Think of the most common use cases and the interface will reveal itself

When clients and prospective clients approach me with an app or website for the ‘X industry’, more often than not they’ll ask me how I will approach the design. And I always fall back to this. Think of the most common use cases and the interface will reveal itself. What I mean by this is to identify what the most important and frequently used actions are. What do users want to do with your site or product. Whether that is to read an article, watch a video, check the weather or to set their Sonos to play “Eye of the tiger” every time they’re about to enter the house. Dun dun dun dun fuck yeah!

When we focus our energy on a few select things, and hone in like a laser beam on steroids. We can solve these core tasks much more efficiently. When you try to do too much everything becomes cumbersome and important areas suffer. Focus on the 20% of work that generates 80% of the results. And not the other way around. Trying to do too many things at once and it all becomes extra noise and hurdles that your users have to go through. 

In order to achieve said goal users have to engage with our interface at various levels, clicking, tapping or swiping. Then reading, digesting etc. as they map their way to the end goal. To get from point A to point B the user will need to interact with our interface. Something like this.

What we should aim to do with our work when designing utility type products is getting out of the users way. Becoming invisible if we need to. There is sophistication in reduction. The thinner you can make the interface layer feel, the less complexity you will add for the user to reach their goals. A good example is my SONOS speaker. There are 3 main things that I do with it 90% of the time. Play music, pause music and adjust volume. If I had to choose, rather than using the interface I would much rather just tell it play using my voice. Granted that it's accurate enough, then from there I’ve already removed a level of complexity. The other 80% of things the app can do I use only 10% of the time so it can be out of the way.

Consider visiting an ecommerce site with a big catalogue of products. You know what you want and are not looking to explore. You are looking for a pair of white Roger Federer tennis shoes in size 10. And once again granted it’s accurate - it’d be great if I could just hit a voice command and it’ll fetch the relevant products for me. As opposed to having to click on little filter tabs and sliders. Therefore reducing the need to manually drill through the site and save time on my end. 

So how do we identify what the most important and commonly used functions are?

1. You can do this by either checking existing analytics on your website, app, interactive kiosk or whatever product it is. If this data is not available do some user research and get both qualitative and quantitative samples of what people want. You don’t need a huge sample size – 10 is enough if you have a good cross section of your audience. 

2. Tally, rank and give hierarchy to each of these actions. What are the most important tasks? And does it change for different audience groups? If so segment the audience groups out. This is a super dumbed down example using google sheets but you’ll get the general idea from it. The example is for a bank and I’ve divided out personal banking from small business banking. I've ranked the most important and most common tasks for each user segment. 

You can even seperate it out further with primary tiered tasks and secondary tasks and so on. Once you have the main actions, you can give weight to each of these actions in your interface. Using our banking example if checking account balances is one of the most important functions for personal banking. Then make it accessible and make it obvious. We are using this information to dictate our hierarchy. When you first login show the status of the balance and give it visual weight on the page. And then we move on to the next most important action paying bills. etc. We are letting these core actions guide the way we design the interface. With logic and applying that logic creatively. Also don’t just think in terms of just static pages either. Once you map out a flow for specific tasks. Think of each action as a series of hurdles that users need to jump over. Where can you remove hurdles. And from there based on the hierarchy of actions the interface will slowly reveal itself to you.