Creating Dynamic App User Experiences: UX Guru Crystal Ehrlich's Approach

Mar 10, 2015   

Posted by Ashley Osgood

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Crystal Ehrlich is an award-winning designer and expert in the field of user experience (UX). As a UX product designer, Ehrlich specializes in creating minimally intrusive, helpful and innovative experiences for enterprise software, point of sale (POS) systems, mobile apps, websites and beyond. During her 12+ years in UX design, she has built a roster of clients that include AT&T, Coca Cola, Guinness, Honda, Lee Jeans, Levi’s, and Lucky Brand to name a few. She has garnered design awards for her work on projects for Heineken and Viacom.

In our first interview with Crystal, we discussed upcoming UX trends, First Time User Experiences, and the roadblocks apps will need to overcome to make a difference in delivering dynamic UX.

We were fortunate enough to sit down with Crystal again to discuss transformations in UX that she anticipates for 2015, how she thinks about user experience design and solving for problems, what she’s excited about, and how she measures success.

1. What are the biggest transformations you anticipate in UX in 2015?

Technology is creating a need for expertise in social sciences. UX designers need a combination of technology and social sciences.  It is important to have a greater understanding of ethics.  

We see in UX that some of the best people are people that have sociology, anthropology and psychology backgrounds. You need to know what goes on in the minds of the people before you can create good UX and know how to truly serve a particular audience.

The statement “you are not the user” is incredibly important to understand. To be a good UX designer you need to have a great deal of empathy and know how to put yourself in someone elses shoes. You need to care and be able to truly empathize and imagine those situations.

2. What is your approach when solving for a user’s problem?

Don Norman says that whatever problems the client comes to you with is never the problem. This person who doesn’t have UX background is describing, to best of their ability, what a problem is. When someone describes a problem to us we need to think of it as a metaphor and then think about it more deeply. It is important to follow the entire process of what it is like to do something in order to fix the end problem, as well as fix the issues along the way.

For example, in order to optimize a user’s boarding experience in an airport, you need to start from the beginning and follow their journey up until the point of boarding. The user buys the ticket online, drives to the airport, checks in and prints the ticket, goes through security with the ticket in their pocket, goes to the gate, pulls out their folded boarding pass and realizes the ticket is folded right along the bar code. The scanner has trouble scanning the ticket and the user has to wait. By the time the user gets on the plane there is no longer any overhead storage for their luggage. This could all be avoided with a good mobile user experience where the ticket is pulled up right on their phone. But in order to come up with this solution we need to follow the user’s journey to find the pain points.

3. When you think about a design that you have implemented, how do you measure success?

Well you can’t just measure success based on if the design is being used. Just because something is being used and doing well does not mean it is a good experience. As soon as something better comes along it will be abandoned. For example, just because Blockbuster, for a time, was doing very well, doesn’t mean they were creating a good experience, and when something else came along they were abandoned.  It is always important to optimize the experience, because if you don’t somebody else will.

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4. How do you strike a balance between your app anticipating users needs and being helpful, versus being outright creepy?

I think there are different kinds of creepy. When Facebook first changed its UI, people complained about the new design. People don’t like change, but do they stop using it? No.

The thing that will differentiate creepy versus helpful is an understanding of the changes and why they are helpful. Walking users through a First Time User Experience breaks down the barrier.

For example, we have already been exposed to augmented glasses and even though these first glasses were not the best experience,  they did us a favor. The first time user experience broke the barrier and got people more interested.

5. Do you think that most designers today are thinking about things like app differentiation, or are they still trying to get the basics done to get a use case out there?

I see a lot of technologists just making the app work technically (code functions) but they aren’t thinking about how it is being used. I have seen developers design for the database. The database is not your customer, the more technical the approach the less human it is and less useful it is. And the more the user has to do to communicate with this bizarre app that is focused on the database. So we need to define the problems in peoples lives and we need to come up with the solutions. The solutions might lead to other problems that we can then solve for. It is a continuous process. Think of apps as hypotheses. We need to take a scientific method approach to the beginning of development.

6. What are the best ways to learn about your users?

Super-users make up 10% of actual users. They will be very vocal and tell you what they need. This is dangerous. What you need to do is talk to the quiet customers and find out what goes on with them, what is hard to use, and how can we make them more comfortable. You need to have conversations with people in their own environments. Users will say confidently, “I use the software like this,” and they believe it. But if you watch them, they do something different. It is important to see how users use apps and notice their behavior.

An interesting and insightful thing to do is to give your technology to kids. They will imagine crazy use cases. Also, give your technology to the elderly. This is where you will discover most problems with UI.

7. What is out there that excites you?

I want to see people stop talking about big data and start talking about big questions, big answers and big actions. Things like Drones being used in emergency situations is exciting to me. It is realizing the scope of the problem when you can’t even get into places. Self-Driving cars might be able to save many lives and allow blind people to get around.

Accessibility is something I am really excited about. As we move into sensory experiences and leverage location and touch into our experiences, accessibility is the way to do it. Those people who are implementing accessibility right now will have a really great edge over competitors. We are about to see mind boggling innovation all over the world.  apps_header

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Topics: Apps