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9 UX tips and strategies for developers

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Ori Bendet, Inbound Product Manager, Micro Focus

User expectations when it comes to user experience (UX) are exceedingly high these days. UX considerations permeate all stages of the software life cycle, from initial interest to upgrades to end of use. In addition, factor in low barriers to entry, a wealth of competing products, and cutthroat competition, and it's clear why UX is now a critical element in any app’s success.

What’s a developer to do? Start by understanding which UX best practices are strategic and which are more tactical, and you'll be well on your way to using UX to your competitive advantage. Follow these nine tips I picked up over nearly six years in product development.

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Form your conceptual approach to UX

Let's start with more conceptual and strategic tips and UX best practices.

1. It’s not just about UX. It’s also about customer experience

Technical issues are the number one reason why apps get deleted, so make sure you understand customer experience (CX) through all phases of the product life cycle. CX is the sum of the user’s interaction with the app or product, starting at the consideration stage and moving through support, upgrades, and eventual replacement or removal from use. Think about the interactions with your customer during each of these phases—before, during, and after they use your products. For example, think about how easy it is to purchase and register with your app. I recently encountered an app that required me to send a text message, which prompted the system to respond with a link in the reply, so I could then open a browser on my phone to register and activate a discount code. That process was cumbersome and took too much time, so I abandoned it.

2. Validate your assumptions with actual users

As a developer you might be lucky enough to meet real-life users, but often you can’t stay in constant touch with them. On top of that, you probably have your own biases and opinions about usability, and with travel and budget constraints, developers sometimes query people who are in close proximity to them but aren't representative of the wider user population. In my organization, we include a handful of carefully selected customers as design partners and several others as beta users. We then follow up after general availability with customer surveys, support feedback, and social media interactions. Once you receive feedback, be sure to follow up on it in a timely fashion and apply it to your product.

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3. Performance is just as important as functionality and design

This is a key part of UX, and in my experience, nothing other than perfect will do. As Todd DeCapua says in "Why performance engineering is essential to business success," if your page takes more than two seconds to load, people are likely to assume that it has issues and walk away. So it’s important to test performance and latency under real-world conditions, using 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi, and then test while moving between these networks.

Tactical tips: Address your app’s behavior

Here are some more tactical tips to help you use UX to your competitive advantage.

4. Use clear and simple navigation

Help users orient themselves, and make it easy to go forward and backward easily within your app—not just when scrolling but also after page refreshes. Users should know where they are in the application at any given time, regardless of the actions they’ve taken.

5. Avoid “click here” links

A door doesn’t have a sign saying “Open me." People know that's what a door is for. What they want to know is where it leads. The better approach is to explain what a link does and where it will take them.

6. A double-scroll is poor UX

Double scrolling occurs when you have two scrolls in the same direction, with one of them in a frame, or when you have a combination of horizontal and vertical scrolls. This is extremely confusing for users and often leads to errors. It also makes it nearly impossible to use the app on a device with a touch/swipe user interface.

7. Use clear, recognizable, and consistent icons

Skeuomorphism, the design practice of making items resemble their real-world counterparts, is your friend, but you should only take it so far. Having a disk icon for saving or a printer icon for printing is intuitive, but don’t invent new concepts or representations. Limit yourself to reusing well known visual concepts.

8. Align fonts for mobile

Users access most pages from mobile as well as tablets, laptops, and desktop computers, so your pages should look good and be easy to use on any platform and at any resolution your users might require. Make sure fonts as well as graphics are part of your responsive design, and be sure that you honor any accessibility settings that the user has configured.

9. Show informative error messages

Errors happen, but if messages are not clearly visible and informative, they're just an annoyance. I recently started to use a new camera that produced the rather unhelpful error message “Camera failed.” I knew that already. The app should have given me useful information as to what failed and what action I should take.

Looking at both the strategic and tactical levels where you can affect user experience, engagement, and satisfaction will help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve seen made, and create a truly differentiated product.

Are the other UX tips and best practices for developers you would add to this list? Leave your comment below.

Image credit: Flickr

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