Help your users, be focused

Paul Boag

Do users get your app? Are you confusing them with too many features?

We are currently helping the guys at Buffer redesign the UI for their native iPhone application. It’s a fun project, primarily because Buffer is a tool I use everyday.

We had an interesting conversation about focus and vision that I wanted to share with you because I think it has lessons for all of us.

In case you don’t know Buffer allows you to add your social media updates to a ‘buffer’ that then posts to various networks throughout the day. Updates to your buffer can be done via browser extensions, email, third party apps or their own Buffer app.

While working on the wireframes for the app, Rob Borley (our mobile expert) couldn’t shake a nagging feeling he had about the app. He kept worrying that the app lacked focus.

Apps need to be extremely focused

This is an important factor in app design. Successful apps are those that do a few things well and allow the user to instantly grasp what the app does.

Eventually we pinned down the problem. Because there was a prominent button for posting to your social networks it felt too much like a Twitter client. This was a problem because it was a crap Twitter client! You can’t view your timeline, reply to other messages or DM people.

This of course was by design. Buffer is about managing your buffer of upcoming updates. It does not want to be a full twitter client because there are so many brilliant ones out there.

The trouble is the app felt like a twitter app and so left the user with the wrong impression. To solve the problem we had to refocus the user interface on management rather than posting. By doing so you made it clear what the app is and more importantly what it is not.

The lessons for us all

The lessons here are simple:

  • Don’t try and be something you are not. For example too many website owners add Facebook like features to their sites thinking that users will like that. Instead they frustrate people because it’s not as good as Facebook.
  • Focus on one thing and do it well. Related to the point above, if you attempt to do too many things you will find it impossible to compete with those who focus on one or two features. It is better to do one thing really well, than offer a suite of mediocre features.
  • Make it clear what you do. Users should be able to glance at a user interface and instantly know what it is you do. Don’t make them work to understand your offering.