Leading software companies understand that they are in the customer-experience business, and they understand that if people won’t see the value within the first seconds of using the product they are done.
And the main reason people have a hard time understanding the value is because they are being bombarded with features, onboarding tips, and ambiguous UI at the start.
This article unpacks three UX principles that, in my experience, can drastically improve the customer experience in your SaaS product.
I hope they will awaken a sense of importance of having a simple experience and point toward how to do better.
1. Progressive Disclosure
The purpose is to lower the chances that users will feel overwhelmed by what they encounter. By disclosing information progressively, interaction designers reveal only the essentials, and help users manage the complexity of feature-rich websites or applications.
People want simplicity. They don't have time learn a full shebang of your product features in enough depth to select the few that are optimal for their needs.
Progressive disclosure is one of the best ways to:
Initially, show users only a few of the most important options.
Offer a larger set of specialized options upon request. Disclose these secondary features only if a user asks for them, meaning that most users can proceed with their tasks without worrying about this added complexity.
In a system designed with progressive disclosure, the very fact that something appears on the initial display tells users that it's important.
For novice users, this helps prioritize their attention so that they spend time only on features that are most likely to be useful to them. By hiding the advanced settings, progressive disclosure helps novice users avoid mistakes and saves them the time they would have spent contemplating features that they don't need.
For advanced users, the smaller initial display also saves them time because they avoid having to scan past a large list of features they rarely use. Progressive disclosure thus improves 3 of usability's 5 components: learnability, efficiency of use, and error rate.
You might assume that by initially focusing users' attention on a few core features, they might build a limiting mental model of the system and thus be unable to understand all of their options. Research says that these are groundless worries: people understand a system better when you help them prioritize features and spend more time on the most important ones.
A technique of combining many units of information into a limited number of units or chunks, so that the information is easier to process and remember.
A term chunk refers to a unit of information in short-term memory - a string of letters, a word, or a series of numbers.
For example, most people can remember a list of five words for 30 seconds, but few can remember a list of 10 words for 30 seconds. By breaking the list of ten words into multiple, smaller chunks (e.g. two groups of three words, and one group of four words), recall performance is essentially equivalent to the single list of five words.
Chunking is often applied as a general technique to simplify designs. This is a potential misapplication of the principle. The limits specified by this principle deal specifically with tasks involving memory. For example, it is unnecessary and counterproductive to restrict the number of dictionary entries on the page to four or five. Reference-related tasks consist primarily of scanning for a particular item. Chunking in this case would dramatically increase the scan time and effort, and yield no benefits.
Chunk information when people are required to recall and retain information, or when information is used for problem solving. Do not chunk information that is to be searched or scanned. In situations, where noise and stress can interfere with focus, consider chunking critical display information in the estimate of 4 +/- 1 chunks when applying this technique.
📈 If you’re interested in getting a personal UX review of your product and discover usability flaws that inhibit customer experience, read more here.
3. Ockham's Razor
Given a choice between functionality equivalent designs, the simplest design should be selected.
Michael Leggett (the former lead designer of Gmail ) created a free Chrome extension called Simplify, where all the extraneous folders and functions overloading Gmail seem to melt away, leaving you with a calm screen and nothing but your messages.
It’s understatedly beautiful, and every button just seems like it’s in the right place.
This example perfectly illustrates Ockham’s razor & Progressive disclosure principles.
Particularly, Ockham’s razor asserts that simplicity is preferred to complexity in design. Many variations of this principle exist, each adapted to address the particulars of a field or domain knowledge.
A few examples include:
“Entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” - William of Ockham
“That is better and more valuable which requires fewer, other circumstances being equal.” - Robert Grosseteste
“Nature operates in the shortest way possible.” - Aristotle
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” - Albert Einstein
The core of Ockham’s razor is the idea that unnecessary elements decrease a design’s efficiency, and increase the probability of unanticipated consequences.
Unnecessary design elements have the potential to fail or create problems.
There is also an aesthetic appeal to the principle, which likens the “cutting” of unnecessary elements from a design to the removal of impurities from a solution - the design is a cleaner, purer result.
Use this principle to evaluate and select elements to enhance the user experience and create clarity in your product. For example, given two functionality equivalent pages - equal in information content and readability - select the page with the fewest visual elements.
Occam’s Razor is a problem-solving principle devised in the 14th Century that states that simplicity is better than complexity. Now that you have a name for this principle, it is yet another advocacy tool to user with your client, boss, colleague. Whenever they insist about adding more functionalities, more elements, more and more, remind them of the Occam’s Razor.
📈 If you’d like to get more information on how I help SaaS products bring their user experience to the next level, check this out.
Following these UX principles will put you into a thinking/action mode rather than just running in a hamster wheel with your product and facing the same challenges all over again.
Share this information with your colleagues, friends, engineers and clients. I promise you after you start using these techniques in your work, the results won’t take long to reveal themselves.
After all, the fewer detours we take, the faster we arrive at our goals.