At Nanigans, we pride ourselves on having a firm grasp on all this complexity. Our culture strongly encourages attacking and solving highly complex technical challenges, and much of our success in the marketplace can be attributed to our ability to provide a product that aptly handles this complexity for our clients. But as we complete the shift toward becoming a true SaaS company, it’s critical that we begin to strip away the unnecessary layers of complexity while continuing to empower our users by giving them the transparency and granular control they often need.
Aside from the naturally complex nature of our industry and our product, we face several UX challenges that must be considered when designing products and experiences for our customers:
- Our users spend lots of time in our product, so seemingly small flaws can be magnified because they’re encountered many times in the course of a session;
- Many of our users are incredibly sophisticated and analytical marketers who demand high-performance and expert functionality, but;
- We must also accommodate many other types of users who often have simpler user-cases and could benefit from a simpler interface;
- We are deeply integrated with other platforms, which forces us to make decisions about which patterns and language to adopt and which to translate for our own use; and
- We are moving incredibly quickly to deploy new products and features on tight timelines and often don’t have time to utilize “traditional” usability testing methods.
As we strive to improve our UX across the product within these constraints, here are five key principles we’re prioritizing with each new feature and screen we design:
1. Progressive Disclosure
For us, progressive disclosure is about making a process simpler by helping users focus on a single decision at a time. In many cases, our features require multiple pieces of input from users in order to function correctly. Presenting all of these input fields at page load can cause confusion and anxiety for users, so we’re creating more controls that allow users to opt-in to a specific feature set before displaying the dials and switches that go along with it.
We know that first experiences are a critical piece of the overall user experience and set expectations for the rest of a product. For a piece of software like ours that requires significant setup and technical implementation, it’s even more important. To serve this need, we’ve dedicated an entire cross-functional team comprised of folks from product, UX and engineering to address the specific challenges associated with getting people up and running on Ad Engine.
3. Contextual Help
Providing help documentation has long been a cornerstone of good UX, but taking users to knowledge base articles outside of the product or littering screens with subtitles and help text is certainly less than optimal. One of the biggest issues we’ve recently tackled as a UX team has been creating and enforcing a consistent contextual help pattern via a combination of user-activated tooltips for field definitions and popover-style help dialogs for more immersive content like tips or explanations that appear on focus. This has helped us move closer toward the optimal balance between providing users the help they need and bombarding them with information.
4. UI Consistency
Getting buttons, text, and navigation elements to remain perfectly consistent across screens may seem like a no-brainer, but in practice these things can require lots of work under the covers to ensure that everything is up to date and in line. Anyone who’s worked on a large web project over the course of multiple years knows that CSS has a natural tendency to bloat and double back on itself, even when everyone is making a real effort to adhere to standards and best practices. Pre-processors (we use LESS for almost all of our styling) can help, but they can’t erase the problem without human help. Getting these details right makes a big difference to users – consistency of styles builds confidence in consistency of performance – and therefore is a big priority as we sharpen our focus on SaaS.
5. Feature Segmentation
Fact of the matter is, some users are more advanced than others. By way of training, experience or use-case, their needs are more sophisticated than most – sometimes by a long shot. Many of these users are among our best, longest-term customers and we love them dearly. But that doesn’t mean that our interfaces should necessarily conform to the highest common denominator. As we go forward, we’re placing more emphasis on segmenting features by user type, putting the most complex ones behind ‘Advanced Settings’ toggles that allow our power users access to the tools they need while keeping less sophisticated users from shooting themselves in the foot by tweaking configurations they haven’t yet mastered.
There are many more UX techniques and considerations in our toolkit, but as we look forward to life as a purely SaaS company, these five principles serve as guideposts that help us understand what to focus on and where to put our energy.
At the end of the day, our application will never sport one of the reductive, almost alarmingly simple interfaces that seem to dominate the headlines of the tech rags and design blogs these days. It was never meant to be, and for us as a UX team, there is a great challenge – and an even greater satisfaction – in designing complex products and experiences to be obvious, fluid, and eminently useful.