seen + learned

User experience for software and service updates

Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2011 | Posted by Tania Schlatter | Labels: , , ,

Changes to the things we use every day affect us and how we feel about the organizations that push change on us. Every time we decide to allow an update or buy a new release, we are taking a leap of faith. Sometimes those leaps are rewarded, and sometimes they are not.

Regardless, our time is required to relearn, and this investment is not acknowledged or appreciated. I've read that brand loyalty is at an all-time low. People are happy to try new restaurants and services with a coupon from Groupon, but vendors report that coupon use is not translating into repeat business. I don't know statistics about mobile and computing software specifically, but based on my extremely limited and unscientific example of myself I can only imagine that maintaining a positive customer experience after purchase is valuable.

Four tips for better software update experiences:

  • Show me what I can expect. Let me preview what will change visually, not in a readme file after the fact. Google is doing this well with its beta interfaces.

  • Let me choose. Give me a choice to retain an old interface. Twitter, Yahoo!, and Google have all allowed users the choice between new beta interfaces and the familiar old ones, even if eventually these choices were taken away.

  • The UI should always be a high priority. I've seen more beautiful launches than I can count that degrade with the second release. It's great that the UI/UX were stunning at first, but if feature fixes and additions compromise the UI in subsequent rounds, the initial effort truly was for naught.

  • Assume people will hate it. Your organization may think that the update is great and fixes all kinds of issues, but chances are users aren't aware of the problems; they're only aware of the change. If you keep in mind that people will hate the update, it's more likely that changes will be made in a way that has less negative impact on consumers – and communications will be less about what the organization thinks is better, and more about what people can expect.

Where's this coming from?
Recently, I downloaded an update for my Android mobile phone. I didn't think about it much before doing it. I saw the prompt, figured I had enough connection strength and time for the update, pushed the button and put the phone back in my bag.
image source:

Taking a glance later, it was immediately clear that the interface had changed. One of my favorite things about the phone was the lovely graphic that reflects the time of day. Now, instead of late afternoon sunlight, I saw a generic blue screen and the time. Sigh. A few taps and I saw that the entire black-background, high-contrast interface had been brightened, buttons outlined with white hairlines, more prompts added. Clearly someone was trying to improve something, but even though I am usually on the designer's side in this situation, I was just annoyed that things had changed, that the changes appeared to be for the worse, and that I hadn't been warned. The thought crossed my mind that I could change to another carrier with another phone with a more appealing interface. If I have to adapt, I might as well adapt to something else.

No one likes change, even when it's for the best; it takes time and reflection to realize and appreciate change. A few years ago, I facilitated a working session for an organization to help them decide what values were important to convey as part of a new visual identity. In the session, there was a lot of excitement about the future for the group and its ability to be thought of as cutting-edge. When it came time to review logos that had been designed to reflect the key adjectives the organization wanted to portray, the same group overwhelmingly favored the identity that was least changed and most conservative. Asked to explain their choice, they cited the history of the organization and the need to appear consistent – the opposite of what they previously wanted to convey.

Consumer products and services are user experience-crazy right now, with everyone across all levels of organizations getting that experience matters. (Thanks, Steve!) Despite the desire to create products and services that people love, the software world manages product changes extremely poorly. The phone is one recent example; Netflix's proposed service changes are another. I know graphic designers who are running an operating system and software from 2005 because they are so afraid of the interface changes and the time needed to remaster the software with each release.

Helping customers manage software update changes is a seemingly small way organizations can go beyond saying customers matter and show customers that they matter.


Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.