How to Stop UX Features From Snowballing

Sometimes it’s better to simplify and streamline, rather than continue and add.
Written by Avery Komlofske
March 28, 2022Updated: March 29, 2022

Chicagoans are familiar with the winter — the cold, the short days and the snow. That’s why Experience Design Director Robert Sherron’s frosty metaphor for overcomplicated UX design is right at home in the Windy City.

“Like snowballs rolling downhill,” said Sherron, who works at global experience company Rightpoint. “The features pile up and complicate the product over time.”

As user interface designers discover new customer needs, their instinct can be to add features to accommodate those needs. However, without thoughtful streamlining and dedication to the big picture of development, the software can become bloated and overcomplicated, potentially confusing and overwhelming the user.

To make the perfect snowball, a “thrower” should strategically add, remove and shape snow into its optimal shape. In the same way, designers need to pay attention to their users and their team to shape the right features in the right places, rather than implementing ideas haphazardly. Sometimes, simple is better.

Simplifying the user journey is not an easy skill to learn — it requires that ambition and creativity be tempered with long-term thinking and communication with customers and developers alike — but these skills can be acquired with a bit of dedication and some good examples to follow.

Built In Chicago sat down with leaders at four tech companies to provide those examples. UX designers from Motorola, Rightpoint, VelocityEHS and Millennium Trust Company shared the processes they use to simplify their user experience and provided advice for avoiding overcomplicated design. Each of these design teams use thoughtful research, planning and communication to deliver the best possible user experience to their customers.

 

Marisa Goliber
Head of UX Design

 

When do you know it’s time to simplify your product’s user journey?

By keeping a close relationship with our users, they show us when it is time to simplify. We deploy constant evaluative user testing to solicit customer feedback, such as identifying key metrics to show drop-off rates and having trainees navigate a product journey to see how difficult it is. This research allows us to better evaluate if the path from A to B is unclear and determine what stands between a user and their desired outcome.

 

What process do you use to identify opportunities for simplification?

Always be ready to question the status quo, go back to understanding the user first and consider the nature of their jobs and what they are trying to accomplish. 

Within public safety, you cannot simplify the user journey by simply removing elements, given the importance of their workflow. In a recent project, we identified that a dispatcher has to open multiple tabs to locate resources, create talk groups, manage geofences and see location history — which is inefficient when coordinating a response to an emergency. We proposed grouping them into a single tab with an information panel to enable these actions from a single place. This allows the dispatcher to focus more on the call and not on remembering which tab has the information they are looking for.

Designers are often enchanted with the possible.”

 

What are some common traps designers can fall into that result in an overly complicated user journey?

Focusing on features rather than the end-to-end user journey. The entire journey needs to be considered when looking to redesign a feature, to avoid point solutions or band-aid workarounds. 

Additionally, designers are often enchanted with the possible. As designers, we need to weigh the possible with the purposeful — and always err on the side of purposeful to meet user needs. Lastly, a designer needs to ensure that the mental model informing the information architecture is based on our target user — not assumptions. This is essential in making sure products are centered around our users’ goals.

 

 

Inside of the Rightpoint office
Rightpoint

 

Robert Sherron
Experience Design Director

 

When do you know it’s time to simplify your product’s user journey?

Simplifying your product is a continuous process of research, prioritization, design and evaluation to understand the underlying issues affecting the user journey — it is not one moment in time. What once was a simple user experience will not likely stand the test of time as technology changes, new design patterns emerge and new laws and regulations determine how products can be delivered. As products mature, they often tend to suffer from feature bloat. Organizations are often unaware it is even happening as they function in silos. 

It is important to consider the type of product you are designing. Simplicity is different when comparing a desktop application versus a mobile application. While a desktop product can potentially have a wide variety and number of features and still be simple and easy to use, a well-designed mobile application should focus on doing a few things — or even one thing — very well.

So, it’s always a reasonable time to access your product and the user journey. Instill that mindset into your design group and organization.

 

What process do you use to identify opportunities for simplification?

Rightpoint partnered with a major office retail company to re-imagine their Back to School (BTS) experience. For many students, parents and teachers, it is an exciting time. The joy of this moment often fades, however, as shopping for items requested by teachers is often confusing, expensive and requires a considerable amount of time and visits to multiple stores. 

Rightpoint used a design thinking methodology and spoke with over a dozen stakeholders — in-store associates, parents and teachers — to discuss what is working and what needs to be changed or simplified in the BTS process. Rightpoint also conducted a competitive assessment to identify and assess possible opportunities. Through this research, the focus came down to the school supply list. 

One of the design solutions was to provide a school bundle created by teachers and shared with parents and students. For those with little time, it provides the convenience of a one-stop shopping experience — but the bundle can be customized and edited for price variations or more custom inclusions based on student preference. It also was a step toward empowering the student in this process.

Design for the entire experience, not just the touch moments.”

 

What are some common traps designers can fall into that result in an overly complicated user journey?

Designers often start off with the best of intentions and are eager to improve the user journey — but may not have established executive buy-in and support. If organizations do not see the initiative being backed by executive leadership, they are less likely to allot a budget to design initiatives. Therefore, it is crucial to provide a plan of action: Define goals and metrics for success to get executives behind you.

As mentioned above, there are often silos within the company — organizations are unaware of or compete with one another at the cost of making a product and process complicated. As you approach design solutions, be sure to invite a diverse set of roles and organizations.

When the research is done, there will be a laundry list of issues designers are eager to tackle, but the goal isn’t to solve every problem at once. Prioritize the most important issues — which in some cases will not be the actual user interface of the product but rather the underlying processes and systems behind the interface. Design for the entire experience, not just the touch moments. The experience a user has discovering and learning about your product shapes their view of your brand.

 

 

VelocityEHS coworkers in the office looking at a computer moniotr
VelocityEHS

 

Shannon Harrison
Director, User Experience

 

When do you know it’s time to simplify your product’s user journey?

We listen and we observe. As a designer, there are times where you can see or feel friction in your work — but you might not be able to figure out where it’s coming from or why it’s happening. We have a tremendous amount of in-house subject matter expertise as well as an engaged user community. With a broad range of product solutions in our portfolio, we rely on the experts who know our software and supported industries best. We consider our customers and everyone within our organization our partners and a part of our team.

 

What process do you use to identify opportunities for simplification?

In UX, our biggest asset is our users. They tell us when we’ve gotten it right and if we’re off track. When we’re working with our teams to design features, we engage with our users early in the process and ask them to provide feedback on our interactions and workflows. Ongoing user testing helps us evaluate what we’re currently working on as well as giving us insights into the effect that may have on an overall experience. We’ve done this with some work that is in UX discovery at the moment — tapping into our users early for feedback has allowed us to make adjustments to the designs before a single pixel has been coded. It really is a win-win — we’re building things that our customers want and need, while saving on engineering costs by testing early to ensure our solutions are efficient and usable.

Our biggest asset is our users. They tell us when we’ve gotten it right and if we’re off track.”

 

What are some common traps designers can fall into that result in an overly complicated user journey?

Focusing on the immediate features your team may be working on without taking a step back and evaluating the big picture. It’s easy for a designer to get pulled into the day-to-day operational aspect of being a part of a scrum team, but they have to remember that one of the greatest values they bring to the table is being a voice for our users. It is critically important for us to constantly litmus test the work being done to make sure the features and enhancements we are adding are not complicating the overall experiences we are building.

 

 

Bill Varga
Director, Product Design

 

When do you know it’s time to simplify your product’s user journey?

We begin by observing how users engage with our products — these observations allow us to better understand the issues that they are experiencing while navigating through the end-to-end journey. We also review feedback from our client service team, since they have daily interactions with a large user segment and tend to understand the issues that many of our users experience.

 

What process do you use to identify opportunities for simplification?

After understanding the issues users are having with the product, we begin our discovery stage. First, we define who our users are. We might also research competitors to see if they may have a solution that might apply to some of our users’ problems. Next, we define the current content of the product, then use facilitated whiteboarding sessions with key members of our team — engineers, product owners, designers and so on — to determine what content is essential to the user’s journey. After that, we explore ways users can easily navigate the content.

We are currently working on a project to redesign our investor’s dashboard. The process began with a Zoom meeting that included a brief interview and observation of them using the current dashboard. Next, we looked at some of our competitors’ dashboards to see how they might be addressing some of our users’ issues. Then, we had whiteboarding sessions to determine what the essential content and features should be for our users. Lastly, we did some rapid explorations on how users could easily and simply navigate through essential content.

If everything is treated equally on the interface, the user will be overwhelmed.”

 

What are some common traps designers can fall into that result in an overly complicated user journey?

One common trap some designers may fall into is giving equal importance to all the actions a user might take. If everything is treated equally on the interface, the user will be overwhelmed. It’s essential for designers to lead discussions on what the most important actions are, so they can understand them and design the interface with those in mind.

 

 

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