Design Consistency and Managing User Expectations
When a user visits a website for the first time, he or she comes with innate expectations. They know what links and navigation menus are supposed to look like, they know how social media buttons are supposed to work, and they expect whatever they’re looking for will be easy to find. Whether their visit is to learn more about something, find contact information or to make a purchase, it’s the designer’s job to help them find a solution.
Otherwise, users can become frustrated or confused and abandon the site altogether, potentially costing a company a customer. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help ensure that users have a positive experience.
User Expectations Are Emotional
Consistency plays a key role in managing a user’s expectations and experience.
“User experience to me is feelings at the end of the day,” said Darcy Clarke, a Toronto-based designer and developer who has worked with clients such as Google, Disney, Red Bull, and Nike. “How does somebody walk away feeling, or how do they feel when they’re actually interacting with what you’ve designed?”
Users expect good design even if they don’t notice it. They want to leave with whatever it is they came for, and they want to do it in the most seamless way possible. It’s all about the path of least resistance, a path that varies depending on who your target user is.
“The way I approach design is to take into account what a user’s expectations should be based on what type of user they are,” Clarke said. “You’ll sort of draft up these personas of who your users are going to be, or who your expected users are going to be, and their level of experience with similar UI and UX.”
Clarke recommends looking at trends specific to the target demographic. Millennials, for example, tend to expect things instantly and often want to solve problems quickly and on their own. Sixty-nine percent of millennials said they feel better about themselves and the company they’re dealing with when they’re able to solve a problem independently and without having to talk to customer service, according to a 2014 survey by Aspect Software.
Loading speed and straightforward navigation are important design elements for this demographic especially when it comes to mobile devices. One study found that 1 in 5 millennials access the Internet exclusively through smartphones and tablets. Data like this, combined with whatever internal data and analytics the designer has access to, can help create a more informed design.
Consistency Can Come From Real Experiences
When it comes to designing components beyond standard digital expectations like links and navigation, consistency can stem from those seamless experiences users are already familiar with offline, such as using a pencil or driving a car.
“I try to think about how do people interact with the natural world and how can we carry aspects of that over to digital,” Clarke says.
He also points to looking at problems already solved by product designers and industrial designers. You can ask, how have other industries addressed similar experience issues and what have people come to expect from them?
“When you reference physical products, you’re starting from somewhere that people already have a frame of reference,” he said.
This can create a sense of familiarity and enhance a user experience even if it is technically a new digital experience.
Consistency Keeps Things Clear
Even common design elements like checkboxes and radio buttons have an element of user expectation that can evoke certain emotions.
“I find that the two have different roles to play within user experience and they definitely make the user think in much different ways,” Clarke says.
He likens checkboxes to opt-ins, which he says constitute a more serious ask of a user because typically by checking the box a user is agreeing to a single statement. Radio buttons on the other hand are more like multiple-choice tests, which he says can be an easier way to get input because it’s a less weighty decision for the end user. What’s important is to ensure you’re consistent with them in design and that you anticipate the user’s expectations so they can tell the two asks apart and understand what they’re selecting.
Consistency encompasses many facets of UX design, but it’s really about ensuring the user has the most seamless experience possible. Pulling in elements of design that the user is already accustomed to simplifies and smoothens the user experience, ultimately making it more positive for them, and more beneficial for the company.