User interface (UI) / user experience (UX) design can make or break your product, service or even your brand. For a startup with relatively low awareness and a new solution, UI and UX truly determine whether prospective customers and first users actually engage with the capabilities and realize the underlying value proposition. There is a wide body of research validating the importance of UX. Some sources suggest that every dollar invested in UX, on average, brings 100 dollars in return. As a new agency with deep expertise in UI/UX design, every day we work with emerging tech startups to ensure their UI/UX design not only performs well and avoids common pitfalls, but actually becomes a true growth driver and differentiator. We’re sharing our firsthand experience with mistakes that are most often made in UI/UX design, often due to pressure to get a product to market. The complete list of common UI/UX design mistakes is a long one, but we thought it would be most beneficial to highlight the top 5.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft®
If you ask any of the designers at Solace Digital what their top concern is for a new client project, it will be whether sufficient user research has been conducted or is planned. We know that for tech startups, skipping this step is a mistake often made out of pressure to quickly get a solution into the market. With strong urging for action from investors, board members, and employees, user research can be one of the first items in the development plan to be curtailed or cut. We have a lot of empathy for tech startups in this position, especially as the traditional perception of user research is that it’s time-consuming and expensive.
The reason user research is so important is that UI/UX is how prospective customers and first users will experience the solution and the brand. Even if the solution accomplishes the user’s intended objective, an experience that is suboptimal, slow, clumsy, or visually unappealing will increase the chances of a poor impression of the brand and a one-time subscription that is not renewed.
However, our experience is the remedy to prevent this mistake – user research – can be fast and inexpensive. For example, online focus groups, focused on potential UI/UX design concepts, can be organised in a matter of a few days and will deliver meaningful insights. Alternatively, UI/UX design ideations can be posted in a relevant online channel, crowd-sourced for feedback, which we also endorse based on the insights this approach has generated for our team and our clients. Socialising design concepts with a few target customers in a 1:1 or 1:few meeting can also be done quickly and generate actionable feedback. In most cases, investors and board members of the tech startup will know people who can participate and will help with recruiting. You can also quickly and inexpensively hire research services such as user interviews, which connect your company to relevant users and secures feedback with a series of 2-hour online sessions in a matter of days.
A second common mistake in UI/UX design for tech startups – and for companies of all sizes – is assuming that website responsive design principles are the equivalent of optimizing an application or solution for a mobile device. While responsive design is a proven technique for websites, the technical and layout rules of responsive design do not account for many factors that determine compelling, high-performing UI/UX design.
For example, a mobile device may face lower bandwidth, which clearly impacts speed and performance. A UI/UX that relies on powerful imagery on a desktop or laptop with predictable, high-speed connectivity, would be the wrong approach for a mobile user with less consistent high-speed connectivity. Just reorganizing how the imagery appears on a mobile device, through responsive design, doesn’t address potential lag time for the application. Also, a multi-step workflow that waits until the “last click” to save or register an outcome is fine for a persistent, high-speed connection, but not a wise choice for a mobile device that may frequently lose higher-speed bandwidth. Multiple research studies cite that having to repeat steps in an online application as the #1 or #2 dissatisfier for users.
The solution is to design UI/UX for all device form factors that will be in use, in parallel. Upstream of this design work, the team should first set performance objectives and clearly outline the intended workflows and user accomplishments that are central to the application. Once the performance and workflow elements are established, UI/UX design work should start and an iteration should be created for each device format.
Branding is an important consideration in this process. Specifically, not all branding visual elements, typefaces, and colours will work equally well in different device form factors. For example, a brand standard that involves a wide range of colours and oversized typography should not be directly implemented in UI/UX design for a smaller mobile phone device. At Solace, our team will look for ways to have alignment with the brand standards, but not follow them perfectly to ensure the UI/UX design is optimal on each device.
While many of the most successful tech startups anticipate unmet user needs and offer solutions that, once discovered, become essential to the user, that doesn’t negate the critical importance of user feedback. At any stage of company maturity and product development, tech startups should incorporate extensive UI/UX user feedback throughout the development process. Our experience is that predicting and ideating new use cases is not the same as anticipating how a user will best navigate a workflow on a website or in an application. We find that many tech startups miss this step, which is different from user research in a level of granularity, making this “common UI/UX design mistake number three” on our list.
User feedback is critical because fundamentally, nothing is easier than what users already know, no matter how compelling the solution might be – there is always some assimilation and learning required. For example, a button that guides users to save their current progress before moving to the next stage of a workflow could say “SAVE” or “NEXT” or “CONTINUE” among other instructions. The only way to optimize the choice of wording is to secure relevant user feedback.
At Solace Digital, we strongly believe that small details like this are as critical as the “look and feel” of the interface, and can be the difference in securing long-term customer engagement and subscription. We encourage clients to get user feedback at a very granular level of detail, from words on a button to the placeholder text in a field to the visual cues that input is being saved or processed. The payback on this effort is more than clear, as indicated by a Bain and Company study that found a 5% increase in customer retention can lead to a 25% to 95% increase in profits for B2B technology companies.
As many as one in six people have some form of disability, according to a wide range of demographic reports. For every tech startup that is looking to bring a new solution to market, this metric should inform UI/UX design in a significant way to maximise the addressable market. Yet many software companies, from startups to mature, wrongly assume that accessibility is taken care of through the underlying operating system of the computer or device. This is “common UI/UX design mistake number four” on our list, and a significant one. We strongly believe that accessibility should be front and centre in the design process, and we establish this as a top priority for every client project.
Every day there is extensive evidence of the accessibility challenge and the kinds of mistakes that are often made, which are not just limited to tech startups. Look at these two examples, recently highlighted in January 2023 in The Huffington Post.
There’s no doubt that operating system software has improved in accessibility, especially for users with visual impairment by changing the brightness or size of screen elements and type. The growing use of touchscreens has also made a difference for users who may have arthritic conditions in their hands that make the use of a touchpad or mouse difficult. As the Motorola® example noted above reinforces, understanding the role of hands in UI/UX is increasingly important for accessibility planning. Likewise, the example from the US Government State Department changing the typeface for accessibility reasons shows that designing for accessibility is truly an end-to-end proposition, with every aspect of the UI/UX design needing to be considered. These examples also point to the need to look well beyond the integrated accessibility features that an operating system extends to an application.
Accessibility considerations are central to all of our UI/UX design projects from the very start. Our design teams have found so many relatively simple and easy design options that can make a significant difference in accessibility – voice-prompted instructions, reduced form fields, the use of checkboxes and drop-down menus in place of entering text, for example. These UI/UX design options also complement the accessibility features of the operating system.
Apple has clearly established itself as the leading brand in regard to simplicity of design and ease of use. Most tech startups tend to cite Apple products as the model they want their designers to follow in UI/UX. We agree! Our UI/UX designers have great admiration for the Apple brand and its products. We are also very deliberate in differentiating between simplicity and complexity. In other words, simplicity alone doesn’t mean that a user experience or application workflow isn’t complicated. Assuming that simplicity solves for complexity is a common mistake that we often see, especially for tech startups that are racing to bring their solutions to market. This is “common mistake number five” on our list.
For example, an online retailer might opt for a “clean look” to their shopping application – lots of white space, few words, and bold images of the products that can be reviewed and purchased. A “clean look,” however, doesn’t mean that the steps to add a product to a cart, choose a colour or size, or checkout aren’t complicated or hard to complete. The key is to realize that visual design is separate from the user steps to complete a workflow – one can be “clean and simple” while the other can still be awkward and difficult.
We believe the solution is to set performance objectives for common user workflows – making a purchase, updating information, downloading content, etc… These performance objectives guide the UI/UX design to be simple, fast, clear, compelling, and measurable – can a user complete a key workflow in four clicks or less? Can the workflow be completed without requiring any instructions? In parallel, informed by brand guidelines, our designers also consider how the visual design of the experience or application reinforces a sense of simplicity and ease of use.
As we noted earlier, these five common UI/UX mistakes are at the top of our list, and there are many more we can share. Perhaps the biggest mistake that we see is when tech startups assume they have to “accept” suboptimal UI/UX design and plan to optimize over time. We’ve built our agency from the ground up to have an unmatched combination of top design talent, the flexibility of design-on-demand subscription solutions that are fast and affordable, and agility that matches that of our tech startup clients. We’re proving every day that it’s no longer the case that big budgets, long timelines, and overbearing brand guidelines are required to achieve breakthrough UI/UX design.