User Interface Design – The Key to Consistently Providing Superior Customer Experience


On April 3, 2013, I sat on a panel for a special program, sponsored by the PDMA and the Bresslergroup. The program included students from Philadelphia University Masters in Industrial Design program as well as software engineers and product design leaders from around the Philadelphia region.

The program focussed on emerging trends shaping user interface design process with the industrial design process. The panel was moderated by Rob Tannen, Ph.D, Director of Research and Interface Design at the Bresslergroup.

I included a brief summary of the topics we covered below…

Rob: How do you determine which features and content to deliver on various devices?  Should the goal be to provide full functionality across all platforms?

Rick: It depends. Sometimes speed to market is key. While working for the Associated press back in early 2007, we learned of Apple’s upcoming iPhone release and decided it was important for our brand to be one of the first companies to demo an iPhone app during the Worldwide Developers Conference. At the time we were unveiling AP Exchange but Exchange was designed for the newsroom not the consumer so we decided to make a simple rss app to display AP headlines on the iPhone. It was vastly simpler and more accessible to a larger audience.

Rob: How has your current organization changed its product development approach to accommodate multiple platforms?  What efficiencies have been gained or lost?

Rick: At PointRoll, we have baked-in mobile interaction patterns throughout our product interface. We have also paid close attention to responsiveness of our page layouts. Currently our product displays and behaves consistently across tablets and desktops. That said, we have left room for responsive markup so when we’re ready, the transition to smartphone will not be a costly effort.

Rob: There’s an expression “mobile first” – do you agree and if not, in what cases should you not focus on mobile device delivery?

Rick: I agree with mobile first. The smaller screen forces the designer to focus more on error prevention and discrete task paths. It also forces us to prioritize features where desktop apps typically are overloaded – I think it stems from the innate human need to fill white space. On the smaller screen, you need to be discriminating and only provide the features with the highest value proposition.

Rob: Since content and features can be delivered across various devices and operating systems, does technology matter LESS than ever compared to the user experience itself?

Rick: That is the trend. Look at  platforms like Word Press, commoditizing CMS. I believe technology has become less important. There are over 63 million word press blogs serving 4.1 billion pages. When Facebook first released OpenGraph and the ability to allow websites to integrate Facebook accounts, there was a plugin available within 24 hours enabling millions of small business, e-commerce and publishing sites to connect with users through Faceboook. Adversely, larger corporations who had invested in a particular technology like .NET would need to wait for their developers to learn, code and integrate OpenGraph into their technology platforms. At the time, I had Facebook login on my blog 30 days before the company I was working for and it cost considerably less.

As technology becomes less important, business leaders can focus more on the user experience and that’s a good thing.