Tapping into Your Subconscious as a UX Designer
When I open Safari on my iPhone to search the internet, I immediately see a “Frequently Visited” section along with icons for the sites I am on most often. It’s equivalent to having a Favorites tab on your computer but it requires a lot less work.
I don’t have to read the text under the icons because subconsciously I have memorized each company’s logo.
When my clients are reviewing a design I have made, all of my choices are on their radar. They don’t like it when too much white space is left on a page or when content boxes aren’t aligned perfectly. I’ve figured out its because people think differently when they are a user versus a product owner.
The same people who see visual flaws in my work subconsciously browse the internet every day. Since it is not their website or app, they don’t spend the time to critique the page or rate the aesthetics.
They are simply trying to accomplish a task: reply to a work email, post on social media, set up an appointment, or read the news. Using our mobile phones and browsing the internet has becoming an automatic process that nobody stops to think about unless they are a stakeholder.
In this case, stakeholders could include the developers, the UX team, or anyone who has decision-making power in a company.
I remind my clients that the choices I make are based on a set of web standards that I have internalized. It is my job to create the most user-friendly experience, so I follow the examples of tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Facebook.
I try to be as original as possible in my design without contradicting what has been proven as a best practice. For example, I keep my font, style, and formatting as consistent as possible so that a page doesn’t look too busy.
I make sure only to incorporate necessary buttons on each page – features that I am positive users will interact with often.
Another web standard that companies like Microsoft rely on is called visual chunking. Thanks to technology, everyone is expected to know how to use programs like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This morning I decided to open up PowerPoint to see how functional it is for a beginner. Can they subconsciously navigate the page, based on its layout? Let’s take a look:
Microsoft’s Ribbons might be overwhelming for a new user who is given such a multitude of options. There are so many actions that can be taken at any given second, it’s hard to figure out which ones are important. Each user opens the program with a specific task in hand and will need to utilize it differently.
On the plus side, Microsoft made it a little bit easier for users to find what they’re looking for. The words I have boxed in red are symbolic of visual chunking: categorizing a group of actions based on a common denominator. If I know I am just trying to make my font bigger, I don’t have to bother with anything on the right side of the Ribbon.
Programs aren’t chosen solely because they are newer or more beautiful, but because people know how to use them. That’s why some companies are so hesitant to invest in technology and force new software on people who have been doing it “their way” for years. In fact, if an employee doesn’t know how to use an internal system it decreases their productivity and increases company turnover.
That’s why when I think about a new design, I observe the natural state of things. I don’t spend too much time focusing on the conscious observations that each stakeholder makes because that doesn’t necessarily explain user behavior.
When you’re doing an internet retrieval, how much time do you really spend analyzing each step you take on Google’s search engine? Chances are, you know exactly what you want to search for and the best way to go about it.
You’ve made a mental inventory of past searches you have done and based your input around those experiences. In a matter of seconds (almost automatically), you are skimming through Google’s search results and selecting the best option available to you.
Even emerging voice assistant technology like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home are wired to have the best possible interactions with users. Without thinking, people “tell” their voice assistant exactly what they want. The developers at Amazon and Google rely on the subconscious decisions that people make to keep the communication between humans and robots effective.
Another standard in UX design is the creation of toolbars. Let’s go back to PowerPoint for minute.
Whether a user is navigating a website or a computer program, I know they are looking for the easiest way to accomplish a task. Tech companies understand that simplicity will usually produce the best results when it comes to usability testing. Users don’t want to waste time figuring out how to get from point A to point B, they want it to be quick and obvious.
Each one of the tabs in the PowerPoint Ribbon will dropdown a complex menu of options, but don’t become a burden on the user until they make a choice. Toolbars should be visually aesthetic in the sense that the text, colors, and spacing should be uniform as demonstrated above.
More importantly, having tabs that won’t be frequently clicked on by users should be left out entirely. Once again, originality is only best when it doesn’t violate the best practices that represent an average user’s behavior.
As a UX designer, I have to put the needs of the user above my own and my clients. Tech companies have figured out how the perception of control can make or break the user experience.
I know that great UX design will allow users to flow seamlessly around a website or a mobile app. I also know that if they can’t find what they’re looking for, or do what they want to do, they will probably abandon the product altogether.
Tapping into my subconscious as a UX designer allows me to stay above the competitive market because I pay attention to what works best. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I draw on the success stories of the past to create a design that will give users exactly what they are looking for.
Think of tapping into your subconscious as building the foundation for your client’s dream home. Each user might have their own preferences – hardwood or carpet, open or closed concept – but the foundation itself has to follow a set of safety guidelines and building standards.
Without these staples in the design world, it would be nearly impossible to create a platform user-friendly enough to serve large groups of people.