4 ways to stop wasting your users time

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Everyone is very guarded about their time. There’s a finite amount each and every single day. It’s precious, so we should make sure we stop wasting it at every given chance we get — especially when trying to use our products. Although this could be seemingly easy to brush off, since minor inconveniences on a website or app might not seem to be much, however, accumulated, they all add up to the dreaded death by a thousand cuts.

So when you begin work  on your next project, remember to ask this question:

“Am I saving myself time, at the expense of our users’?”

At the heart of most time-wasting issues, we find that the answer to the above question was: ‘yes’. Which is the heart of the problem, and we experience within each products lifecycle. We often take shortcuts in product development in vain of our users’ time, so that we can meet delivery deadlines and or to stay on budget. This isn’t rocket science, still, here are a few examples I personally try to keep in mind:

1. Improve performance

The most obvious example is performance. If our applications are slow, then we’ll waste our users’ valuable time and simply start to irritate them, and essentially becoming one more cut. As reference, Steve Jobs, while attempting to rally his team behind improving the performance for the Macintosh claimed that by improving the boot time on the Macintosh, they would be in essence saving lives.

“The Macintosh boots too slowly. You’ve got to make it faster!” […] Well, let’s say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and thats 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that’s probbly dozens of lifetimes. So if you make it boot ten seconds faster, you’ve saved a dozen lives. That’s really worth it, don’t you think?” — Steve Jobs

As broadband + 3G/4G/LTE, etc. speeds increased and became widespread, we began to answer yes to that that 1st question (am I saving myself time, at the expense of our users?) over and over again by cutting corners in various ways. No or lack of image optimization, a million HTTP requests and referencing twelve-million different JavaScript libraries. This leads to users being forced to pay the price when they try to access our apps on devices via clogged networks.

Of course making our products faster isn’t something to take lightly. It’s difficult, and it takes considerable effort and non-reactive planning, however why should users continue to suffer for our problems?

2. Make your forms smoother

Sometimes, while attempting to help users, we often find ourselves wasting valuable moments by creating forms and dumping generic form objects into a view, and asking others just make it pretty, instead of empathizing with our incoming users and seeing how painful that simple form submission really is.

Especially on touch screen devices. Simply providing the correct meta information per input box will exponentially help touch-screen keyboard users when entering information that ranges from email, phone numbers, urls, etc.

Luke Wroblewski has a great UX how-to series that touches on issues like this. In the video example below, he details a few simple and quick ways you can help users by making your input forms faster. Be sure to checkout the entire series, you’ll be happy you did.

3. Clean up repetitive tasks

Take those common tasks that users do within your products time and again. How can we shave a quarter of a second off of those tasks? What about search? If the user enters a search term on your website, will hitting the “Return” key submit the query? They shouldn’t have to click the “Search” button.

Drop-down menus are another good example. Navigating country-pickers can be painful. Could we display countries differently, or make the most common countries faster to access? Maybe numeric steppers offer a better solution.

For that matter, a more robust solution to “Remember me” functionality would be nice, so that users are, in fact, remembered!

I understand that following lean UX, and / or MVP practices might not allow you to provide everything outside of the must-haves, however, this is something that’s really more noticeable after you’ve launched and you’ve shipped more than a few updates. UX-ers need to pay close attention to the details of their designs. Product Managers need to ensure that the scope & budget exists to refine their user interfaces to be more appropriate, as iteration is supposed to allow.

4. Don’t overcomplicate password creation

It’s really easy to crack passwords. Even the systems that require you to add an arcane mix of characters and symbols. So why are we punishing users in the name of security by forcing users for having long, and knowingly unmemorable passwords? I’m no security expert, and there’s been debate on this next topic for the last decade, but you could allow users to enter a pass phrase to help make it secure instead of just the cryptic demands and requirement of it being one word.

A password could then be, “My dog rex is super awesome!” The length would help make it secure, and remembering and typing it would be much easier. If your system doesn’t like the spaces — that’s not your users fault!

If you can’t do that, at least provide instructions when the user tries to log in. Remind them of whether your website wants uppercase or a certain number of characters. That would at least help them remember their password for your website.

The important thing is to recognize that people have to log in all the time. The task demands extra attention so that it is as painless as possible.

Just the start of a long list

We could do so much more in all aspects of Web & Mobile design to save users’ time. Sometimes we even know we are doing it, but keep telling ourselves lies like ‘we’ll fix it later’, knowing later never actually comes. We need to be forever vigilant and always ask ourselves:

“How can I save the user time in this situation?”

What else, what are your thoughts? Clearly this doesn’t list everything, but do you think there other personal pains that you believe should be weighted equally if not more important when designing for users?

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