Understanding User Expectations In App Design

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Updated on: August 23rd, 2022Ken Braun6 min read
Understanding user expectations in app design

There are quite a few differences between good designers and great ones one of which is how great firms are better at understanding user expectations in both app design and web design projects. Consistency is one of the more important words in the designer’s vocabulary because that relates directly to user expectations and as an end result, user satisfaction.

Understanding user expectations should be a primary focus of any firm you hire for either web design or app design projects, and if it isn’t then you might want to look for a new company to partner with.

Here’s why…

The importance of consistency

Part of what makes great design great is how easily people can learn the user interface. When you design with consistency in mind, the system becomes predictable, which is a good thing. In both app design and web design you want users to quickly and intuitively understand how things function so they can easily navigate around without getting lost or needing help.

The easier a product is to use, the more enjoyment users will have because they are thinking less, which in turn relates to how much enjoyment they get from the interaction.

On the flip side, a lack of consistency makes it hard for people to learn how to use the app. This quickly turns to frustration, then annoyance and often a bad experience. Too many bad experiences mean they won’t use your app or possibly might post negative reviews about if because of performance.

A key point about consistency and how it relates to user expectations is that you also need to consider consistency as part of the users world as a whole. Beyond just being consistent in your app or your web page design and interface, you want that to match the expectations of the user based on what is relative consistent elsewhere.

Staying close to the norm

Creativity is a blessing and a curse when you are designing apps and web pages. Great ideas and unique concepts sprout up, but implementing them can, and should be done sparingly.

Why is that?

Following the idea of consistency, you want to ensure for the most part that your core functionality falls within a users expectations. For example, if you have a button on the screen people expect that tapping it will result in an action. If you instead create it to be interacted with as an up swipe with no directional arrows or anything else to note the expected action you are going against the norm of what a user expects. You are failing at being generally consistent.

Is it okay to surprise users? Of course it is, but for the most part you need to follow expected standards.

Research is the key

The key to understanding user expectations is basic research. You need to understand what factors will have influenced your users along with what you can expect them to currently know. For example, email has been around long enough now that an envelope icon is instantly recognizable. It has become a user interface pattern that everyone accepts.

But that wasn’t always the case. Why was the envelope icon chosen in the first place? The answer is that in the first few years of email providers used a few different things from various types of envelopes and mailboxes in an effort to convey meaning and over time the envelope became the dominant choice.

Now, rather than reinventing the wheel designers have existing patterns they can use in many situations that users instantly comprehend. Using existing patterns is a key to consistency and meeting user expectations.

Of course to understand what patterns to use is where the research comes in. There are generational differences, operating system differences and more getting all the way down to browser preferences that can influence what users expect to see. So while your goal as a designer is to stand out from the crowd, at the same time you can’t stand too far out because going against a very common convention can be a disaster.

The bottom line

User expectations can be preferences and even habits developed over years of interaction. While there is a strong desire to go against the grain and using creativity to stand out, that can backfire with creating setbacks for users. Even a minor annoyance or confusion that lasts a second can cause issues because when you make users think too much about what they are doing the enjoyment factor decreases. That is why understanding user expectations in app design and web design is such an important part of a great final product.

Published on: July 8th, 2015

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