We spoke to Gerard about what drew him to UX, why he created his podcast, and what it’s like to be a BrainStation Instructor.
Sometimes, the best design decisions can be so subtle and clever that they’re almost invisible – and that’s especially true when it comes to creating a seamless and intuitive user experience.
With that in mind, we wanted to shine a spotlight on some of the companies leading the way with savvy, influential, and innovative UX design decisions – and show how a focus on design has shaped their business.
What began as a London retailer has now become a global brand, thanks in part to consistently smart design choices and a seamless, cross-channel user experience.
On mobile, desktop, or its apps, ASOS opens with a persuasive value proposition and prominently advertises its free worldwide shipping. The retailer features more than 850 brands, but a simple navigation system allows shoppers to find exactly what they’re looking for in only one click.
Every clothing item features its own “virtual catwalk” video and the retailer’s fit assistant is far more user-friendly than the grids favored by most eCommerce companies – here, users are asked to enter their exact height and weight, the shape of their chests and waists in graphic form, and to provide their age to get as close as possible to the perfect fit. ASOS even added a visual search tool in 2017.
As the company reported revenues north of $2 billion in the six months leading up to February 2018 – a 27 percent increase over the same period the year before – executives credited the focus on user experience and vowed to innovate further.
“If we focus on product and customer experience, and if we move with velocity, we can continue to win,” said CEO Nick Beighton. “It is core to our DNA and it is core to our customer base. We will continue to move as quickly as we can to keep ahead.”
It would have seemed ludicrous once, but many of us have now become comfortable renting out our homes or staying in the homes of total strangers? That’s largely thanks to Airbnb, and the company has no shortage of energy and resources into effective UX design so that users feel, well, at home.
Whether on desktop, mobile, or its app, Airbnb offers an intricate system of filters to allow users near-total control over the type of property they’re looking for, including price, amenities, size or host language. Availability is usually updated instantly, the company’s sturdy two-way rating system gives users confidence, and booking is a breeze – a far cry from the cumbersome payment systems that typified old-fashioned home share websites.
Given that the company’s digital offerings have to be usable and attractive anywhere in the world – Airbnb supports more than 25 languages and operates in 191 countries – they employ a huge team of UX designers to ensure their products look good everywhere.
“Design is taken very seriously here. It’s on the same level as product management or marketing,” said Alex Schleifer, VP of Design.
“A lot of our design work is very typographic, and we think a lot about colors and language and white space,” he added. “We always ask, can we show this to anyone and have them understand and use it? It’s a little bit of art and a little bit of science.”
In many ways, user experience has always been at the very core of Netflix’s success.
After all, the streaming company disrupted an entire industry – and put the likes of Blockbuster out of business – by allowing users an on-demand viewing experience from the comfort of their couches.
“Netflix understands that when consuming media, you are at the mercy of one of the most important rules of interface design: Don’t make me think,” designer Justin Ramedia has written.
To achieve that zen-like user experience, Netflix organizes its desktop experience with a global navigation bar at the top of the homepage. Scrolling the page reveals content categories arrayed in carousels, with thumbnails that expand upon hover – and even begin airing a short clip or trailer after a few seconds.
Small touches like that abound on the company’s various platforms. Netflix even personalizes the image advertising each piece of content to tailor it your taste. Is it any wonder that 80 percent of Netflix’s watched content is based on the company’s recommendations?
The company has also refused to rest on its laurels. As recently as July, Netflix announced a spate of upgrades intended to improve the TV user experience, including a smoother search function and easier access to your saved titles.
“While this may feel like an obvious update to some, validating that this TV experience was better for our members took extensive research, testing, and technology improvements,” said Stephen Garcia, Netflix’s Director of Product Innovation.
“Along those lines, we will continuously learn from our members and evolve the TV experience so that it gets even more simple, fun and easy to find the stories that make Netflix great.”
When a company is as large and ubiquitous as Apple, it’s easy to be snide about some of their recent decisions (including “ugly” notches and the lack of an earphone jack). It would be hard to argue, though, that Apple does not have a focus on design.
According to Mark Rolston, the Senior Vice President of Creative at Frog Design, a firm that worked with Apple from 1982 to 1988, Steve Jobs “wanted to elevate Apple by using design,” to turn the company into “an undisputed leader in industrial design.”
At the time, this meant developing the “Snow White” design language, which included things like rounded case corners and “zero draft” molding, which helped differentiate Apple from PC makers. This focus on design, however, would end up informing the way the entire company operated.
“Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that’s what makes everything about the product so much better . . . much more than any individual designer or design team,” Mark Kawano, a former Senior Designer at Apple, told FastCompany.
Apple’s attention to UX is noticeable across the board – from the austere simplicity that distinguishes its physical retail outlets to its online store, which breaks down various product lines so neatly it would be difficult to get lost. Consider, for example, the product page for the iMac Pro, which includes a subtle parallax scrolling effect before clearly breaking down every feature of the computer in an easy-to-read presentation – one that looks equally stylish on mobile and desktop.
Another good example pointed out by UX Planet is the way Siri carefully specifies what you mean if you schedule something “tomorrow” if it happens to be after midnight.
Apple has also found crucial lessons in its mistakes. Consider the rollout of the Apple Watch. In 2016, the IDC was forecasting 14 million units sold, with a 49.4 percent share of the smartwatch market. That sounds like a runaway success, but at the time, the company was openly discussing how it could improve the product’s user experience.
“We found that we actually really overshot the goal,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice-President of Software Engineering said, describing how battery life had influenced much of the design.
Apple discovered that users cared less about having a battery that lasted all day, and more about speed, accessibility, and focused apps. They went back to the lab and returned with the Apple Watch Series 3, which was considered a major leap forward.