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Whenever I come across a conversation thread asking what characteristics are most valuable in a UX designer, I frequently see answers such as “desire to learn” and “creativity.” While I don’t disagree that those are highly valuable attributes to have, having interviewed too many designers to count I think there is one additional overlooked characteristic that separates good designers from truly great ones: the ability to think multiple steps ahead and game out their solutions.

In the evolution from beginner to expert, designers go through somewhat predictable phases. As they move up the ability curve, most designers get to a place where they can take in the user needs for a particular interaction and come up with multiple options for combinations of UI elements and layouts that will achieve the desired user goal. Evaluating which of these options to move forward with is where the rubber meets the road, and it’s the depth of thought applied to those evaluations that really define the line between good and great designers.

As a simple framework, we can think of design evaluation in 3 levels. At the first level, we assess the design to ask if it accomplishes the task we set out to do. Does our signup form allow the user to enter the necessary information to create an account? At the second level, we can evaluate the design for usability and even elegance. Is our form easy to use, simple, and even delightful? At the third level, we ask if our design is bulletproof. What are all the states the form can be in and does it still work in all of them? What happens if a user enters bad data? What if there is a connection error while submitting and also bad input?

Taking a design solution from acceptable to awesome requires thinking past what we see on the page. We have to think multiple steps ahead and be able to visualize not just the next step the user will take, but potentially two or three steps down the path. We need to think about not just the easy path through the flow we’re creating, but also all the side paths the user may go down, and all the possible places that may lead. Further, we need to think not just about the simplest state of our UI, but also complex states that it could reasonably be in and make sure it works there as well.

Even good designers often stop at the second level (or do a light pass at the third), and rely on user testing, QA, and/or product feedback once a feature is shipped to find the flaws. User testing does have its place for this sort of thing, but is insufficient because it is difficult to make sure you’ve covered the less common usage patterns. Also, space and time for user testing is something we rarely have enough of, and it’s better to put in the thought beforehand and save user testing resources for the most important feedback. Waiting until a product is in the wild to discover the flaws is something we want to avoid at all costs.

As a very simple example, consider an overly simplified UI for an admin to add users to a product. We’ve decided already that we want to invite users via email, and the invited user will click on a link and create their account. The admin will enter the email of the person to invite, click the “Invite” button, and the rest is up to them. After coming up with a few directions, we may decide that this is the strongest direction for our Invite Users flow:

Screen 1

Our level one evaluation seems to pass; this UI allows us to invite users. For level two, it seems relatively simple and straightforward, easy to understand, and quick feedback from others indicates it’s understandable.

Level three requires us to start pushing on this until it breaks. While it would be good to actually draw out all of the states of the interaction (and best to prototype), we can start by simply gaming out a user interacting with this. First, they’ll enter an email and click invite. What happens then? We want them to know they’ve been successful and who has already been invited, so perhaps we can add a successful interaction and a cool animation to add the newly added user to the bottom of the list. What if they add another? And another? What happens when they've added 10, 20, or more users? Our list may be getting longer, and eventually, our user invite form elements will be pushed off the bottom of the page “below the fold". When a different user comes to this section later, after it already has 30 accounts in the list, they may not know to scroll down to the end of the list to find the form. We’ve identified a problem with our design already, and can adjust to fix it, perhaps by moving the user invite form to the top, like this:

Screen 2

In addition to evaluating our design for problems that arise from pushing our interactions in their primary incarnation, sometimes we need to think even broader and evaluate our designs at a system level. When designing large and complex products, often the specific interaction we’re designing may need to be accessible from multiple places, or the interaction we are creating can be applied to additional interactions and it would be helpful to be consistent. Evaluating our designs deeply means thinking past just this page and applying our knowledge of the greater whole.

Expanding on our previous example, perhaps in our product we also have the ability to create projects and add users to the project. While designing the Invite User form and gaming this out in our head, we can anticipate that sometimes our users might create a project and begin adding users, only to realize that someone they want to add doesn’t have an account yet and needs to be invited. We ideally don’t want to take them out of their project creation flow to invite the new user, so perhaps we want to allow them to access the Invite User form from the Project Creation page. After considering options, we decide that we can put the Invite User form into a popup accessible from the Project Creation page so that they can quickly invite a user and then return to where they were and add them to the project. Our popups have a limited height, so will we be able to adjust our Invite User form to work in a popup? We can add scrolling to the user table to allow for a fixed height implementation, so our design should work even in that future implementation.

At this point, you might be either thinking that this is obvious and self-evident, or you’re asking how you can start to incorporate this type of deep thinking into your design process. Even if you’re in the first camp, we can always improve our evaluation skills and hopefully, there are some ideas here that can help.

1. Identify all possible states. In software development, when writing a particular function one of the first steps in testing is to identify all possible inputs that the function could receive so that you can make sure it handles all of them (even bad input). When designing an interaction, we should do the same with our user inputs and behaviors. It can help to make a list of every valid state the UI can be in, and also list out any possible invalid state as well. For something like forms, this can be somewhat straightforward (what could the user enter into this field that is valid/invalid?). For more complex UIs try to think of every valid/invalid permutation of the interface and list them out. If you have a long table of objects with actions, what are the states of this table? It can be empty, it can have a few items, and it can have lots of items. Perhaps we have a need to differentiate between having no items due to not having added any yet (first time) vs. not having any items because they’ve deleted them all (returning user).

2. Try to break it. It’s easy to fall into interacting with your design like your ideal user; after all, you were the one who designed it with them in mind. Instead, at every decision point in your interaction, try to think of how a user might “incorrectly” interact with your design and game out what happens (“incorrectly” is in quotes because there is no wrong way to interact with your design; it’s up to us as designers to facilitate successful interaction with our designs).

3. When in doubt, prototype. It’s generally ideal, given infinite time and resources, to prototype everything to make sure it works how we expect. However, design resources and timelines make it inefficient (and probably unnecessary) to prototype every interaction. If you’re doing something highly complex and gaming out every scenario isn’t possible or easy, building out a robust prototype can help find corner cases and interactions you didn’t anticipate. Be aware of the limitations of prototyping software like Invision however, and make sure that your prototype doesn’t only embody the happy path through the interaction. Sometimes the very act of trying to build a prototype to support every possible user behavior identifies problems we need to address.

 

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In our continuing series of examining Google Search Trends to gain insights into the top keywords queried in the USA, we present our findings for April 2022. Every day, we capture the top three keyword phrases in terms of search volume as reported by Google Trends (US Only). Each term has an estimated query volume attached to it, which we also record. The number scale tops out at 10,000,000+ with a lower limit of 200,000+ (sometimes 100,000+). After the conclusion of the month, we look at the phrases we collected along with their volumes to get an understanding of what drove queries for the month. Top Trending Keywords - April 2022 Overview Last month, we only had one phrase that was queried over 10 million times, according to Google Trends. We’re not sure if “April Showers brings less Unified Search Interest” is the new hip saying but you’ve read it first, for sure.We did see queries across the typical topics: Entertainment, Holidays, Politics.  We’ll delve into all of those phrases.  Oh yeah, and a billionaire decided to buy a social network so we’ll examine the timeline of that topic. Finally, since there were so many and they were spread over five distinct subcategories, we are doing a deep dive into the keywords related to sports.  Those live events certainly capture the attention of Google users.   Climate Change Awareness In coordination with Earth Day, Google changed their logo with a Doodle that linked to search results for the following phrase: Climate Change - 4/21/2022 - 10,000,000+ queries SInce the inception of Google Trends, the search interest for this phrase has never been as high as it was last month. Google has used its Doodle program to bring attention to other topics in the past. We wonder if search interest in this topic will continue to increase in future months and years.   No One Was Slapped At The Grammys After we reported that Will Smith broke Google Trends in March 2022, the AMP team thought there may be a spike in interest in other awards shows. Check out the phrases attached to the Grammys: Grammys 2022 - 4/2/2022 - 2,000,000+ queries Olivia Rodrigo - 4/3/2022 - 2,000,000+ queries The awards show received a respectable number of queries and congrats to Olivia Rodrigo on her wins.  Let’s look at the historical data for this awards show: Looking at the past five years, the search interest in this year’s Grammys was a part of a downward trend.  There appears to be no effect from the Oscars.  We do like the small spike in the chart that is connected to when nominees are announced.   Top Movie Queries Last Month What films drove people to search in April 2022?  Here’s the list we collected: Doctor Strange 2 - 4/6/2022 - 200,000+ queries Sonic 2 - 4/7/2022 - 500,000+ queries Thor: Love and Thunder - 4/18/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Don't Worry Darling - 4/27/2022 - 500,000+ queries The only phrase that is attached to a movie that premiered in theaters from this list is “Sonic 2”.  The rest are associated with a trailer that was made available online. If interest in a trailer is high, we feel that it’s a good indication that anticipation for the film is high.   Bonus query - the final episodes of the Netflix series Ozark were made available on the 29th: Ozark - 4/29/2022 - 500,000+ queries   Holidays And Natural Occurrences Interest in holidays is strong and we typically see the most popular holidays get queried on the day they occur or when the celebration starts.  Here are the phrases that we collected last month: Passover - 4/14/2022 - 200,000+ queries Happy Easter! - 4/17/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Earth Day - 4/21/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries It’s clear that the Google Doodle related to climate change dwarfed the search interest in Earth Day.  In this five year view, the interest is in a bit of a down trend. The spike in the middle of the chart shows that search interest was at its highest in April 2020. Some people may not think it’s a great holiday but Tax Day in the US was on the 18th this year and here was the phrase associated with that day: TurboTax - 4/18/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Procrastinators unite!  Or not. Or whenever you get to it. We saw that the full moon in April drove people to search and another weather related query made the daily top 3: Full moon April 2022 - 4/14/2022 - 200,000+ queries Severe thunderstorm warning - 4/11/2022 - 200,000+ queries Winter is officially over - we did not see any Winter Storm Warning queries in April!   Politics As Usual We had a few queries related to politics, both domestically and abroad, that made our collection from last month: Senator Dianne Feinstein - 4/14/2022 - 200,000+ queries Rudy Giuliani - 4/20/2022 - 500,000+ queries Madison Cawthorn - 4/22/2022 - 200,000+ queries French election - 4/23/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Sen. Dianne Feinstein made the list because of news stories that she is no longer mentally fit for Congress.  Rudy Giuliani made an appearance on The Masked Singer TV show, which was spoiled back in February.  The North Carolina congressman made headlines on the 22nd and the presidential election in France captured enough attention of the US audience that it was queried over a million times on the 23rd.   Elon Musk  Not sure if you’ve heard but Elon Musk announced that he was going to buy Twitter and then had his offer accepted - all in the month of April 2022. Elon Musk - 4/4/2022 - 500,000+ queries Elon Musk - 4/25/2022 - 5,000,000+ queries At the time of this writing, the deal has not been finalized but all of AMP is watching closely to see what changes may come to this social media platform and its ads policies.   Just a Month About Sports Since people have been allowed to watch events in stadiums and arenas, sports-related searches are back with a vengeance. We did see a dip in the number of phrases that had sports intent between April 2020 through the summer of 2021.  Last month, we saw a good number of phrases that could be grouped to tell a few stories. Check out the timeline of the NCAA Basketball Tournaments: Final Four - 4/1/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries UConn women's basketball - 4/1/2022 - 500,000+ queries Duke - 4/2/2022 - 5,000,000+ queries Duke vs UNC - 4/2/2022 - 2,000,000+ queries UConn women's basketball - 4/3/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries NCAA basketball - 4/4/2022 - 5,000,000+ queries The Masters were back in a big way thanks to Tiger Woods and newcomer Scottie Scheffler.  See how people searched over six days in April: Tiger Woods - 4/5/2022 - 500,000+ queries Masters leaderboard - 4/6/2022 - 2,000,000+ queries Tiger Woods - 4/7/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Scottie Scheffler - 4/8/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Scottie Scheffler - 4/9/2022 - 2,000,000+ queries Scottie Scheffler - 4/10/2022 - 2,000,000+ queries Did you know European Football is popular in the US, at least from a search perspective? Check out this list of league and team names: Champions League - 4/5/2022 - 500,000+ queries Real Madrid - 4/6/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Europa League - 4/7/2022 - 500,000+ queries Liverpool - 4/10/2022 - 500,000+ queries Read Madrid - 4/12/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Man City - 4/13/2022 - 200,000+ queries Liverpool vs. Man United - 4/19/2022 - 500,000+ queries Liverpool - 4/24/2022 - 200,000+ queries Champions League - 4/26/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Real Madrid - 4/26/2022 - 200,000+ queries Real Madrid - 4/30/2022 - 200,000+ queries NBA playoffs kicked off in April 2022 and the queries related to it rolled from the 13th through the 29th: Pelicans - 4/13/2022 - 500,000+ queries Hornets - 4/13/2022 - 500,000+ queries Clippers - 4/15/2022 - 500,000+ queries Hawks - 4/15/2022 - 500,000+ queries Warriors - 4/16/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Timberwolves - 4/16/2022 - 500,000+ queries Bulls - 4/17/2022 - 500,000+ queries Suns - 4/17/2022 - 500,000+ queries Warriors - 4/18/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Bulls - 4/20/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries 76ers - 4/20/2022 - 500,000+ queries Miami Heat - 4/22/2022 - 200,000+ queries Celtics - 4/23/2022 - 2,000,000+ queries Bulls - 4/23/2022 - 500,000+ queries Pelicans - 4/24/2022 - 500,000+ queries Jimmy Butler - 4/24/2022 - 200,000+ queries Celtics - 4/25/2022 - 2,000,000+ queries Warriors - 4/27/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Joel Embiid - 4/28/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Memphis Grizzlies - 4/29/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries Lastly, American Gridiron Football made some appearances in the daily top 3. The first phrase being a new league and the NFL draft. USFL - 4/16/2022 - 1,000,000+ queries NFL Draft - 4/27/2022 - 5,000,000+ queries 2022 NFL Draft - 4/28/2022 - 2,000,000+ queries Phew - that was a lot but each subsection had its own little journey.  You could see how the NBA playoffs are unfolding by just reading through the top queries.  Go Celtics! Thanks for reading. If you liked this article, we utilize search trends data for all of our clients and we invite you to learn more about our SEO services. Until next month.

“If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that social actually is all around.”  Okay yes, I did steal that line from one of my favorite Holiday movies, Love Actually. But it’s true– elements of social networking are integrated into many of the products we consume every day, even if it’s not as overt as platforms like Facebook or Twitter.  Take Venmo for example. You open up the app to pay your roommate for your share of utilities and catch yourself scrolling through a feed of your friends’ recent transactions, decoding emojis to figure out what they’ve been up to. At its core, this is social networking, and it’s a feature of Venmo’s payment platform that has set it apart from its competitors like Zelle.   By adding a social component to something like a payment platform, Venmo created a space for not just payments to be exchanged, but social interactions. As humans, we intrinsically crave these connections and interactions that remind us we’re not alone. Leveraging this insight has put Venmo at a competitive advantage, as with many other brands who have taken the opportunity to create a social experience around their product. Why? Because nothing can compete with the power of a strong community around a product.    Case Studies: Products with Social Components & Where Brands Can Lean In There is a range of products with social components baked in. Some were created with social at the forefront, while others added social components as a feature to an existing product. Some have opportunities for external brands to join the conversation and leverage their niche communities, while others are a closed community of consumers. We’ll dive into two case studies to show the ways this has played out for two popular brands: Strava and Spotify.    Strava  Strava calls itself a social fitness network. The app allows users to track their activities and offers a range of analysis tools, from miles ran to calories burned and so on. But they didn’t stop there– Strava integrated a social experience into the commonly found fitness tracking app by allowing users to post their workouts to a feed, follow friends, and comment to give “kudos” (likes) to other users’ workouts.  Similar to other social platforms, users find themselves following IRL friends and acquaintances, but also their idols and professional athletes to get a glimpse into their training. The app allows users to join clubs, such as a running club or group of members training for the event, and invites them to take part in challenges such as “complete a 5K in May” or “log 250 minutes of activity”.  Brand Involvement  Clubs and challenges are the best way for brands to get involved in the conversation on Strava. A brand can create a club like Brooks Run Club or Nuun Hydration to connect athletes who identify with these brands to each other. Another option is for brands to host a challenge such as Lululemon’s Move and Stay Connected challenge, which was created during the height of the pandemic in 2020.    Spotify  Spotify serves a very straightforward purpose to consumers– to access music and podcasts. With that said, they have done a great job at weaving in social components that feel additive to the experience of using the app.  When you sign up for Spotify, you create a profile with your name and a profile photo. You’re prompted to connect your account to Facebook, and recommended users you may know and artists you may like to follow. Once you’re following other users, you can check your “friend activity” on the desktop app, view their profiles and save their playlists, and even create co-authored playlists with other users.  In addition to these social components within the app experience itself, Spotify has mastered the art of integrating with other social networks and encouraging users to share the music and podcasts they’re listening to on those external platforms. For instance, the notorious Spotify Wrapped campaign is practically designed for sharing on Instagram Stories. But even on a normal day, the regular social sharing integration in the Spotify app that allows users to share what they’re listening to on social is seamless.  Brand Involvement  There are a handful of ways that brands can get involved in the conversation on Spotify. Perhaps one of the most fun and creative ways is to create a brand profile with curated playlists like McDonald's and Gymshark have successfully done. Brands may also buy a variety of ad placements in the Spotify app, including audio and video ads served to listeners who use the free version of the app, and also podcast ads.    Below are a couple of questions to ask when thinking about how you can apply this to your brand or product:   Can a social component be added to my product in a way that adds value to the overall experience?  A social component needs to build upon your existing product, and it needs to feel natural as if the purpose of the product supports the need for a social component and the experience is additive to the product.  There should also be a clear reason to create a space for consumer-to-consumer interactions. For example, perhaps you can see that these engagements are already happening on another social platform, like a Facebook Group or a Reddit thread.    Can my brand join the conversation or have a presence in a social component of an existing product, like Spotify or Strava?  If there’s a social component of a product that feels like a perfect fit for your brand, there may be an opportunity to establish a presence in that community. However, it’s important to approach these opportunities thoughtfully and strategically, because you will be under the microscope of a niche community. Additionally, you need to be careful that you’re joining a conversation where brands are welcome. For instance, communities like Reddit exist for user-to-user interactions, and brands can be shunned away from the platform.     With this all in mind, my hope is that next time you’re deciding which social platforms to leverage for an upcoming project or campaign, you may think outside the box about social media and look at the non-traditional, yet intrinsically social, platforms at your disposal. 

A buzzing topic in the world of data security and protection is the upcoming Google Chrome changes. That’s right, we will soon be living in a cookieless world. Technology solutions in the current landscape are optimizing their efforts much before the implementation as they’d like to get well-acquinated with what the future of advertising may look like.   “We want to be early adopters and hand-raisers as a part of these cookieless and new ID solutions,” said Meghan Galligan, Stop & Shop’s director of digital marketing. (Source: AdExchanger) AMP Agency partnered with Stop & Shop and Dstillery to learn more about how to navigate through an ever-changing cookieless landscape.   Read the news here.