Have you ever encountered a door whose usability signals are so poor that signage is needed to clarify how the door works? A glass door with a vertically-oriented grab handle, for example: does it open inward or outward? Users are left guessing and often frustrated or embarrassed when they inevitably choose wrong.
These confusing doors are called Norman doors after Don Norman, a cognitive scientist and usability engineer who was inspired by many experiences with bad design to produce the seminal work, The Design of Everyday Things. Norman argued that good design is intuitive design—design that doesn’t require conscious thought to be usable.
When The Design of Everyday Things was released in 1988, the idea of user-centered design and applying design thinking to all areas of life was revelatory. Design thinking forces brands to ask the right questions, find the best solutions and implement the best approach to get results. Here’s what it looks like in its simplest form:
- Ask questions and empathize
- Understand and define
- Evaluate ideas
Although design thinking has been proven since 1988 to be a repeatable problem-solving approach in everything from business systems to software engineering, some business leaders still see design as a magical process, a superficial add-on or a way to use leftover budget dollars. But design should never be an afterthought. Without it at the heart of a project, usability problems will keep users away. Let’s explore how design thinking can be applied to enterprise mobile apps.
Applying Design Thinking to Enterprise Mobile Apps
App Strategy: Identifying Areas of Need
Good enterprise app design is not about making things look nice. It’s about creating a positive user experience and solving real problems for real people. Well designed apps remove frustration along the user journey, resolving pain points and anticipating issues users may not even realize they could have. These apps are able anticipate user needs because design thinking was central to their development process.
No matter how clever your designers and engineers are, real users have a way of uncovering use cases you would never think of and demonstrating how usability can be improved.
If you want your app to solve real problems for real users, do your research. Ask users what they need help with. If you already have an app, review existing engagement metrics to identify areas for improvement—where users abandon the app, for example, or which features they never seem to use. Analyze competitor apps to see where yours excels or falls short.
If you’re building a new app, conduct user testing or interviews with target users first. Get to know them and their needs, preferences, pain points and behaviors so you can make good design decisions and improve the user experience at every opportunity for iteration. No matter how clever your designers and engineers are, real users have a way of uncovering use cases you would never think of and demonstrating how usability can be improved.
Your app’s success depends on how engaged your users are. Learn more in this eBook: Sticky Notes: How to Re-Engage Your Users Like a Boss.
Solving Problems with Enterprise App Design
Once you uncover the problems your target users are experiencing, it’s time to use mobile to solve them. This part of the process can be messy, but it’s where you dig in as a team and experiment with strategies and ideas—even some that might seem crazy at first. Sketch, whiteboard, diagram, discuss, challenge and revise to uncover solutions worth trying. That’s where the magic happens.
It’s a good idea to look for an app development partner with expertise in Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines and Google Material Design to create workflows that are useful and compliant. App design must feel fresh and timely without being too trendy—and therefore doomed to fall out of style. Choose a partner that will build for beauty, function and longevity.
The next step is to use the findings and wireframes from your discovery process to form educated hypotheses about how your app’s design can be the solution to your customers’ problems. Choose forward-looking technologies that will provide deployment flexibility and extend the life of the finished app. And test, test, test—not just to identify and fix bugs right before launch, but throughout the design and engineering process (and even after launch). Continual testing allows you to keep refining the user experience and uncover unanticipated issues before they cause bigger problems.
Iteration and Improvement
Good design recognizes constraints like budget and business goals as essential considerations for finding the best and most appropriate solutions. Long gone are the days of hero design, when eureka-like moments of inspiration seemed to appear out of thin air. The more effective process is working as a team with your development partner and end users to create prototypes and iteratively improve upon your initial ideas.
Experience proves that the best solutions come from testing and getting feedback from business leaders, designers, engineers, testers and end users at every stage to confirm that prototypes effectively solve the right problems. You may choose an app development partner that has already found effective solutions to common problems in your industry, but make sure they also routinely iterate and improve on even the smallest details for the best outcome.
How Design Thinking Can Help Your Organization
The American Marketing Association has said that customer experience is the new battleground and the customer journey will take precedence from today forward. Customer experience can now make or break a company, and word spreads among consumers in near-real time. Because your app is likely to be a central part of your customers’ experience with your brand, it’s essential to apply human-centered design thinking to the app lifecycle, from start to finish.
In other words, don’t put any metaphorical Norman doors between your users and their goals. Even minor moments of frustration add up to a negative overall experience. Instead, put the time and effort into thinking through how your app will work in the real world to provide the smoothest, most effective user experience possible.
To learn more about best practices at every stage of the mobile lifecycle, check out the eBook Mobile First: Harnessing the App Lifecycle for Transformative Business Success.