Designing for continuity

Making sure your designs have a fail-safe.

June 19, 2020
4 mins
to read

User Experience design is about keeping up with user expectations as much as it is about helping them progress. If you’re trying to set new expectations, consider how it might affect your user when things don’t go to plan.

We expect technology to make our lives an order of magnitude better. Netflix is an order magnitude better than driving to the video store and dealing with late fees. Spotify is an order of magnitude better than carrying a walkman everywhere you go. eBay is an order of magnitude better than hosting weekly garage sales. The list goes on.

But what happens when technology falls short of our expectations? Netflix is amazing until the movie pauses to buffer. Spotify is fantastic until you can’t find the version of the song you want. eBay is incredible until your connection stutters and you miss out on placing the final bid in an auction. When technology falls short of our expectations, it is the worst.

These frustrations aren’t the end of the world. We manage to keep our Netflix and Spotify subscriptions current and continue to buy and sell on eBay because they value they provide far outweighs the occasional inconvenience we experience. But, what if the technology you’re introducing isn’t necessarily saving someone significant amounts of time or making the process significantly better? Lets use Apple Pay as an example.

Apple Pay was introduced as the ‘game changing’ mobile payment solution. When it launched it was only supported by a handful of banks and was only compatible with the finger-print enabled iPhones. What Apple Pay allowed you to do was make payments both in-app and in-store using your mobile simply by scanning your finger at checkout, rather than having to enter all of your details. It is a very convenient technology.

So, imagine you have an iPhone and it is setup with Apple Pay. One day you go for a run with only your phone and headphones, leaving your wallet at home. You start to feel extremely thirsty so you stop to buy a bottle of water. When you go to pay, the sweat on your hands interferes with the phone’s fingerprint scanner and payment keeps failing. Luckily, Apple Pay has a fail-safe payment solution for exactly this circumstance – paying using your passcode. Simple type in your phone’s passcode and voila, you’ve paid and are on your way.

User Experience is as much about designing these new, interesting interactions like Apple Pay as it is about minimising the situations in which they don’t work. In the case where sweat interferes with your fingerprint scanner, Apple Pay lets you use an alternate authentication method.

When designing your product, make sure you think about the situations where your solution might not work or might fall short. What can you do to make sure your user stays smiling?

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