There are more startup tech companies launching this week than almost anyone can keep track of, but any time a new service launches - one thing is key to its survival. The initial User Experience has to be compelling or any new application is going to be passed up in favor of whatever shiny object is next in line.
What's a company to do? Luckily, there are people who specialize in the field of User Experience (UX) and many of them share their best practices freely. We see applications all the time that are based on a great idea but are poorly designed in a way that leaves us frustrated and unlikely to return as users. Below are some of our favorite resources for companies that want to smarten-up quickly about User Experience.
Joshua Porter, Bokardo
Common Pitfalls of Building Social Web Applications
Joshua Porter's three-part series from last summer is the best overview of UX design focused on social websites that we've seen. It's framed in terms of things not to do, but there's great advice here like don't focus on too many different features, don't overfocus on the social value without delivering direct personal value (what Porter calls the "Del.icio.us Lesson" - personal value precedes network value) and don't fail to archive knowledge for re-use so your community manager doesn't have to spend all their time answering the same elementary questions from every new user.
This series is a great place to start and it alone should give any company a lot to think about and implement.
Trevor van Gorp, Boxes and Arrows
Design for Emotion and Flow
Trevor van Gorp wrote an article in this month's issue of Boxes and Arrows about "flow." We're most familiar with this concept from Kathy Sierra's discussion of it.
Van Gorp defines flow as an experience characterized by users feeling:
* Total concentration and focused attention
* A sense of control over interactions
* Openness to new things
* Increased exploratory behavior
* Increased learning
* Positive feelings
That's what we want from the apps we use! That kind of experience will keep us engaged for long enough to invest time and other resources that we'll want to come back to and it will give us the emotional incentive to do so, as well.
How can you help your users get into such a mode? Check out van Gorp's post and the conversation in comments.
Steve Psomas, UXMatters
The Five Competencies of User Experience Design
The above tips and perspectives are a great start, but if you can swing it it's a good idea to hire someone who specializes in UX work. Whether you're interested in evaluating prospects for that hire more intelligently or looking for more information about the field for yourself, Steve Psomas's article on UX competencies really helps the reader understand the details of the field. Read this one and you'll be much better informed about the world of UX.
Also worth reading for anyone is Luke Wroblewski's October post on UXMatters titled Scalable Design, where you can find tips on planning your product and site design today to enable easier growth and change in the future. Who wouldn't want to do that?
Case studies are a great way to learn about anything. After an initial exposure to the resources above, we recommend checking out the following:
- Garret Dimon's in-depth analysis of the excellent design at GetSatisfaction.com. Satisfaction is a model service and Dimon articulates the thinking behind it and its impact on users beautifully. This is one of our favorite case studies, but you can keep find a running list of others in places like http://delicious.com/tag/ux+casestudy.
- Ready to make yourself a case study? SilverBack is a new Mac app that systematizes usability testing. The service records your testing users' reactions to various parts of your service. Dimon again, from above, provides a really deep walk-through of the service in his latest post. SilverBack is getting good reviews, but we'd love to know what you think of it, too.
Conclusion: UX Matters
The above are some of our favorite UX resources and we can't emphasize enough how important this kind of thing is for new startups. You can have the most wonderful idea in the world and if your site suffers usability or user experience problems then your odds of survival are not good. We want you, friends with startups, to survive and thrive.
Let us know about your favorite User Experience resources in comments below.
Image: "Forever Flowing" Creative Commons licensed by Lisa Ruokis