One of the interesting things about great design is that it helps us think better.
But why is that? And how?
Typically with poor design, people become frustrated quickly and leads to confusion.
However with cleaner design, simpler concepts, it appears more user friendly and you get the feeling of mastery and control from the start.
Great design brings a product or concept to a level of natural intuitive thinking, which creates us think better. The way this makes you think better is because your anxiety relaxes in your brain and allows for clearer thinking.
Take for example, learning Chinese, which can be a hard and daunting tasks, because you are learning a whole new language with a different writing system. How do you take something complex and design it better, even for a language?
This can seem difficult at first, but if you have better design, like the course I made for Memrise.com, you will naturally start to feel the language is more intuitive to understand and you begin to feel mastery and competency from the start.
In this course, I used old form pictographs, which were drawings used in ancient times in China and morphed them into their current symbol.
The primary concept in design is "don't make me think".
This concept is very beneficial in many ways, as many of the products we use in everyday life, don't make us think about how to use it. When you go to open a door, you twist a handle, the door swings on a hinge. But we don't have to think about it and the design works quite well.
However, when we are going digital, where most of our lives are spent, there is a little bit of a backlash, as people's attention spans are lagging. We get used to high impact videos, flashy images and quick reward circuits. You post something, and get immediate social reward.
So, how then, do we design apps that encourage more thinking?
One of the apps that I came across recently was "Apollo's Moon Shot" by the Smithsonian Institute about landing man on the moon, helps with the aspect of UI/UX Design.
They encourage exploratory behavior.
Exploratory behavior is one of the cornerstones of "life aesthetics" (生活美学). When I visited the tea house in Beijing, they explained, when you come in, "you don't know if you should go left or if you should go right". This means, you enjoy the place and are encouraged to explore.
In their app, they use good visuals about space, some text to learn about them, and a quiz to unlock a cool short video. However, when you take the quiz, they don't punish you for getting it wrong, instead, they allow you to retry it, to see if you got it right. They also added VR to see what it would be like if you were near a real astronaut.
With their structure of UI/UX, it involves a little more thinking, should you go right, or should you go left? If you go here, what will you see? You can also take it with you, into real life, playing with astronauts. Where will you go with it?
Life Aesthetics is a beautifully easy concept to use. Basically all it there is to do is to pair some basic, unattractive concept, such as information or data with something that has attraction or appeal. Below I shot some photos to explain.
In photo 1, it is plain, boring and unattractive. There is nothing to appeal to the eye. There is no story there, it's just a sidewalk, so we would lose interest rather quickly.
However, if you add some small details, like fall leaves, it creates a story in our minds about the time of the year, how it feels and what it might mean to you.
When you add some design to something unappealing, it will draw a person in.
If you have an app and the information is rather boring, adding something artistic to it will bring more appeal than if plain information.
Another concept of Life Aesthetics is to contain clutter in a way that is neat or organized looking. For example, I was recently in China and the way they displayed daily living in a neat and organized way is beautiful.
Too often the criticism with technology is that it makes us more lazy and unfocused. We often see this play out in social situations where people spend most of their time on their phone.
But, can technology actually make us smarter?
For technology to make us more focused and smarter it has to invoke some kind of curiosity. Since curiosity is the cornerstone of motivation, we can design better tech to create more curiosity and more focus.
Focus, in itself, is hard to maintain, it requires motivation to do so.
Most of technology revolves around dopamine hits, the reward cycle. Shorten the cycle, and you get more active users and a less focused society.
However, if you involve more curiosity, you get more exploratory behavior, which creates more focus in different areas.
If you take reading for example, not too many people enjoy reading, but some of the best writers know how to keep curiosity alive and people can't put the book down. One of the best books that I've read was actually on grammar. One of the most "boring" books out there. (pdf) But, the author knew how to keep readers engaged.
The basic sum of it is, "Is this going somewhere?"
This creates better engagement. It's similar to playing video games, there is a certain level of challenge with an element of curiosity, can you beat the next level, can you succeed?
So for app making, how do you create more curiosity so that you create more focused and less distracted users?
It's mainly adding - interest, better copywriting, and making things simpler.
Interest: Apps that revolve around topics people naturally have an interest in - fitness, sports, hobbies. It can also involve adding things like popular people, captivating pictures and movement.
Copywriting: Very good copywriting involves getting people curious and interested. Some of the best copywriters know how to stir emotions in people on topics that they don't care about - like thermostats.
Simpler: Complex topics, like learning a new language or taxes can be made simpler so that there is less frustration. I created a course in Mandarin Chinese that broke down sentence patterns to make it easier to learn the grammar and language - almost without thinking about it.
If you add these elements into your app, you can create better engagement.
Too often, when someone or a company is planning on coming up with a new app, they will wonder what's the best features or best way to design it, but the most common problem should be solved before these.
That is, how is the function of it different?
The features, user interface (UI) comes second to the user experience (UX). The user experience being, what function(s) does the app offer. Does it offer better insights to something, does it bring better information to the user?
UX: What functions are being offered?
UI: What does the interface look like?
For example, someone may want to offer an app to count calories. However, you can change the UI on the app and it appears to be better or different, but in fact the UX is relatively the same.
If you don't solve the UX problem first, then the app is more likely to be doomed.
If you don't have a solid difference in the function of the app, then it's much harder to get a good user base and all UI investment will be lost.
However, UI is still important, because if the information that appears on the app is too complex but offers great function - detailed insights to problems, then UI needs to be solved.
For example, if you are in a complex environment, like medicine, you want to focus on UI more because a better UI will limit the number of problems a user is likely to make. Too much information may take too long to asses in a fast paced environment, so the user, medical professionals, want very good information (UX), but they want it in a simple format.
A simple way to explain the difference between UI and UX is a blog. The UI of a blog is pretty similar from site to site - nice pictures, content and a sidebar. However, the UX, the function of the blog, could be explained by the content provided.