The very saturated digital market means longevity is a very tricky task—achieved only by a select few. Whether a product or a service is successfully adopted or failingly adopted is often determined by the outcome of a user's very first interaction with said product or service.
This is why understanding users from their first interaction with the product or service i.e their First Time User (FTU) Experience can make all the difference.
From a user perspective, the cost and ease of switching to another similar service is relatively low so it’s no surprise that the abandonment rate of apps and websites is about 21% after a user's first time interaction. Designing for longevity requires a holistic view of all the components that make up a user's first experience - not only the visual design but also the content and technical aspects of the experience too.
Understanding the importance of FTU is not the same as (and much easier than) understanding FTU. In fact, understanding FTU is a deceptively tricky task for several reasons. To start, experts succumb to a phenomenon known as The Curse of Knowledge where their knowledge blindsides their ability to understand what it's like to never have the knowledge that is second nature to them. It disables the ability to step into other people's shoes and empathize with their confusion and incomprehension.
The classic experiment between tappers and listeners demonstrate evidence for this psychological phenomenon. When a group of 'tappers' are instructed to tap out well known songs with their fingers for a group of 'listeners' to determine which songs are being tapped out; 'tappers' grossly overestimate how many songs 'listeners' are able to accurately name. The findings illustrate the curse of knowledge harboured by the 'tappers' that leads them to assume 'listeners' would easily recognize the tune.
Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind. - Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
This phenomenon occurs in all areas of life and the UX design field is no exception. It may explain the all-too-common reason why an expert may not be the best at relaying their knowledge to the layperson. However, when the expert's role is to be the messenger to the layperson, the implication of the curse of knowledge can be rather costly.
To minimize the oversight, particularly in UI and UX design and development, User Research is compulsory.
There are various different types of User Research depending on the feasibility i.e. Stakeholder and User Interviews, User Personas, Heuristic Evaluation, Prototyping, Contextual Inquiry, Cognitive Walkthrough etc.
Although understanding the needs and pain points directly from users helps to eliminate some of the expert blindspots, the methods presented are not limited to users as the main participants; some involve usability experts, design teams or relevant shareholders.
Much of the strategy will be dependent on the User Research findings, however, there is a timeless guide that can be applied to the design framework to overcome 'the curse of knowledge' and that is The Success Acronym.
The Success Acronym is devised by the Heath brothers in their book 'Make It Stick'. It stands for:
S - Simple
U - Unexpected
C - Concrete
C - Credible
E - Emotional
S - Stories.
Less is more. In the saturated digital market, it's very easy for users to feel overwhelmed and bombarded with loud and bold design. This is not to say that there's anything wrong with a loud or a bold brand personality, but the key lies in executing a perfect balance before it crosses the fine overwhelming line.
Especially for a new user that has no prior knowledge of a product or a service, the key is to make it as easy as possible to understand what you want them to do or what your call to action is; whether that is to download or to sign up. It helps if your goal or objective translates into value delivered for the users and to deliver this value as soon as possible.
'Unexpected' may seem contradictory to the aforementioned 'Simple', which is to be expected considering there's a spectrum of 'unexpectedness'. For our purposes, the 'Unexpected' aspect lingers more on delight rather than shock.
'Unexpected' can be incorporated into the details such as utilizing colloquial phrases like 'oops this is embarrassing' for when an app or a website is unresponsive or an 'interactive loading animation' when a user is uploading content—in order to offer the users a sense of acknowledgement. Such details (though minor) can bring the feeling of relatability and familiarity which is rather effective in deescalating users' frustration in an unideal unresponsive situation.
For example, this 404 error page for iFinance shows an image of a broken down car—playing on the motif of an automobile which is the main product of the leasing company.
Concrete sits in contrast to the abstract and is an extension of 'Simple'. When copy or a design is rooted in concreteness, it is framed in a context that is easy to understand and remember. For example, a V-8 engine is concrete whereas high-performance is abstract. The former is more likely to be remembered by a new user than the latter.
In UX design, a mix of information like statistics and images can be utilized to provide clarity and memorableness to the users. For example, Stripe Payment makes their case for funding Carbon Removal using plain language, images, and comparing and contrasting Carbon Removal with other current existing methods to illustrate its importance.
It further adds credibility which brings us to the next aspect in our SUCCESS framework.
Nothing lends a bigger helping hand than credibility. It's an incredibly important factor and requires expertise. A website or an app may utilize endorsements from authorities, user testimonials, certifications or display their client list to convey credibility and social proof.
First time users particularly crave a sense of security and hugely rely on their intuition to determine the legitimacy of a product or a service. Although certain determination of credibility requires more legwork than intuition, a good user experience should theoretically shield users from having to go the extra miles as much as possible. Perceived trust is what ensures users return after that first experience.
Aside from being one of the components in the brand pyramid, emotional benefits are one of the benefits that users seek in a product or a service, however, it's not as emphasized as its physical benefits counterpart.
Patagonia website appeals to emotion through the use of language and visual images and proves incredibly effective when it comes to communicating values.
Storytelling is one of the 4 pillars of a meaningful life; on par with Belonging, Purpose and Transcendence. In fact, a well-executed story naturally embodies all of the Success framework.
Given its weight, stories can be strategically woven with UX to produce a product that sticks. There are various ways one can tell stories through UX. Stories generally revolve around some form of conflict with users being the protagonists that are looking to achieve a goal, and our UX design holds the key to helping the protagonists unlock their goal.
Paying attention to FTU experience can translate into a successful onboarding process, which captures a great deal of what would be lost opportunity. It's the key to designing for longevity and it is often in the small details.
For an idea to stick and to have staying power, it has to be able to make the users understand and remember, pay attention, agree and believe, care and be able to act on it. User research methods in addition to the Success framework can serve as a basis to devise a product or service that captures users from their first interaction.