April 3, 2015

UX ≥ UI

by Chaitanya Rele

‘10 most beautiful iOS apps’ makes for a very popular heading on blogs. It gets clicked often and is quite a smart (yet a somewhat shallow) way to attract new visitors. Open the page and you are sure to find a list of some really cool looking apps. Admittedly, I’ve purchased a few myself (the T3 music player inspired by Dieter Rams being one of the many, but rarely do we find apps that provide great function as well as a great interface and even rarer still are apps that have been designed in India.

Posts shared across Facebook seem to insinuate that every piece of great work out there – from award-winning animated films to apps – originate from our very own silicon valley. But pop open the Indian app store, and you’ll struggle to find more than a handful of apps that really stand out.

India is home to many great strategists, creatives and techies but there just isn’t enough of a dialogue or overlap between them. Herein lies the problem. A great experience is created by the ease of use of the app, its functionality, visual appeal and the invisibility of its technology. Digital design is re-inventing itself everyday to better define roles and processes to be able to deliver meaningful and impactful experiences – all to climb up the list of ‘most used’ apps on your smartphones or occupy a spot on the coveted ‘most visited’ page in your web-browser – after Facebook of course!

With the growth of social media, devices and proliferation of mobile data, customers today are exposed to more choices, making them more sophisticated, empowered and in turn reducing their attention span.

This just makes it harder to create apps and sites that can move into the most visited or most used lists.

Mobile sharing, geo-location, real-time and content are some of the hottest technology trends today, that are shaping how users discover, share and connect with one another and with brands. But it’s not just the technology, rather it’s the usability of the technology and its convenience for users that is driving this rapid adoption. As technology matures from being a luxury for a few to a commodity for everybody, user expectations inflate, and functionality, connectedness, and experiences emerge as the yardstick to measure success. For an app to stand out amongst an increasingly discerning breed of users, it now takes more than great looks. An intuitive User Experience (UX) combined with a User Interface (UI) is the critical point that must stand out and be relevant.

Digital-Design_Flow

It all begins with comprehensive research. Defining what you’re trying to say and why people should care is the most pivotal step in the product design or branding process and it’s no different here. Clear objectives of what you intend to achieve, what your content will be, what the user’s needs are and how and what the competition delivers, help define the core concept. This is a data intensive process and tends to be the most time consuming, however access to a plethora of data gives you the opportunity to draw statistically significant conclusions and define a finite and focused way forward.

UX is not an exact art or a science and it is often all but ignored in the development stage. If the app or site does not deliver convenience and value, its appeal diminishes fairly quickly and it is removed from the device. If the experience is not rewarding or is just gimmicky without intent or requires effort, users will power off. UX here plays the role that it should – to help define how a user will feel when interacting with and navigating through the app or site. A great UX is seamless to an extent where the user doesn’t think about it. Right from navigation to interaction – it’s just simple and intuitive. But a poor user experience tends to make us frustrated, impatient or even angry and we inherently remember that negative experience for a longer time.

The primary function of UX is creating an architecture that creates a delightful, emotional and sensory experience, which is in turn fulfilled by the content. As the user experience evolves, so does the interface. Users have evolved from watching TV to typing on keyboards and from clicking on mice to tapping on screens – each of these has driven designers to re-evaluate.

Designers need to be aware of the consequences of the products they put in the world, as they can change or even disrupt usage patterns. The flow between an interactive screen and our real life should be as natural and accessible as possible. Users should be able to comprehend interfaces at a glance. The user’s eye has slowly become trained to icons, gestures and locations on screens. They expect experiences to be consistent and seamless across devices and platforms, yet considerate of things like button sizes on touch screens. The implication for designers is to focus on human needs – to overlay an enriching visual experience over the intuitive user experience.

Comprehensive research, an intuitive experience and an enriching interface can be brought to life through great content, prototyping and by remaining in a state of perpetual beta – learning new user trends, adding new features and refining the product every day.

And we have spotted a handful of Indian apps that do just that – moving up the most visited and most used lists for many users. Cleartrip, Zomato, BookMyShow, Meru Cabs and IRCTC have all worked on creating apps that deliver usability and simplicity to users through technological features on the devices they operate.

IRCTC

Currently only developed for Windows devices, the IRCTC app (a Blue Elephant winner at the 2014 Kyoorius Digital Awards) has simplified a Government of India service and is a significant departure from the IRCTC website.

irctc1 irctc2

Built on the Windows 8 metro language, the app allows users to plan their trip, research train options, check availability, book tickets and pay online. After booking, users can check PNR status, review history, save favorites and save your profile and preferences.

What helps the app stand out is the simplification of a decidedly archaic and complicated booking system. A well thought through information architecture helps users navigate through the app and review content in layers.

irctc3   irctc4   irctc5

Cleartrip

Standing out in an already very cluttered travel booking space is a challenging task, especially given the commoditization of air and train travel. Cleartrip has focused on simplicity of use and seamless connectivity between devices and screens. Opening the app provides users with clear filters on their choices and a Google-inspired approach to search. The UI too is simplified with clean and easy-to-read type with large easy-to-touch areas, similarly fashioned on its website.

Cleartrip1

The booking process is no different from other travel apps, but Cleartrip does add value with real-time price changes depending on the chosen flight, and providing users the most cost-effective options and non-stop-only flights with a single click. Geolocation features have also been enabled to find a hotel or airport nearby. And allowing users to export flight and hotel bookings to passbook maximizes the integration with the iOS platform.

Cleartrip2   Cleartrip3

Connectivity between devices and platforms really comes alive through the dashboard, where users can review past and upcoming bookings, save cards and update information relating to the user or travellers, across devices. Social media channels – such as Tripadvisor, for reviews and   Facebook, to let your friends know where you’re travelling – have been cleverly integrated.

Cleartrip has paid significant attention to the experience created for users through authored content. ‘Collections’ is a section of the site dedicated to travel aficionados, creating lists for travellers depending on type of break, destination and budgets in partnership with Condé Nast Traveller. Waytogo is another content-based feature that helps users ‘figure out’ how they can get to their destination by providing flight options, prices and date options. This content experience ensures that users spend more time with Cleartrip, moving away from the traditional vendor relationship, to one of an advisor.

Cleartrip9

Zomato

Zomato was a late entrant into the local restaurant review market, but a state of perpetual beta has allowed them to leave competition behind. An all in-house team develops and designs the app taking into consideration user behavior and patterns. Upon launch the app provides two simple options – search (using live type) or browse through lists if the user is not really sure what they are looking for. These lists are not merely automated aggregations but are curated by Zomato’s in-house team and it clearly shows. Each item in the list has been presented as a series of full screen cards with just the key information a user would need to make a decision, with actionable buttons such as call or add to your wish list.

Zomato_new-app  Zomato_new-app2  Zomato_new-app3

Viewing a restaurant is simple and systematic, with information spread into clear demarcations and is intuitive to view, through simple swipe gestures. Filters again allow users to refine and find exactly what they are looking for. Social media is well-integrated to see what your friends are saying, share where you’ve been, add reviews and photos, and make suggestions. Geolocation is a key feature of the app – detecting eateries around you and changing cities as you move. The sharing and contributing experience has been gamified by awarding points, which can be compared among friends on a leaderboard to compete for the title of the biggest foodie.

Zomato_upgraded-website

Sadly the experience doesn’t translate nearly as well on the web. Much like Windows 8 – other than simplified landing page the remainder of the experience is dated, cluttered and isn’t nearly as intuitive as it is on the app.

BookMyShow

The latest version of the BookMyShow app has seen a significant change to its predecessor. The new app has streamlined the experience by simplifying sorting, by the type of event they are interested in. Clicking through provides more options, which can be filtered according to the distance from the users’ current location, popularity or by language.

bookmyshow1  bookmyshow2

The event page shows users relevant information such as cast, runtime, a synopsis, an embedded trailer and reviews from movie critics. The selection process is straightforward and the iconography and tone of voice have been used to good effect. Like Cleartrip, BookMyShow also integrates with iOS’s passbook. Sadly though, the web-browser experience is a let down. The only things consistent with the app are the logo and colors.

Meru Cabs

Taking the call centre off the ledger is a major concern for businesses today and Meru Cabs has invested in their app to help them alleviate this cost. The app allows users to book a cab using GPS co-ordinates that are significantly more effective than playing Chinese whispers with a call centre.

Meru1 Meru2

The app locates you and identifies possible destinations based on previously saved options or local airports. You can view your booking status, current location of your cab, chauffeur details and cancel your ride right from the app.

Additional features such as saved cards allow you to pay for your ride using either a credit/ debit card or netbanking on those low cash, heavy rain days. An ICE (In Case of Emergency) button has been added which allows the user to send out a distress message along with their location to a predetermined emergency contact.

A version of this article was published in Kyoorius 21.

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