateau in development is met.
Experts are already saying that responsivity is old news and continuity is what we should be aiming for (we agree!), however, by definition continuity could be impossible to achieve if the principle becomes obsolete within a short amount of time.
Furthermore, achieving continuity for your users can be extremely difficult if you are also aiming to continuously improve and shifting your sales funnel and designs regularly.
It’s a catch 22, make constant improvements to increase click-through rates and conversions and you risk creating confusion and disassociation between your users, but change too little and aim for absolute continuity and you may get left behind as new developments and tech allow your competition to race ahead.
The Machines are Coming
The full extent of the impact that artificial intelligence will have on UX is unknown, however, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which AI will be able to perfect UX for every app and platform when it comes to sales funnel development, however, consider the consequences of allowing machines to design and define our online experiences.
Every single website and platform would end up looking completely uniform and indistinguishable within specific sectors as it is imaginable that an AI would figure out a perfect formula with enough data fed into it. Could we then lose the flair and artistic touch that UX offers?
And if you say that it’s a good thing that an all experiences would then become smooth, comforting and have continuity you might not have thought about that issue properly.
Take architecture, for example, if every single building was created for nothing more than pure function and a smooth user experience, we would never have built awe-inspiring marvels such as the Sagrada Familia, The Bilbao Guggenheim or the Eiffel Tower.
Just look at the dissatisfaction being leveled at the uniformity of design of London’s £15 billion Crossrail project.
Hopefully, we’ll never reach a point where creativity and art are sacrificed for the good of better results, but as history shows, profit is always the priority…
To continue continuity?
Continuity is what we as humans like, we are creatures of habit and don’t like our routines to be interrupted, which is why UX professionals need to be careful to make drastic changes to their platforms or websites, however, that does not mean that progress cannot and should not be made.
The fact is that consumers are getting used to things changing regularly and arguably, continuity can be defined as users being used to constant change.
Ultimately, there may never be a perfect equation, users expectations are likely to remain fluid and never settle, just look at the rise of voice search.