user experience design Tag Archives - General Assembly Blog

UX, Visual, or Graphic: Which Type of Design Is Right for You?

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UX Design Image
  • CC Image Courtesy of Thomas Brasington on Flickr

You can be pardoned for sometimes feeling confused about all the terminology and job titles floating around in the design world. What is the difference between graphic design, visual design, and user experience design? Do each of the three roles provide a different service? For visual and graphic designers, the difference may lie mainly in the job title and salary expectations. However, a user experience designer has very different end goals and responsibilities from a visual or graphic designer. Below is a breakdown of what each of these designers do. Continue reading

Don’t Frustrate Users With Gaps in Your Product Experience

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There are countless steps where the product experience can break down.

There are countless steps where the product experience can break down.

There are countless steps where the product experience can break down. Have you ever been waiting at the corner for a ride-sharing pickup, and while the app swears the driver is right there, there is no car in sight? Or how about seamlessly ordering groceries in an app, then waiting well past the delivery window with no sign of your avocados? Ever called customer service by phone to learn they have no record of the two detailed chats you had with online agents about your issue? We’ve all been there.

As consumers who increasingly rely on technology to help us wrangle a vast range of goods and services, we’ve all experienced pain points when really good software doesn’t equate a really good experience. All too often, there’s a breakdown that occurs outside product screens, when a product or process hits the reality of the human experience or a user fails.

Take a peek at the diagram above, which charts the various user touch points that can occur with your brand in a product experience loop. Users interact with a product through many different channels and modes of communication, and bridging the gaps between them is essential to your product’s success. If you present users with a custom call to action in a social media ad, your customer service teams must be ready to respond. If you build an offer email that is redeemable at a brick-and-mortar retail location, the cashier will need tools to redeem it.

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Customer Journey Mapping: Why It’s Essential for Product Design

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The Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Life’s a journey, not a destination,” may be somewhat of a cliché, but it perfectly reflects the purpose behind customer journey mapping. Customer journey mapping (also known as customer experience mapping) is the strategic process of capturing and communicating complex customer interactions. User experience (UX) designers use it to illustrate the customer’s processes, needs, and perceptions across their interactions with our services, products, and organizations.

For example, when designing for Starbucks’ mobile ordering app, a journey mapping exercise would likely include a customer’s actions before they use the app, during their ordering experience, and after they’ve picked up their order and are headed back to the office. This UX design strategy is essential to understanding users and solving real design problems.

By focusing on a customer’s experiences throughout their journey with a product or service (e.g., clicks on a Facebook ad, signs up for a product mailing list, or Googles your company), rather than jumping ahead to the end solution (the present experience with the app or website), designers can deliver positive experiences and form a deeper understanding of their customers.

Customer journey mapping is an ongoing practice — a collaborative process that’s boundlessly more useful than a highly polished deliverable. Cross-functional teams who use it can include marketers, executives, engineers, customer support professionals, product owners, and more. By working together, they gain a shared understanding of how customers feel and think, and their relationship to the service. Engaging in a customer journey mapping session builds knowledge and consensus across the organization, and ultimately outlines the shared reality of customers’ experiences.

Customer Journey Mapping in Action: Case Study in Health Care

The key to understanding any customer journey is empathy. From anxieties and fears to joy and delight, the emotions tied to our products and services are what we’re looking to uncover. That’s how industrial designer Doug Dietz, the creator of the MR Adventure Discovery Series, was able to design a more successful MRI experience for children undergoing the scan.

Consider a typical MRI scanning experience, with its loud, strange noises, dark, confined tube, and cold, hard scanning bed. The apprehension, fear, and anxiety that patients, especially children, had surrounding this important medical ordeal was inhibiting results, requiring rescans and sometime sedation. By mapping the anxiety curve of the parent and child’s journey from home to the hospital, learning about their fears upon discovering a need for an MRI, and their reaction to the scanning room itself, Dietz learned why the machine experience had almost no chance of being pleasant.

From this newly realized understanding of what made the MRI a negative experience on their health-care journey, Dietz and his team were able to design a better solution. The outcome is a whole new sensory experience, a completely redesigned MRI room based on a pirate ship, submarine aquatic adventure, or outdoor camping trip complete with sights, sounds, and tasks all related to each adventure. A scary experience was turned into some children’s favorite part of the hospital.

Customer Journey Mapping at General Assembly

At General Assembly, students in our full-time User Experience Design Immersive course learn customer journey mapping as a way to validate their user research and apply a broader understanding of previously defined personas, another tool in the UX toolkit. In their class projects, both with real-world and fictional clients, students use the user data they collect to validate their team’s assumptions about a user’s journey and add new findings from their research. Students break the journey up into steps, indicating the touch points and emotions that users experience during those steps.

In addition to the user research, students sharpen their communication skills by running a team workshop that includes stakeholders from other disciplines, like marketers, developers, and customer support. Creating a customer journey map is a group activity and students learn the necessary skills to get non-design stakeholders, like project managers and executives, to participate in the process and arrive at a shared understanding of the customers. Students practice customer journey mapping in each of their team projects, so they can accurately identify a problem and uncover the needs of users.

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Meet Our Expert

Jared Rogers is a User Experience Design Immersive instructor at GA’s Austin campus. His extensive UX career centers on education, tech, and media industries with both agency and in-house design experience. Some of his notable clients include IBM, AT&T, Stanford University, and Meredith Corporation.

Jared Rogers, UX Design Immersive Instructor at General Assembly Austin

Using Service Design to Deliver Excellent User Experiences

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A service, unlike a product, is intangible — you can’t hold it or touch it. Rather, it’s a series of intertwined, specifically orchestrated activities. Services unfold over time across steps and channels. Also unlike a product, both the production and consumption of a service happen simultaneously. The service is the interplay between the customer and service provider.

Service design is a practice that contributes to delivering a great user experience. In fact, the quality of the service is frequently what makes or breaks a person’s experience with an organization. Whether service design is being used to improve existing services or create new ones, it takes into account the needs of both the customer and the service provider.

Why Does Service Design Matter?

Service design is a big deal because we engage with services much more than we engage with specific products. We take public transportation, go out to lunch, manage our money, go to concerts, get medical help, pay our taxes, register our cars, and so forth. Certainly, there are tangible products and tools that we — and service providers — use in the process, but that’s only part of it. From the service design perspective, it’s that overall exchange we care about — and that exchange needs to work for all parties. We certainly notice when it doesn’t, and we, as customers, simply look elsewhere the minute it fails.

The more complex and interconnected our world gets, the more opportunities there are for service failure — making good service design more critical than ever. Service quality often suffers due to the complexity of linking systems together in a way that makes sense to both customers and service providers. Service designers must come to the rescue, and many designers who previously focused on designing digital interfaces are now turning their attention to services.

Where Service Design Intersects With UX and Product Design

Service design is becoming a high-profile skill in industries such as financial services, health care, social services, and beyond, popping up in ads for product design and user experience roles. However, it’s nothing particularly new. When talking about UX design, many people’s first inclination is to think about digital products. But UX design is as much about physical products and services as it is about digital services. It’s also about ensuring that an organization has the processes and skills in place to deliver on the promise.

Although they ultimately have a slightly different focus, at the highest level, the philosophy of service design and UX design is the same:

  • It’s holistic. It involves considering all channels and players involved, and understanding what happens before, during, and after any interactions.
  • It’s user-centered. It puts the experience of all of the people involved at the heart of every decision made.
  • It embodies design thinking. It uses the designers’ approach and methods to balance people’s needs (desirability) with what’s doable (feasibility) and what’s appropriate for the business (viability).
  • It’s increasingly the differentiator between companies. As a product or service becomes a commodity and the barriers for consumers moving between providers are lowered (think financial services or telecommunications), it’s the quality of the service and experience that determines whether people embrace your offering.

Designing Services = Designing Businesses

In a feature-rich, constantly-on world, thoughtful service design gives organizations a unique opportunity to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Businesses are now innovating and redefining themselves based on their service in several key ways:

  • Improving routine services, like renewing a driver’s license or getting a cell phone plan. In the case of a driver’s license (where there’s no competition), delivering better service is good for everyone. In the case of a telecommunications provider, it can be the difference between retaining or losing a customer.
  • Totally overhauling an experience, such as Disney’s introduction of its MagicBand to park visitors. The MagicBand wrist band facilitates payment, placing orders, making restaurant reservations, entering your hotel, finding the rest of your party, and even delivering greetings from Disney characters who know you by name. The technology is one thing — but it’s the people and processes that make this all happen.
  • Revolutionizing an industry, like the way Airbnb and Uber reimagined accommodation and ride services by upending who provides the services, how they are acquired, and the interchange between providers and customers.
  • Going from product to service, like how Square provides small-business loans to customers using its point-of-sale solution, or the aircraft jet engine manufacturer Rolls Royce offers support services based on the fact that it’s already collecting usage data.

How Do We Approach Service Design?

Service design requires big-picture thinking. This means not merely focusing on designing the particular products and tools used in the interchange between customers and service providers, but also understanding and optimizing how everything and everyone fits together — who does what, when and how they do it — to achieve a desired result. As service designers, we talk about the “line of visibility,” and study both the “onstage” activities (what the customer sees and hears) and the “backstage” activities (services, processes, and tools used behind the scenes), and we choreograph the interplay.

As illustrated in the figure below, when designing (or redesigning) a service, we take a top-down approach, starting by focusing on the desired experience, and from there considering the interactions, touchpoints, and procedures needed to create it. Armed with this knowledge, we are able to determine the best products and tools to use, and we design these to optimize the overall experience.

Service Design

To be successful, we must:

  • Have a clear understanding of the reason and demand for the service, and the ability of the provider to deliver.
  • Focus the design on customers’ needs, ensuring that the service will be valuable and efficient.
  • Treat “unusual” circumstances and typical situations as equally important in thinking out the requirements to accommodate them, as that’s when service often breaks down.
  • Design with input from users of the service, and collaboration with all relevant stakeholders providing the service.
  • Prototype the service before developing it in full.
  • Start with a minimum viable service (MVS), and use an iterative design process based on feedback and analysis to refine and add to the service.

Service Design at General Assembly

User experience design students at General Assembly learn to think holistically. UX is not merely user interface (UI) design; it’s about the before, during, and after use. UX design involves applying user-centered design techniques like research and low-fidelity prototyping to ensure that you’re solving the right problem before polishing the solution. When you learn about UX design at GA, whether it’s through our full-time Immersive program, part-time course on campus or online, or a short-form workshop or bootcamp, you learn to think about the overarching ecosystem you are designing for. Students train to recognize that people’s experiences are formed over time, based on interactions across individual and broad touchpoints. They also learn how our roadmaps allow us to focus in on figuring out how to get there from here.
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Meet Our Expert

Susan Wolfe, who teaches GA’s User Experience Design Immersive in San Francisco and Sydney, has practiced UX design, run consultancies, mentored project teams, and introduced UX design practices and cultures into organizations around the globe. She has established and managed in-house UX teams within software, hardware, and services companies in the Silicon Valley. In her work, she takes a holistic service design perspective and applies the most appropriate user-centered design thinking techniques to identify issues and ultimately create the optimal experience.

Susan Wolfe, UX Design Immersive Instructor at GA San Francisco and GA Sydney

Information Architecture: Organizing Information for Accessibility

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Imagine you were dropped in a strange location without a proper map. The next step might not be obvious because, chances are, there isn’t a clear path. If this happened today, you would most likely pull out your phone to get directions from a mapping app. In our modern world, we are, more often than not, reliant on technology to do the heavy lifting of problem-solving.

Ever since Google made finding an answer only a few clicks away, it’s been easy to forget that in order for information to be accessible to us, it must first be organized in a way that makes sense. When information is sorted, organized, and labeled, it becomes a map. By definition, maps are diagrammatic representations of relationships between things. Whether physical or digital, good maps allow people to navigate efficiently and with clarity through any environment.

Information architecture (IA) is exactly what it sounds like: how information is structured, from the foundation to the footnotes. Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of modern IA, believed that how information was presented was oftentimes more important than the information itself. While the process of defining information structures isn’t confined to the digital spaces we inhabit, the fluid nature of the internet requires us to think deeper about how different “knowledge nodes” connect. Let’s break down why that is.

In the digital world, information can be structured (and stored) in many different ways, like spreadsheets, sitemaps, content schedules, and databases. In the context of user experience (UX) design, the deliverables designers use to communicate information is dependent on the context of use. Designers often use IA to illuminate what content or information is mission-critical, where it lives in the system, and how it’s connected.

For a simple company website, a designer might first build a site map to communicate (to the internal team and potentially to the client) and confirm what static pages are necessary, what the information hierarchy is for content, and what information lives in the different global elements (e.g., the top navigation versus the footer).

What Are the Components of Information Architecture?

Mental models are how people think about things. In the digital space, they are often based on representations of what exists in the real world (remember Skeuomorphic design?). Most of us have mental models that influence our process or way of thinking about something. In order for organizations and companies to be more effective in communicating value to their audience, it’s important to first understand the following about their users:

  • How their users think (process)
  • What they expect (mental model)
  • How it relates to other information (classification)
  • How they refer to specific things (taxonomy)
  • Where they are in a given environment (context)

These user mental models and behaviors can and should inform the design of a digital product or experience. Ultimately, information architecture is the map that allows the user to efficiently navigate between pages and places. Although “invisible” to most users, we see IA in the following:

  • Content strategy (How will content be managed and updated?)
  • Schema (How is this content organized?)
  • Navigation (Where is content located?)
  • Taxonomy (How is this content classified?)
  • Search (How are users searching for content?)

User Research and Information Architecture

By nature, people use systems differently. When it comes to IA, it’s critical that designers advocate for user research and testing as early in the design process as possible. Ideally, it’s the first step your team takes. Because information architecture lays the foundation for the look and feel of a product, it’s imperative that companies speak with their users to understand their preferences, terminology, and mental models.

Simple IA-focused exercises such as card sorting help designers and researchers learn how users organize topics and what language they use to refer to specific information. Rather than making expensive assumptions that may deter people from using a product or service, companies can work with users from the ground up to create a solution that aligns with their audience. For instance, when a company assumes that its users refer to a topic in a specific way, it might lose a lot of customers that don’t “see” that word because it doesn’t match their mental model. This often results in customers going elsewhere because they can’t find what they’re looking for — even when it’s right under their noses.

When considering how to begin structuring the information architecture, it is helpful to ask questions such as:

  • How do users navigate content on our site?
  • If our primary user has X as a goal, how do they go about completing this task?
  • How is important information being presented to our user?
  • What language or terminology do people use when referring to this process/service/product/thing?
  • What terms do people use to search for X?

What Good Information Architecture Looks Like

Designers often talk about “delight” when it comes to user experience: the little details that add something extra to a user’s experience. Ultimately, though, delight alone is not enough to make an interface or experience effective. While investing in funky animations and slick visuals can and does attract users, what most people need is a clear path to achieve their goal or complete a task.

Information architecture has made the internet a place where people can find literally anything. Given the size and scope of the web, this is a feat to be celebrated. Without metadata, there would be no indexing of relevant articles that help you search by topic. Without the design convention of consistent global navigation on websites, it would take a lot of hunting and pecking to find the information buried deep inside (imagine Wikipedia without a search bar). Without sitemaps, designers and developers might find that they’re talking about completely different structural schemas.

As you can see, IA is everywhere. Often invisible to the unpracticed eye, the effects of information architecture on our everyday experience are profound.

Information Architecture at General Assembly

Information architecture is a tool that all great UX designers practice, which is why it’s a core skill students learn at General Assembly. While visual design can be subjective to different tastes and perspectives, it’s difficult to argue with an information schema that supports user paths through the system. When an experience is aligned around the user’s mental model, it eases the friction people feel when we’re asked to learn something new.

Most people’s default mode is to decrease complexity. Asking users to learn on someone else’s terms makes the experience less engaging and ultimately more hostile to new or naive users. As an instructor for GA’s full-time UX Design Immersive course in Los Angeles, my goal is to empower designers to develop systems that are accessible, inclusive, and supportive of users. Clear information architecture is the first step in that direction.

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Meet Our Expert

Katharine Hargreaves is a UX strategist, educator, and facilitator working at the intersection of social impact design and education. She teaches the User Experience Design Immersive at GA’s Los Angeles campus. Katharine believes that human-centered design heals the world, and she’s dedicated to building tools and systems that empower people everywhere to be problem-solvers.

Katharine Hargreaves, User Experience Design Immersive, General Assembly Los Angeles

Using Affinity Mapping to Organize and Synthesize Initial Research

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Every great design begins with great research. By using techniques like user interviews, contextual inquiry, and competitive analysis, user experience (UX) designers have the opportunity to learn about user pain points, motivations, and preferences in a very personal way. But tracking all of that data and finding patterns can be difficult, especially when trying to navigate a long text document or pages of handwritten notes. That’s why UX designers practice affinity mapping.

An affinity map, also known as an affinity diagram, gives designers a complete picture of their early research process. It is a physical, tactile, and editable design artifact that’s invaluable for showcasing trends, themes, and areas of opportunity for discovery and improvement. With just a few tools, you can create a visual representation of large amounts of data that will help to inform your future strategy.

Tools for Creating an Affinity Map or Affinity Diagram

Creating an affinity map is easy. All you’ll need is some paper to write ideas, writing tools, and a surface to mix, match, and move your notes around. A few tools that will help you build these maps are:

  • Sticky notes: If you Googled “affinity map” right now, you’d find photos upon photos of sticky notes with designers clustered around them. These are the crux of your map. They’re the right size to write down bite-size pieces of research, and they’re easy to move around and group together to show research themes and related findings. You’ll go through more of these than you think, so stock up! Minis will be too compact to write on, so go for the standard size or slightly larger.
  • Markers: Pen and pencil can be too light to read, especially if you’re building a map with a team. Markers help make sure everyone can read all of the ideas — whether they’re right next to the map or a few feet away.
  • A large, flat, writing surface: You’ll need a large enough area to post a bunch of different sticky-note thoughts, but also add additional observations that provide context to your research. These could be themes you see emerging, questions you want to follow up on in additional research, or brainstorming ideas. Large dry-erase boards can work, but most designers I know prefer to stick up large-scale Post-its on the wall.

Step 1: Mapping Ideas on Your Sticky Notes

Your initial research can come from a lot of places: in-person interviews, observations you see of users interacting with a current product or service, internet searches, and surveys. All of this user data now needs a place to go. Enter the affinity map! Being able to separate data out into moveable blocks (like sticky notes) will allow you to get a better scope of the qualitative and quantitative data you’ve collected. The first step is to write out all your research findings on your trusty sticky notes. You can group together like information later, but for now you just need to get it out of your head or your notebook and into this new working space.

Things to jot down may include:

  • Statistics and other key facts: These could be from your own data collection, surveys, or secondary research. Chances are some of these numbers and research-backed facts will help to reinforce some of the more subjective observations you’ve collected from in-person interviews.
  • Personal observations or insights: What has jumped out at you as you’ve navigated your research? These “aha” moments could be the beginning of some deeper insights and point the way to future exploration. Add them in now and thank yourself later.
  • User quotes: User interviews give you tons of information — hooray! But the pieces of interviews that can actually be used to inform your future design are buried in bits and bobs of small talk, tangential stories, and relevant, but not crucial facts or observations. Don’t give up! Read through your notes as though you’re reading an essay or novel. If a sentence jumps out at you, that’s a green light to jot it down.

Step 2: Grouping and Categorizing Concepts for an Affinity Map

Now that you have a small mountain of sticky notes posted around you, get to grouping! Group user quotes that highlight similar issues or opportunities together. Statistics that all fall in the same area of research should go to together, too. As your groups start to solidify, annotate with a marker on your paper or whiteboard to begin to put notes in broader categories.

A few tips to help your organize your groups and categories:

  • Your first categories are probably not going to be your final categories. Don’t be afraid to move sticky notes around to areas where it doesn’t look like they belong; you may find a relationship between two disparate user issues that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
  • Take photos. Paper gets crumpled, and sometimes sticky notes flutter to the floor and are stepped on by an unsuspecting coworker. Document your process so that if you do have to put it back together at one point, you won’t be starting from Square One.
  • Ask for input. Once you feel good about the organization of your map, have another person (either from your team or someone else) take a look. Are they finding the same patterns you did? If they’re not, it might be an indicator that you’ve narrowed your research down too much. Always start broad before you focus too intently on one area. The design process is iterative, and your affinity map may be, as well.

Affinity Mapping at General Assembly

At GA, we encourage learning by doing. In our part- and full-time UX design courses, we introduce affinity mapping as a way to organize and synthesize initial research from user interviews. Students then use affinity mapping techniques to find patterns and key observations to guide the rest of their process.

As the course continues and research gets deeper, affinity maps become even more important as a way to keep track of data. By establishing the practice early on, students have a solid foundation in this skill and can move confidently forward. Happy mapping!

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Meet Our Expert

Rachel Wendte is a designer, content strategist, and marketer who teaches the User Experience Design Immersive course at GA’s Chicago campus. She is passionate about communicating design for connection, and uses her skills in client management, user research, and strategic thinking to craft meaningful solutions that are user-friendly and aligned with client goals. Before learning UX, she worked as an arts administrator and social media consultant.

Rachel Wendte, UX Design Immersive Instructor, General Assembly Chicago

User Experience Jobs: 7 Options & How to Choose a UX Career You Love

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If you have ever done a quick job search for “user experience design,” chances are you’ve seen a number of titles and descriptions that aren’t always as simple as “UX designer.”

User experience has a variety of specializations, and as a job seeker and practitioner, you should know the skills and applications that come with each. Understanding these differences will help you decide which area of UX is right for you and help you find the appropriate job to fit your interests and skill set.

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5 Hard Things You Have To Do When You Redesign

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buster_wk2_150520_15

Members of the Buster team mapping out their redesign. Photo by Adam Brodowski.

We recently completely redesigned Buster, our online booking site for buses, limos, and vans, after the first version (v1) of our website had been live for about a year. It was our first big review of what had worked in our early product, and what hadn’t, and our biggest chance so far to refresh our thinking about the business we’re growing. Rethinking our product was both cathartic and grueling. Here are the hardest things we had to do to make it happen.

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5 Reasons You Should Become a UX Designer

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whyux-blog-picjumboEvery day, more CEOs and business leaders are realizing the importance of a product’s design and user experience. UX is no longer an ambiguous acronym or secondary business concern, but a key piece of a product’s success. With so many useful apps and products on the market, companies can no longer risk having a poor user experience or uninspiring design. Users demand great experiences, and it’s user experience designers who help products meet these high expectations.

User experience designers are positioned for success in today’s job market. They get to work in a growing and intellectually stimulating field, playing a key part in shaping a product’s success across a variety of industries — from finance to education to to e-commerce and more. Read below to explore why UX design may just be the perfect career for you.

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4 Common User Interface Patterns You Should Be Using

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User Interface Patterns

“There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns. If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself.” This quote comes from author Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Survivor, but it’s also a perfect summation of the world of user interfaces.

User Interface patterns (UI) are common best practices that serve as a reusable solution to a frequently occurring problems. Over time, users acclimate to these patterns and can even grow to expect them. Herein lies the issue. If a pattern becomes ubiquitous with a certain task, the user experience can be hindered if the pattern is not present or a suitable replacement is not offered.

As user experience designers, we need to keep up with these trends and patterns. However, it is not enough to just recognize and utilize them, but we must also understand the implications associated as well.

In this post, we will explore the following common UI patterns for further examples:

  • Input – Inline validation
  • Navigation – Infinite scroll
  • Content management – Hover controls
  • Data management – Draggable objects

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