The Path Of Least Resistance

Survival and pleasure technology have one thing in common. You want to eliminate as much as possible of what stands in the way of the outcome the person is there for. Let’s zoom into that aspect of the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).

UX/UI Pyramid

Visual Design (VD)

We can intuitively tell what looks good but few people know how to create it. Visual design forms the first impression of your product. Studies have shown that we have 50 milliseconds before users have made their first judgments of the product. If you can’t convince someone you’re credible you might never get a chance to solve their problem.

Here is a list of a bunch of visual design concepts. Key ones are:

  • Color
  • Spacing
  • Iconology/Graphics
  • Typeramp

How to do it well

There are some popular methods that allow the evaluation of visual design:

  1. Have people pick between 2 designs.
  2. Ask people to rank designs from most to least favorite.
  3. Aggregate asking on a scale of 1-7, how beautiful do you find this design?

Good old fashioned guerilla research studies on the street work quite well for this one. There are some cool sites like UserTesting and a slew of others if you want to “get out of the building” remotely.

You can also choose to rely on the intuition of a highly trained expert, aka a designer. Ideally, you want to get the response of people in your target market to make sure your VD triggers the right emotional response for them.

Interaction Design (ID)

ID’s what’s behind all those clicks, drags, and swipes. Humans have a limited amount of mental energy per day. Pleasurable tasks replenish it while other tasks deplete it.

Taken to infinity, you want non-enjoyable tasks to be eliminated. When a task is fun you want to minimize the interaction needed to get to the fun part.

How to do it well

Obviously it’s not always going to be practical to eliminate all interactions. It’s also hard to know what is minimal “enough” to make people happy since it depends on their perception of effort and time.

What you can do is measure how long each task in your product takes and how much interaction it requires. When you make a change, you want to ensure that for each task and subtask the amount of interaction does not go up.

In practice these metrics looks like this:

Task 1 Averages
Time to success (tts): 54 seconds
Interactions (click, drag, scroll): 17
Keyboard Inputs: 24

Task 2 Averages
Time to success (TTS): 4 minutes
Interactions (click, drag, scroll): 192
Keyboard Inputs: 2

Every time you make a change you can tell if TTS & interactions are staying the same or better yet going down. 

It can be hard to define what a task is in traditional analytic tools. Google Analytics and Amplitude give power user interfaces to define “funnels” of usage but it’s very hard to capture the variance of how people accomplish tasks, the loops involved, and so on.

That’s one of the pain points we built PMFIT.AI to address. We use AI to assist capturing the 1000 of sub-tasks and larger tasks within your product so it becomes tractable to measure and easy to understand for the entire team.

Information Architecture (IA)

Various features are used to accomplish specific tasks. How they are laid out on pages, panes, and modals should reflect those tasks. Good IA lays out components that are relevant to the task at hand. All extra information is waste. 

Our attention is a limited resource. The more information we have to mentally filter to achieve a task, the less mental energy we have left afterwards. User experiences where just the right components are there at just the right moment are the best. They feel light and we have more mental energy in order to get more done.

How to do it well

Every time someone performs a task in your product, count the number of pixels filled with information that they didn’t use. If you identify information that is rarely used, consider:

  • giving it less prominence, 
  • moving it to a different space or,
  • removing it altogether.

If certain features are always used in a certain order, move them closer in proximity. If a certain task requires traveling between 4 screens, consider if it would be easier mentally to collapse it into one screen or split it between more screens.

There’s the conflicting problem of discoverability. How can you know when someone would highly appreciate a feature to accomplish their task but only once in a while? One example most are familiar with is flight check-in notifications. It’s something I only really need to remember about a few days before my flight and then a few hours beforehand.

In practice this looks like this:

Task 1 Averages
Unique surfaces seen: 2
Times surface seen: 4
Unique elements seen: 12
Unique elements used: 4
On-page distance between elements used: 1100px
Scroll travel: 9000px
Mouse travel: 17000px

Feature 1 Averages
% of the time used when seen: 1%
% of users ever used: 9%

You can use this information to figure out how you’re doing with your tasks:

And then A/B test to ensure those tasks are being completed just as often but with less steps and less information overload:

You can get a sense of how this looks on your site using tools like Hotjar and Fullstory. Because this takes an incredible amount of time and energy, especially if you have more than a 1000 users, we built ProductMarketFit.AI to auto-metrize this as well.

You can see where there’s a lot of unnecessary mental overhead for a lot of users and THEN watch videos to get a few examples of the issue at hand. When you A/B test changes you can assess how these metrics changed and then inspect the metrics and corresponding videos of A versus B.

Conceptual Design (CD)

Last but not least is CD. Good CD matches real world tasks you are familiar with to the tasks your product improves. If done well, the entire product can feel intuitive without ever having seen the product.

When the task at hand is finding directions, it would be pretty strange if it was a list. And if you’re getting groceries, it would be strange if the checklist was on a map. Conceptual design is about ensuring the tasks your product helps with fit into the user’s brain naturally.

How to do it well

The easiest ways are:

  1. Ask people how they do your task today.
  2. Pit concepts against each other in a user study to complete the task.
  3. See how tasks in similar domains are solved today.

You can use the same tools that were listed in the section about VD as well to speed this up if you can’t get a hold of people in person.

Building the path of least resistance

To recap everything, I’ve made a mini graphic of each piece of the UX/UI pyramid. It was once only possible to measure this sort of thing in a lab once in a while. With new user research tools you can quickly evaluate VD and CD remotely, and with tools like PMFIT.AI you can now baseline ID, IA and measure the delta with every change for your entire audience or different segments.

The Entire Solution Space

Making the UX and UI amazing only makes sense for things that are important. Which brings us to our next step, the feature set:

When deciding on which feature set to implement, figuring out how difficult and important the task is today in the real world is crucial. I’ll continue with the new ways to measure and track the feature set in a follow up article.