Adding small amounts of magic to your application

As a rule of thumb the more we distill the functionality of an interface, the more work behind the scenes must take place. It takes a lot of effort to keep things simple – but it can be very worth it.

I recently came across a search utility pop-up that looked like this:

icky-search

A kluge tool like this one, while working perfectly, is a great opportunity to add some magic.

I’m sure the request for functionality went something like “As a user of the system I want to be able to search 1) Name 2) Zip Code 3) Telephone Number, so that I can…”  The solution above takes the request quite literally; it has three separate tools, one for each search type that likely call a separate function to return results.

Besides being visually clunky and not scalable, there are two basic usability issues.

First, it is making the user think
Each time the user searches he or she has to momentarily stop, think and visually locate the correct field for the data they have at hand.

Second – and more importantly – the computer can do that!
That moment or two where the user is visually locating the correct field and button (however tiny) represents a simple task the computer can do for us.

Arguably transforming a simple task into logic to decipher what the user has typed and then return pertinent information the first time is going to take a lot more planning, more coding and more testing, but the payoff can be huge.

not-so-icky-search

The simplified approach now displays a single tool in the place of three, and connects to a considerably more complex algorithm in order to do all that heavy lifting the user was doing before. Here are the benefits.

  • Extra decisions are even harder than extra clicks on a user, making one less decision during a workflow that may repeat hundreds of times daily is a big deal
  • Simplifying a function can make what’s happening feel almost magical to the user. “I type in whatever information I have, and the system returns what I need.”
  • Reducing the search tool to a single entry field and a button, makes it small enough to be persistent on the main UI – possibly saving users a click

The real win going forward is how far the ‘near magic” function can go towards a positive experience.

  • First and foremost, the app looks smart and we look smart
  • Being smart reinforces our expertise in the field (Even though something like search may not be directly related to what our product does!)
  • Users are more inclined to use and even like what we have built
  • Users are more likely to recommend the product (leading to things like KLAS scores go up)

Start doing the heavy lifting for your user; it’s going to pay off in the end.

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