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Give Thanks for Good UX

Thanksgiving is fast approaching in the US. So, in the holiday spirit, we’d like to take a moment to express appreciation for some of the designs that bring us joy. I know that sometimes we, UX professionals, can get a reputation as curmudgeons: always criticizing and pointing out flaws. However genuine our intent to improve an experience, the negative findings can outweigh the positive ones.

In this article though, we’re focusing only on the positive. Some of the designs below delight us because they solve a long-sought need, or save time, or make an input less awkward, or simply because they bring a smile to our face. Some are big technology changes, others are subtle interaction details. Either way, we are grateful for them.

In no particular order, we give our sincere thanks for the following improvements, and our kudos to those involved in their creation or adoption.

  • Fingerprints as passwords. Yes, biometric security has been around for a while, but this year we saw it go mainstream. Today, a range of industries from banking to telecommunications offer fingerprint identification as an alternative to awkward, hard-to-remember and hard-to-type passwords, especially beneficial on mobile.
  • Maps that are more flexible and insightful. This year saw many improvements to location-based interfaces. These are a few of our favorites:
    • When following driving instructions, people can now search for and add a stop to their route. Google Maps lets users search for a specific place, or tap to see nearby restaurants or gas stations (including the price per gallon of each one). Previously, users had to exit the current route, search for a new place, and then re-type their destination to continue the route. Now, it’s all in one blissfully continuous flow.

    Give Thanks for Good UX
    Google Maps lets users add a stop to their trip.

    • Ever arrived at a business only to find out it closed minutes before? We have. Which is why we are grateful for applications that state the hours of operation and provide warnings of “Closing Soon” when searching for an address. (Even if the user didn’t explicitly search for opening hours.) By presenting this information upfront, these sites save us from that surprise and disappointment.
    • Car-sharing service Lyft now lets people adjust their pickup location within a few-blocks radius. Especially in urban environments, sometimes walking just around the corner can save 5–10 minutes, if it means you can get picked up at a less busy intersection or go the correct way on a one-way street.

    Give Thanks for Good UX
    Lyft allows users to adjust the pick-up location.

  • Voice input. Natural language processing is ever improving, and, though it still has some challenges to overcome, it’s generally usable. We particularly love it in scenarios where hands are occupied. As one of our consultants put it:

    “I love it when I’m cooking. Like when I’m kneading dough and my hands are covered in flour and I can’t remember how many tablespoons are in a quarter cup. While the «Hey Siri» feature is a little creepy (re: always listening), it has saved me from the knuckle-button-push & knuckle-passcode-type that I used to have to do.”

  • Emoji! They just make us happy, that’s all. We are glad to see they are still around and being used.
  • Easier desktop login. While many items on this list are mobile or device-centric, desktop shan’t be left behind. Microsoft’s modern browsers have a setting to make passwords visible, so people can more easily confirm that their password is correct. (We’ve longed for the option to toggle password masking for a long time). PayPal’s OneTouch goes even further by keeping users securely logged in across devices, entirely eliminating the need to re-authenticate every time before a purchase.
  • Download for offline viewing/listening. There’s been such a push to get everything available from the cloud; as long as you have a good internet connection, you can access it. But sometimes people don’t have the internet available and still want access. Amazon Prime video and Spotify Premium understand this and are examples of services that allow users to download some content for offline use. “Great for long flights!”
  • Handoff between devices. Services like Netflix and Spotify let users who are logged in and on the same WiFi network pick up where they left off on a different device.

    “It’s amazing that I can seamlessly continue playback from anything. I always love innovations like those that don’t seem to really require any new technology, just clever usage of existing tools.”

  • DIY Device Stand. This author was delighted by the chance to create a stand for her e-reader or phone while doing a bit of origami. United Airlines, on some flights, includes this cardstock paper that’s meant to be folded into a personal device stand. Since many of the United flights are relying on personal-device entertainment (people use their own smart devices to watch movies), it’s a thoughtful and fun addition to the in-flight experience.

Give Thanks for Good UX
United Airlines includes a foldable device stand on some flights.

What do these user experience improvements have in common? Nothing at first sight: a bunch of disparate technology platforms and user tasks. But look deeper, and we see that the designs are targeted at overcoming quite specific user pain points at opportune moments. Once these solutions are pointed out, they may seem obvious, but to identify the pain points requires user research and to overcome them requires design ideation and a lot of engineering effort.

Thank you to everyone whose work went into creating these experiences. We appreciate it, and look forward to more innovations that bring us convenience and delight 😊.