We recently gathered on Clubhouse with Morgane, Honza, Pavel, and Gabriela to discuss how to design products that are efficient to work with. We all have experience with designing for professionals who need to execute their tasks, often complex and repeated, fast and precisely. And therefore their needs often vary from the ones of the general audience since the websites targeted for everyone and anyone need to be simple and obvious.
What is efficient design
There are a couple of ways to look at efficient design. Each of them considers a different aspect and when applied together, they can significantly speed up the work of our users.
The holistic view of efficiency
Efficiency, from the broader perspective, means achieving the desired outcome with as little time and effort as possible. That desired outcome needs to be of real value, which cannot lie inside the digital system and is only created when the system interacts with humans or other systems. Therefore, we first need to know what the desired outcome really is. That can be figured out through some kind of qualitative user research method. Once we know that, we need to acknowledge that the product we are designing more often than not is only one of the tools used to get there. This means the system is only efficient when it seamlessly works with all the other tools used to get to the goal. This is usually achieved through integration, APIs, easy input to the system, and visualization of the data that is easily understandable.
- Nick Babich: The “Why” Behind Qualitative User Research
- Nick Babich: Designing Efficient Web Forms: On Structure, Inputs, Labels And Actions
- Gabriela Veghova: Designing for efficiency—keyboard shortcuts
- Raluca Budiu: iPhone X: The Rise of Gestures
- Edward R. Tufte: The visual display of quantitative information
UX efficiency pyramid
When directly working with the system, we can look at UX efficiency in three layers – accessibility, usability, and accelerators. Each of these layers makes the users more efficient in everyday interactions with the system they need to control.
- Aurora Harley (NNGroup): Accelerators Allow Experts to Increase Efficiency
- Dylan Ginoza: The UX Case for Integrating Accelerators in Your Designs
- Accelerators – Modern UX Design Patterns in Mobile Apps
When weighing how complex the user interface should be, we should make sure we are not overcomplicating, not oversimplifying the UI. A good signal we’ve chosen the right level of complexity is when our users can stay in the flow. This happens when the person is fully immersed in the task and often forgets about the time passing. However, that level of complexity may be different for different users, so pay attention to either proper segmentation of users, personalization, or customization of the UI.
- Morgane Peng: Over-complicated? Over-simplified? The UX Efficient Frontier
- Flow on Wikipedia
- Mihaly Csikszentmihaly: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
- Nick Babich: User Segmentation for UX Design
- Amy Schade: 6 Tips for Successful Personalization
- Jakob Nielsen: Customization of UIs and Products
Mental models and jobs
The desired outcome usually matches with the job that needs to be done and for repeated tasks, that job tends to stay the same over time. When the users master the task, they often still need to get done the one and the same job but they do it faster, more precisely, and in a more sophisticated way. Therefore they tend to uncover hidden functionalities and understand less obvious features their product provides. In other words, their mental model shifts. And they work in the most efficient way when the presented function of the product matches their actual mental model. Then they can use their full potential to get to the desired outcome.
- Spotlight on Mac (or alternatives like Raycast) – quick navigation for operating system, accelerating app launches, search, or adding custom commands.
- Email clients (Superhuman, Tempo) – speed as the main value proposition, supporting it by flawless performance, advanced keyboard navigation, or email snippets.
- Communication apps (Slack, WhatsApp, …) – accelerated emojis inserts by writing a colon (:) first.
- Task management apps (Linear, Height) – integrated command menu allowing doing every action by typing it into search.
- Sketch Runner – plugin speeding up designer workflows in Sketch design tool.