Design Principles: Meaningful User Experience and the Danger of Feature Overload
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Designing a social networking application is not an obvious process. There are many nuances about social network design. Developers are always tinkering with features in an effort to stay competitive with other apps.
User experience is the metric that designers use to measure an applications success. Improving user experience is what they strive for. Do users love the app? The goal is to make something that user enjoy so much that they tell their friends about it, spend lots of time inside it, and keep coming back.
A challenging part of designing user experience process is figuring out the rules by which the application is governed. You can do anything, but you shouldn't do everything. The rules and constraints that developers choose to implement are important for developing a unique experience. In this article I will talk a little bit about some user constraint decisions I have implemented in my social networking app the Munday Network.
But first I want to mention an example of an app that has degraded it's user experience by allowing too many features.
Yik Yak was one of the apps that inspired me to make my own network back in late 2014. What it is today would not have inspired me back then. For those of you that do not know, the app is an anonymous and local twitter-like feed. At least that is what it was. It had a pleasant, simplistic vibe going for it, and it was massively popular for a time at my campus.
It is hard to manage the design of a social network. But I can hardly recognize the app anymore from what it once was. I am now required to have a username. I am encouraged to provide a picture. There are "Local Yakkers" which are just profiles of strangers hiding behind anonymity. They are taking an anonymous user base mentality and trying to cram real life identity into it. The community that made it fun left, and it is probably because the app is so different from what it once was.
Like I mentioned in the first paragraph, the design of a social networking app is not obvious process. It seems that developers naturally want to add more features to the product in a hope that it will increase user experience. Instead, cut features until your user base cries out in revolt.
But I think I know why Yik Yak implemented so many features. The guys behind it got a lot of money to throw at the development. When their user base growth started trending down, they panicked like an inexperienced stock trader panics when they are down 20 percent. Instead of riding it out, they flooded their app with features in a hope that it would attract more users. But features are not what keeps users engaged. It is the overall experience (something which they had right to start with).
I think users are angry with the changes made to Yik Yak because
I think that developers should design their social networks to promote good user content generation.
In my app, I decided that removing the option to submit content from the phone library would help create better content. My logic is that the content will be more meaningful if it is occurring within reality. This constraint forces the users to only submit content that is within reality rather than memes or otherwise content they did produce.
It the forces the user to be creative, even if it is a on small level, users are still creating something that did not formerly exist. I think creative social sharing is an attractive quality, and I want it within my app.
The downside of the constraint is that the volume of posts the app will be lower. Some people are not comfortable making and sharing videos or photos they took. Good content can (mostly) only be made if the user is doing something interesting or is an intrinsically interesting person.
The next design function I want to talk about is actually the opposite of a constraint. Formerly, the app had a limited video capture process. The user could only record a single complete stream (similar to the way Snapchat records video). I decided to allow users to capture video in bites or small snippets that become compiled into a large video. This allows the user to create a more complex video if they choose too.