What UX Is
We live in a world where sensors and connectivity inhabit even the most ordinary of objects. Users control their household appliances from anywhere in the world, cars can all but drive themselves, and we can watch the making of our pizza in real-time. There are over 5 million apps available today, many of which connect people and things all over the world. This influx of connected technology has created a new kind of complexity in our lives. Our job is to understand the complexity and then resolve it for our users.
Consumers experience products as a whole, not a collection of the parts that enable it. That is what we call the User Experience. For example, when a user tracks their run in MapMyRun®, they start the workout and then start running. They don’t think about the satellites pinging their phone to track their route. They also don’t think about the font kerning, the hex value of the app header bar, or the size of the logo on the screen. And they certainly don’t think about the server that saves their workout.
As designers, we have to think about the discrete parts of a product because that’s how we build them. There’s a lot of thinking, writing, designing, testing, and iterating that goes into every product. It requires teamwork. Software engineers, product managers, designers, quality assurance, and customer support must work together. Whether each one realizes it or not, every decision they make or influence has a direct impact on the final experience. The sum of all the decisions made by the team begets the user experience.
This is where User Experience Design comes in. Every product is going to have a user experience whether it’s intentional or not. To make sure that experience exceeds expectations, we have to make sure the sum of the parts is coherent. As we make a decision, our job as Product Designers at Under Armour® is to understand how those decisions impact the experience. Using a variety of tools, we can simulate the impact of each decision on the user experience. We use Sketch for making screens, Keynote or Principle for simulating flows, and inVision for interactive prototypes. These tools help us, and our teams, see the result of our decisions as an experience. Additionally, we can show our users what the experience will be like and get their feedback before the product becomes real.
One example of this in action at Under Armour was the creation of our first smart running shoe, the UA SpeedForm® Gemini 2 RE.
A sensor on your foot is the best place to collect metrics about walking and running. Runners already wear running shoes, so embedding a sensor makes it easy for them to adopt the technology. We don’t want to overcomplicate their routines with technology. Users need to be able to put it on and go. There can’t be any fussing around with charging or dongles for your phone to sync them. We figured out a way to solve those problems and make it seamless for the consumer. But we had one last challenge — how to tell the shoe to start recording a run.
We sat together trying to solve this problem from multiple angles. There were ideas of unique gestures with your foot, like jumps, kicks, Wizard of Oz heel clicks. They sounded good on paper and then we would act them out only to see that consumers would look funny doing them.
Finally, we realized that the most natural way to start recording a run is to simply go and run. We had to make sure it was reliable. We didn’t want fast walkers to be recording runs but we also wanted slow runners to be able to use the shoe. So we looked at the data from MapMyRun to see what the different pace thresholds were for our users. We found the sweet spot at a pace of about 12 minutes per mile.
By simulating the user experience, we found something that natural to the consumer. We were also able to message it clearly – “To record a run, just start running.”
The products we make are not life or death, but the demands and expectations are high. The product has to work, and it has to work every time, including the first time, in any condition, for any user. User’s expectations are set by the best apps regardless of the category. When Instagram adds a new feature or Facebook updates their app, it raises the bar for our products. We are not competing only with other health and fitness apps, we are competing with every app out there for a great user experience. It’s a big challenge. We are ready for it and take pride in delivering great experiences for our users.