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Designing for better experiences and better decision making

By Kirsty Kearney-Greig, November 27

Last week my lovely colleague Caro wrote about how the apprenticeship levy is currently working in practice, and some of the key challenges that still remain to “fundamentally change apprenticeships for the better”. If you haven’t done so yet, take a look here 👍🏼

One of the five key areas highlighted was “analysis paralysis”. As a concept, this certainly isn’t unique to our industry - a wealth of information that is hard to digest, understand, demystify and certainly navigate is one that I see nearly every day across the web.

At Future we believe that less is more and simpler often better. There are so many people that need to access information about apprenticeships, all of which have different needs and use different vocabularies. So how do you start to tackle the problem to ensure they all get the best user experience possible and ultimately discover what they need, as well as enjoy the journey to get there?

It’s a tricky balance to hit. Often design (how the message is conveyed) can get in the way of communication (the message or meaning hidden in the mass of information). But here at Future, we love tricky, so when it came to designing our new application we applied some key concepts to try and hit that right balance.

1.User centred design

The best designers create products that will help solve a problem for the people that will be using them. I’m sure you have all heard of times when x at y company ploughed time and money into delivering z product only for the customers to turn around and say “but how do I do this?” It’s one of those 🤦🏼‍♀️ moments.

Designing with your users’ needs in mind is paramount, even more so if you’re designing for multiple personas. Our application is used by multiple stakeholders, both within and outside of an organisation, so our first job was to identify those personas so that we could organise our information, wireframes and tasks to meet everyone’s needs.

To determine what information is prevalent to each user and therefore what view they should see is usually done thinking about two things:

  1. Who is trying to understand or find the information?
  2. What is their user case? What do the users need the information for? And what will it help them do next?

Understanding your users through personas can help you to customise the application’s functionality to their needs, which is the ultimate goal.

2. Information architecture is key

The basic building block of any digital design is the information architecture (IA). Great IA helps people understand what they are looking at, determine what to expect and accomplish their goals. Once your personas and their needs are mapped this will form the baseline to build from. Simplicity is key: what are their key objectives and what is the minimum journey to get them there?

3. Keeping it simple

When designing a user interface it typically risks (without clear guidelines) going one of two ways. First, the designer may become super caught up in designing a beautiful user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) that they love, but it becomes one that ends up impractical for the end user. Alternatively, no design thought or consideration goes into either and everything is thrown on the page. In the world of apprenticeships, I think unfortunately design has tended to fall into the latter category leaving the user experience overwhelming 😫.

Design systems have become fashionable over the last few years and much has been said about them, but with good reason. They help you build and design clean, beautiful and functional interfaces that deliver a consistent experience to your users. Organising elements in a consistent structure and grid will improve user experience by aiding clarity, discoverability and importantly, consistency and familiarity.

To be usable, an interface must be clear and design systems certainly help provide that clarity. At Further My Future we implemented Atomic Design by the awesome Brad Frost. When asked why he developed Atomic Design Frost, he said “it gives us the ability to traverse from abstract to concrete.”

In the landscape of apprenticeships much is abstract, so we believe that implementing Frost’s system in our application helps those abstractions become concrete.

4. Know who you’re talking to and how they speak

Can one tone of voice work for everyone? Maybe, if you employ the rule of writing for a six year old (if a six year old can understand what you have written, everyone should be able to). But if one user is an 18 year old student who has no idea where to start finding out what to do post-college, and the other is a 42 year old CEO who has questions about the apprenticeship levy and what apprenticeships can do for their business, the answer is no. Fundamentally though, each has the same question: how could apprenticeships work for me? What is specific to each is their pain point or user need, and this requires a whole different information set and tone in which to convey it.

Often, designers get so caught up in the visual and what the design looks like, that they forget about what it sounds like. To deliver an exceptional experience, the two have to go hand in hand. When writing for your personas, it’s helpful to think about their tone of voice and how you might translate industry speak into something that is digestible and understandable for them. Get it right, and the tone of voice you employ will not only help users navigate easier and faster, but will become part of your brand and will be something you are recognised for 👌🏼.

5. What is the most important information?

A key UX design principle is to observe and implement a hierarchy of information. In other words, ensuring that a design prioritises the right information at the right time/stage of the journey for the user (keeping in mind that the priority will vary depending on the application’s user personas).

In online experiences, products and services, users expect a certain sequence of events based on both past encounters and their expectation of what the experience should be. So, this needs to be anticipated so that the design and flow of information meets that expectation.

Keeping it simple can be hard when there is so much complexity. One way to deal with complexity is hiding less frequently used elements or information behind an additional action — such as a hover, click or activated state. This was particularly useful for our application. We have limited different views based on different user types. One view employs clickable links and rollovers to reveal more information. This allows users to click on the links or rollovers they perceive as important to their job and leave the ones they consider less important, allowing us to serve multiple personas in one view.

6. Always be improving

Last but not least, you need to be agile. As users start to engage with your product and your user base widens, you will be surrounded by feedback. Ongoing research is paramount to a product’s success and employing regular quantitative and qualitative feedback loops will continually help identify what matters most to which user and when to make design tweaks. There is no one way to create one perfect design for everyone. So remember your personas, keep yourself agile, prioritise and make continuous improvements to deliver the best experiences for all your users 📈.

The purpose of UX design is to convey a message in a clear and actionable way. In our case, the business of good design is to help young people, employers and educators make an informed decision around apprenticeships. We think our application will allow you to do just that.

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