Reduce, reuse, recycle
You’re sitting down with your team, ready to kick off a new UX project. Whether it’s a web redesign, an intranet application or a mobile app, that’s an exciting moment. The immediate impulse is to do the requisite research, understand your users, and invent something new.
But should you invent something new?
Before you reinvent the wheel, take a moment to see if you can reduce, reuse or recycle.
Here’s a gentle reminder—your users are people moving through the world and interacting with a wide variety of experiences throughout their day. They’re shopping for kitchen gadgets on Amazon, transferring funds with Chase, ordering delivery with GrubHub, and watching videos on Netflix. While doing some (or all) of these things, they’re also texting their parents, finding directions to the bowling alley, or taking a photo of their dog. When your users finally visit your digital experience, they bring all those experiences with them, for good or ill. Jakob Nielsen codified this underlying principle with a law that states: Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know. Design for patterns for which users are accustomed.
What’s a practical example of an application of this law? Let’s say your mobile app requires a user to collect imagery using a camera. Following Jakob’s Law, the application should mimic a commonly used photo-taking interface as closely as possible, thus helping the user accomplish their task more quickly and with less aggravation than they would experience with a novel interface.
Find a proxy
Early in the design process, identify features that can comfortably appropriate a commonly-used design pattern. One of the best ways to do this is to find an experience in an unrelated industry that may mimic the structure, feature-set and flow you’re looking to achieve in the application you’re developing. Does your project have a large group of content items you need to filter and facet? Maybe Zappos is a good starting point for organizing that type of information. Looking to provide a rating system that’s also highly dependent on location? Yelp might be a good proxy.
Let me be clear. This is not about stealing other design work. Hard-working design teams have poured time, energy and effort into developing the superior web experiences we see every day. Instead, this approach affords your team an opportunity to examine and audit the components that underpin an exceptional user experience: content, structure, user interface, etc. Some of the most successful UX designers will tell you that the fastest path toward developing a superior user experience often starts with looking at the world around you. And if it ain’t broke, use it.