Our User Interface Philosophy
How we build an empowering experience
My last article described what we are doing at WHYO and what we mean by an “empowering experience” for investors. Here, I delve a bit more into how we do it and the philosophy that underlines our user interface.
I am an investor and an entrepreneur. I am not a professional designer. Nonetheless, I have always been curious about how experiences are born; designed consciously or unconsciously. Every interaction with events, with others, with machines or even with ourselves leads to an experience. Experiences are fundamental and their sum shapes our lives.
The user interface is one of the foundations of the experience offered by a service or product. However, this visible part of the experience needs to get out of the way, to become invisible. In our case, we offer a reporting solution for investors. The later is not there to admire our solution’s UI, but to use it. In order to reach this goal, the interface is build around the user, not around processes, investment types or portfolios (as is more often the case). Here again, we followed the principles that guide everything we do: focus on people and the "KISS" rule.
The “KISS” rule, or “Keep It Stupid Simple” states that we should keep complexity at bay. It has many variants from “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” of Leonardo da Vinci to “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler” of Albert Einstein.
To make sure to keep it in mind, we made it our tagline: “leverage simplicity”.
We simplify interactions by minimising the number of ways the user can interact with the solution. The ideal number is not one, but it needs to be low enough to avoid complexity. Let’s look at a counter example: Microsoft can get away with having several horizontal menus with different structures and logics but similar names… because we have been using them forever. But imagine opening Excel for the first time! Two menus are called “Data” but do not contain the same items, same thing for the “View” menus, the “Home” icon and the “Home” button do not have the same action, etc. Excel is a great tool and widely used. It brings ultimate flexibility and as an Excel power user myself, I am not sure I could do without it. Their user interface is nonetheless confusing.
Following our simplicity mantra, we replaced complex menus by visible icons similar to those we are used to on our phones and a powerful search bar similar to the one you are accustomed to on internet. So most actions can be done in at least two ways, which we feel is an appropriate level of flexibility. Having more than one way to do things is good. I can add a meeting in my calendar by opening the calendar app or by asking Siri on my phone. The underlying action is the same.
Which brings us to consistency. Actions should be consistent throughout the system. In our example, when I create a calendar meeting, I want it to be recorded in my default calendar and to have a reminder 10 minutes before. If these characteristics became random, the calendar apps would quickly become useless as it would require too much attention on our part to check which calendar is used, the reminder settings, the sharing settings, etc. At some point, I will revert to remembering my meetings; it is easier.
For the same reason of consistency and reduced mental overload, we simplify wording. For example, the answer to a data query is a report. We make no difference between a report, a dashboard, an app, an analytic, etc. The underlying data may be real-time, the table may be scrollable, the graph may be interactive… It is always information on a screen. It is the answer to the user’s question. We call it a report.
Is our user interface perfect? Unfortunately not, far from it. Although we strive for simplicity, we can always improve and make our solution evermore intuitive. This is a journey, where we can learn constantly from our users and improve. We learn, we build, we iterate. As Mark Twain put it: “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection”.
And by the way, it is this journey that we strive for as entrepreneurs!
Finally, a note on aesthetics. Both founders of WHYO are also photographers: beauty is very important to us! I did not mention aesthetics as part of our UI philosophy because it is not directly part of it. We need to be very clear on our priority: it is ease of use guided by simplicity. Does it mean we ignore aesthetics? Obviously not. We have a “real” designer working with us to make sure everything is easy to read, colours and typography are optimal, etc. All these elements serve usability. And because form follows function, beauty will follow performance.