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This year's Amuse UX conference was no ordinary one. The coronavirus pandemic made it the first fully online UX conference in the event's 6-year history.

Of course, this does not detract from its value. This year's conference also featured great speakers, such as Vitaly Friedman, Jim Kalbach, and Aarron Walter, who shared their knowledge.

Since I don't want to bore everyone with a giga-length post, I'll highlight three of my favorite talks from the whole line-up.

In this post, you will learn:

  • How to fix frustrating design patterns related to infinite scroll, disabled buttons, and inline validation

  • Why you should make your products more ethical

  • How to map powerful experiences

  • Lots more

Let's get started.

Vitaly Friedman: Fixing Frustrating Design Patterns in 2021

Vitaly Friedman, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine, presented the first talk of the conference, highlighted today's major UX issues, and suggested potential solutions.

As he suggested, our goal should always be to improve business metrics and UX simultaneously. Because in many cases, the focus is disproportionately shifted in one direction or the other.

Typical problems with today's modern websites include:

  • Tiny click targets

  • Menus opening on hover

  • Generic error messages

  • Disabled Next buttons

  • No text input option in sliders

  • Draconian password requirements

  • Inline validation kicking in early

  • Birthday picker, starting 2021

We've looked at several examples, but now let's discuss some potential issues with infinite scroll, disabled buttons, and inline validation.

Infinite scroll

Pagination is the most popular loading behavior, but it's the slowest solution. Users browse significantly less and often feel "slowed down" with this method. But: users spend more time on the first page and use filters/sorting more.

On the other hand, infinite scroll is the most overwhelming option. Users often dive into exploration mode, scan fast, and focus less on single items. Loading of products often feels like "out of control," footer issues.

Pagination is better than infinite scroll in general. For example, the Load More pattern works best across mobile and desktop: it gives users control, all items are on a single page, the footer is reachable, users browse more and focus on single items, often scrolling up/down.

A good idea to display 10-30 items on the initial page load. When the user reaches the end of the listing, use infinite scrolling to load the following 10-30 items.

Also, you shouldn't forget to provide support for the "Back" button.

Disabled Buttons

When encountering a disabled button, users first slow down massively. Then they search for error messages.

Then they look for the usual suspects - wrong formattings, accent characters, etc.

Then they scan the entire form, up and down, field by field.
The main problem is that disabled buttons don't explain what's wrong. Sometimes users are left wondering what's missing.

Disabled buttons are not focusable and hard to read as they are greyed out. With enabled buttons, we can better highlight all the errors.

So, as Vitaly suggests, the solution is always to test the disabled buttons and use them only if necessary. Also, on focus/tap/click, explain why the button is disabled, and provide a hint next to the disabled button to help the user. For example, "Can't proceed? Do this or that, blah blah..."

Inline validation

There are three types of inline validation:

  1. premature validation (on input focus),

  2. immediate validation (as the user types), and

  3. later validation (user has left the field, onblur)

They all interrupt users too early or too late.

Also, inline validation can fail due to several reasons, for example:

  • Too aggressive validators for address, phone number, or email

  • Services requiring a non-Gmail email address

  • When an ad-blocker blocks anti-spam protection

What can we do? As Vitaly suggested in the presentation: reward early, punish late:

  • For every input, set a min threshold of characters.

  • Start validating only if the threshold is reached.

  • If there is an error, show it immediately as you detect it.

  • Show "success" only if the user moved to the following field.

  • Editing a valid field: validate after data entry.

  • Editing an invalid field: validate during data entry.

User delighters

At the end of his presentation, Vitaly emphasized the usage of the following user delighters in 2021:

  • Fast, accessible experience

  • Large, legible text

  • Large checkboxes, radio buttons

  • Simple password requirements

  • Helpful error messages

  • Smart, fast autocomplete

  • User input persisted on refresh

  • Easy undos, edits, cancellations

  • Snoozing notifications

  • Pausing subscriptions

  • Transparent pricing

Trine Falbe Larsen: Responsible Product Design

The day continued with Trine Falbe Larsen, who presented her take on making products and services more ethical.

Unethical design reduces freedom, compromises privacy, and can cause addiction (Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, anyone?).

Still, many companies seem to think it's acceptable to use manipulative methods to steer users into specific behavioral patterns.

However, it's not necessarily proper for an organization to conduct business this way. Indicators are pointing to a reduction of trust towards companies that use manipulative methods.

From all of these examples, it's evident that there is a need for ethics to play a much more significant role in business, design, and development than is currently the case in most organizations. The demand for ethical transformation is apparent.

What are the drivers of change?

Methods for better decisions

When we want to initiate change to make better decisions at our organization, we should consider the following 4 questions:

  1. Why are we making this decision?

  2. Who benefits from this decision?

  3. What are the consequences of this decision?

  4. Would I want my loved ones to be using this feature or product?

Also, as a cross-check, you can ask yourself: Am I proud of the work I did?
We need to learn how to create better digital products without dark patterns: products that respect customer choices built and designed with ethics in mind.

To help you implement ethical design practices, Trine suggests using a scorecard that you can download from here. The McKinsey Design Index can also be helpful during implementation.

Learn from the best

Remember, businesses with the most significant success:

  • Implement user-centered methods throughout the organization

  • Support design in playing a central role in strategic planning

  • Use robust design metrics to measure customer satisfaction

  • Ensure that design departments are no silos

Yes, this is basic stuff, and we know that the change is not easy, but we should also keep in mind:

  • Slower is better

  • Change requires structure

  • Small successes are big

To get started on your journey towards an ethical design practice, change needs to happen.

But don't forget that it won't happen without changing corporate culture first.

Jim Kalbach: Mapping Experiences

On the second day of the conference, we were pleased to greet the one and only Jim Kalbach, the chief evangelist at Mural. Jim shared his incredible knowledge on how to make experience mapping workshops more successful.

At first, Jim quoted Steve Jobs stating that:
You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology - not the other way around.

What is experience?

Jim often asks this in his workshops and gets answers like experience is the sum of emotions that someone feels while performing an action.

Probably that best definition is that experience is 'stuff that happens to humans.' It sounds weird, but it truly encompasses all the actions, thoughts, and feelings an individual has when interacting with a product or service over time.

Why is it essential to define experience?

Because it's tough to create a great experience when each of your colleagues has a different mental model of what the experience is supposed to be, and they can't even define that term.

So we need a way to talk about the experience.

We need a way to talk about stuff that happens to humans.

One way that the creative field, the design field, adopted is to create a map. So you create a diagram of the experience, you visualize the experience.

Then you can have a real conversation with your team about this map.

We are fundamentally trying to align the experience with our offering and how we will support that or create that experience right.

Visualizing experience is essential because people don't read 15-page research reports. And even if they read, they're not going to connect what's on page 11 with what's on page 4.

But by visualizing things, you get a compelling artifact that is concise and shows relationships in a new way.

Negotiate reality to get an agreement across your team; that's one of the key functions of mapping.

How to map experiences

Below you can find Jim's general process for mapping experiences.

  1. You need to make it relevant (what are the questions your team and organization have?)

  2. You need to make it real (you are trying to answer those questions with genuine and valid research)

  3. You need to make it visual (you visualize your data in a compelling and straightforward map)

  4. You need to make it actionable (this is a critical step, you need to envision a better future, innovation, or improvement on your current offering, and you have to act on that)

This process applies to each map type, like user story maps, experience maps, customer journeys, service blueprints.

But how do you take the research and the map, and how do you activate that inside your team?

The answer is to become a facilitator from a mapmaker.

If you are interested in the details, read Jim's book, Mapping Experiences.

Tips for better workshops

Here are some tips Jim gave us regarding efficient workshops:

  • Answers come from the conversations that you have around the maps.

  • Ideas are overrated. Execution is the key: the volume of ideas is rarely a problem; making ideas actionable, that's the real challenge.

  • There's no real value in a sticky note with an idea until you execute on it. You have to come up with experiments to prove the business viability of these ideas.

  • It's hard to recognize innovation as such just from a few words on a sticky note.

  • Read the Game Storming book about a catalog of workshop exercises and activities (e.g., Assessment and evaluation, prioritization, fill in the blanks, SWOT analysis per phase, role play, and deep dives).

  • Read Innovator's Hypothesis by Michael Schraig about business value experiments and the 5x5 Framework (5 people, 5 days, 5 experiments, $5K, in 5 weeks).

  • After the workshop, you have to create a prototype of an idea and test it.

The real challenge is to get commitment from your decision-maker to fund and give resources towards the ideas the come out of your workshop.

Don't forget you want to go from insight into action as far as you can.

Now I'd Like to Hear What You Think

I hope you found this post helpful. Now I'd like to hear from you:

  • What do you think are the most frustrating design patterns on the web?

  • How do you implement an ethical design in your product?

  • Which tips from this post do you find beneficial?

Either way, just let me know by leaving a comment below.