These are remotes in my household.

Direct TV Remote and Apple TV Remote

One of them has so many choices that I have to look down to find the button I need to make the interaction I want happen.

The other has fewer and, thus, makes it a bit harder to jump to a direct interaction. Yet, because it has less buttons, and those buttons have a simple layout and tactile differences, I’m able to stay engaged with the interface (a TV, in this case). I’m able to complete the task more easily and, usually, faster.

At any rate, the experience of using the Apple TV remote is better. Why?

It’s not better simply because I’m in the interface more, which is an easy assumption to make. If the interface wasn’t relatively well-designed, it wouldn’t be better at all. In fact, it would probably be worse.

It’s better because that combination of control and interface has an effect: it makes me think about my Apple TV less.

Less Snags for Better UX

Great user experiences are often described as simple, easy, or intuitive. They feel effortless.

You can make your interface more modern or improve the layout of your content or simplify your navigation or make everything faster—and all of those are crucial. But, the bedrock of a great experience is the ability to have that experience without thinking about it too much while it’s happening. This is what creates the sensation of effortlessness.

To get there, you have to do two things: intimately understand the user’s task at hand and get yourself out of the way.

Jobs to Be Done

The two remotes I mentioned above are simply tools I employ on my way to completing a task: watching something. I don’t consciously set out to interact with the Apple TV or the screen or the remote as an end unto itself.

To remind ourselves of this, we have to employ tactics to help us take the focus off the tool and, instead, on the job that the tool is needed for. I’ve mentioned job stories before, and the mentality of understanding circumstances and motivation is crucial in delivering a truly great experience.

Consider another way I’ve heard this put:

When someone goes to hang a picture on the wall, they’ve got to use a nail and a hammer. They’ve got no choice but to use those tools. They might purchase the nail with built-in analytics and the hammer with Bluetooth for a variety of reasons, but they’re not really buying the tools—they’re buying a picture hanging on the wall. The things they need to get there should be easy to use and effective.

Just a Tool

One of the hardest parts of the jobs-to-be-done mentality is that we have to emotionally detach from the product or service we’ve built in order to truly understand its utility.

People don’t go to work every day excited to use Excel, though they might be excited about what they do with Excel each day.

By humbling our product back into the role of being hired to get something done, it’s much easier to seek out improvements that are truly beneficial. When you need a new idea or improvement to be at least 9x better for users to accept it willingly, don’t you need all the help you can get?

The excellent byproduct of this mentality is a never-ending backlog of snags—once you gain this perspective, you won’t be able to help but see all the little ways you get in peoples’ way. You thought you were already tough on your product! Just you wait. But that’s exactly the perspective that great designers take.

Where Innovation Happens

Not only do great designers take this perspective, but great companies do. If you think about it, this is where so much “disruption” happens. Innovation peels back the layers of an interaction and streamlines it.

Think of Uber and Lyft: plugging the gaps from problem to pleasant solution.

Or, consider the example Jared Spool often gives: newspapers. Craigslist has all but killed newspaper classifieds. Why?

With a newspaper, you:

  • Buy a newspaper (or have it delivered)
  • Go to the classifieds section
  • Scan
  • Read in detail
  • Call
  • Meet
  • Exchange

But, with Craigslist, you:

  • Visit Craigslist
  • Search
  • Read in detail
  • Call or email
  • Meet
  • Exchange

Steps are either removed or made easier. Airbnb is finding new ways to streamline a particular interaction that Craigslist offers. And so it goes.

Be great. Be simple. Be innovative. Create raving customers by being all about what they’re trying to do.

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September 26, 2014 — Leave a comment — In Blog, CX, UX