Sometimes I play this funny game when I’m out having a beer with my friends. We come from completely different professional environments: the group includes structural engineers, lawyers, chemists, actors, developers, entrepreneurs, and me, a UX designer at Macoscope. After a couple of rounds, we often talk about work-related problems and when doing so we follow this one special rule: we use a common denominator.
This way, people who have no idea about software development or chemistry can ask questions and participate in discussions about even the most complex issues, whether it’s football, coffee or architecture. You have absolutely no idea how hilarious a conversation about tax law, protein folding or construction standards can get once everything is reduced to some commonly known phenomenon or object.
For the purposes of this post, my common denominator will be pizza, known and appreciated around the world. As surprising as it may sound, pizza can be an amazing source of inspiration when it comes to expounding upon the secrets of great user experience. Let’s be straight: sandwiches and burgers offer fast deployment and decent personalization, pastas satisfy user needs in an instant, and sushi provides a touch of sophistication, but pizza is all about the experience. Well then, what are the ingredients behind its success, or what pizza can tell you about the best user experience?
1. Every Pizza Looks Familiar
You know how to use pizza and it is highly likely that everyone else does, too. If that’s not the case, the concept can be explained to them in an instant. There is no need for tutorials or a detailed manual. Just open the box and enjoy it.
The same goes for great apps and smooth onboarding. Users quickly intuit what a given app can do for them and how they are supposed to use it. This is usually achieved by testing different designs, but you can maximize your chances by using natural language, keeping the process as simple as possible, and considering human interaction guidelines for the platform of your choosing. Try to eliminate everything that separates the user from your content.
And remember that when it comes to experience design, less is more. Always.
Sounds interesting? Google “affordances”. Designers love affordances.
2. Pizza is No-Nonsense
Pizza can sate you but it won’t wash the dishes. Its purpose is to make you happy by satisfying your hunger. Full stop.
Similarly, your app should have a purpose – this one thing you consider most important and of the greatest value to the end user. And it should have only one specific purpose, because as ideas pile up (and believe me, they will) more and more things will become important. And when everything is important, nothing really is.
So what is your idea? Does it solve a problem? Does it streamline a process? Or maybe it’s so hilarious that people will line up to pay for it? Great experiences are focused on one particular problem that they solve in a truly masterful way.
The same goes for pizza. When you order a double cheese pepperoni, you don’t expect it to come with a built-in stapler and a furniture catalogue on the side. You just want your pizza! It may sound obvious but actually delivering simple solutions can sometimes get really complex really fast.
3. Pizza Comes in Slices
Consuming a whole pizza with one gulp is an impossible task, attempting such a feat would irrecoverably shut your digestive system down. Above all, it would end up turning a pleasant dining experience into a caloric nightmare.
The last thing any app should do is confuse its users – and displaying everything at the same time will do just that. Luckily, every experience can be divided into neat, easy steps so that users can enjoy all the value that the app delivers one slice at a time. Properly structured experiences can help the users deal with complex tasks without confusing them or making them lose their focus. This is of paramount importance as our attention span is the unsung victim of the digital era. So remember to be extra careful and prioritize what you can.
Hungry for more? Google “cognitive load”. UX designers speak about it at dinner parties.
4. Pizza Is Well-Composed
When you order a pizza, you expect your chosen toppings to be distributed more or less evenly, the crust to be visible only at the edges, and slices to be comparable in size. If that is true, you share assumptions with your user.
As a user, you expect navigation icons to be roughly the same size and placed throughout the whole app regardless of its mode. The same goes for matching fonts, sizes, colours, and the overall look and feel of the app. Once users learn how to use the first feature, they will assume that all other features work in a similar manner. It’s consistency that matters most. Without consistency even pixel perfect design can devolve into an unusable app that drives your users mad.
5. Pizza Is a Spectacle
Cheese that stretches into neat string, a well-done crust, different textures coming together after a decent bite. All these details can either make or break a pizza.
Similarly, great user experience is about attention to a great many details like tiny animations, transitions, and indicators highlighting changes or the status of the system, and how they come together. These little visual cues help users preserve context and provide them with a greater degree of direct control over the app.
Humanizing details are an excellent way to surprise users by showing them the extra effort that went into delivering a better experience. Because in great apps, just like in real life, excellence is the sum of details.
Intrigued? Google “aesthetic usability effect”. Designers are proud of their aesthetic usability effects.
6. Every Pizza Has a Different Social Context
Don’t forget about the environment and conditions in which users will enjoy your app. You have different expectations towards the pizza depending on whether it’s delivered to your door, a single slice from a pizza stall, a frozen pizza, or a gourmet dish you ordered in a restaurant.
Similarly, you need to think about how the users will hold their devices when using the app and how much time they will need to use it properly. It may be late, dark, raining or the users may be in an area that has poor cell coverage. They might be focused on the app, but they also may be in a hurry or slightly drunk.
Talk to your users, try to empathize with their needs, look for habits and tiny rituals. Remember to test your app in different environments and do so as soon as possible – just like you would with a new pizza recipe.
7. Pizza is Adjustable
Crispier crust? Double cheese? No olives? No problem.
You should think of giving your users some room to adjust their experience, enable or disable additional features or sort the content according to their preferences. You don’t always have to make them decide up front. Allow them some time to familiarize themselves with the app and suggest adjustments or personalizations.
But remember that unchecked flexibility is not a good option. Making any sort of decision requires time, so users forced to make lots of them in a short timeframe could end up getting annoyed with your app. That is why UX designers employ constraints that limit user options to favor usability over flexibility.
Want more? Google “Hick’s Law”. UX designers contemplate it over beer.
8. Pizza Doesn’t Ask for Anything
You don’t share unnecessary private information when ordering a pizza. You only provide what is required for a proper delivery.
Have in mind that smartphones are the most intimate devices and most users carry theirs with them at all times. With rising concerns about privacy and data safety, asking for too much too early can discourage a great many users. Remember to serve excellence first and then ask for permission to deliver even more.
Avoid forcing users to share their personal information before they clearly see benefits of the app. Instead, invest in the first impression and promise even more once personal information is given. This way, users can clearly picture the future value of a more personalized experiences. Commitment and trust takes time and effort. Always.
9. Pizza is Shareable
You just finished a fantastic pizza? Discovered unique toppings? Wolfed down the best meat option in town? Usually you talk about it and you talk a lot, if not immediately thereafter then always when the topic comes up in conversation.
It’s the same with apps. People see great user experience as a good reason to speak up. Users will gladly tell everyone how great their experience was, demonstrate how well an app works or even encourage their family and friends to give it a try on their own.
No matter whether the discussions are online or offline, it’s a great opportunity to expand your user base. Think how and when your users can drive referrals, provide them with efficient tools and don’t forget about tiny rewards. Great experiences can trigger commitment.
Curious? Google “growth hacking”. Product Owners daydream about growth hacking.
10. People Are Coming up with New Pizzas All the Time
With pizza, there is always something going on. Double crust, cheese inside the edges, improved recipes, new toppings, new shapes, clever packaging and innovative pricing strategies.
The same goes for software development: it’s a process and therefore it’s never really finished. There will be new devices, OSes and, first and foremost, the competition landscape will undergo rapid and frequent changes. Generate real data as soon as possible. Any information that can help you navigate through this demanding environment is beyond priceless.
Listen to your customers and always have something coming out soon. Invent, improve, test, optimize, and repeat. There is always something you can do better to delight your users.
No Leftovers Left Behind
Never settle for an “It was fine, I guess” experience. What separates a great experience from a mediocre or even a good one? The world is full of “just okays” that get thrown away pretty easily when something better comes up. Think of it in terms of pizza leftovers. With a mediocre experience, leftovers are inevitable. But with a great experience, you won’t have leftovers to speak of. Why? Because your users will be wolfing everything down the moment they get it and right thereafter they will be having two fresh pizzas in delivery. And that’s how you build retention.
As you can see, common denominators are great when you want to establish new, fresh perspectives. No matter whether you’re a developer, a startup entrepreneur, or a seasoned executive experimenting with apps inside an already respectable organization. Next time you order your meat feast, cheese galore or vegetable heaven, take a look at your pizza, observe your co-feasters and discover hands-on how this humble dish can inspire your next big thing.
At Macoscope we knead, spin, and bake award-winning experiences for big and small orders. Would you like to add another slice to the story? Have we missed your favorite topping? Or maybe you just want to share some opinions about double cheese? Don’t hesitate and let us know.