What Good Looks Like

Apps We Love: 3 Examples of Purposeful UX

Great UX is the sum of a product's qualities, not its features. Here's a shoutout to experiences that embody the most important quality of all: purpose.

A Brief Introduction

Most of us know a great user experience when we see one, right? What can be a little more challenging is articulating just why we think it is so good. To sum up the super serum of a great product, we have to look past individual features.

The qualities of the experience matter more than any single piece of functionality or artistic element. Great design is all about the whole.

I’m kicking off this series on the blog, called Apps We Love, to highlight some of the qualities of great user experiences as I see them. In each post I’ll isolate a different principle, call out some examples that really stand out to me, and then deconstruct the UX a bit — pull it apart and show you why I think it works so well.

I’m starting with purpose, which I think is the first and most fundamental building block of great design.


Purpose

Purpose is not a specific heuristic of usability, but it really is the most important factor in creating great products. Without a clear purpose, why would anyone want to use the product in the first place? (Google Glass, anyone?)

Having a “why” as a true north is critical for a product development team. It provides both a mission and a measure for success. It keeps us from veering off to chase shiny things just because we can. Remember scientist Ian Malcolm’s famous line in the original Jurassic Park?

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Purpose is our “should.” We focus our product to best serve the end user, and filter out the distractions. That not only stops us from creating man-eating dinos or really expensive eyewear — but it also rescues us from the dangers of scope creep and feature bloat. It streamlines our work and makes it elegant. It relentlessly keeps us on target, and in the end it results in simpler, more powerful design that just… works.

Here are three examples of product user experiences that I think have really nailed their purpose:


Harvest

Harvest enables me to track my time and empowers me with a better understanding of how I use my most valuable resource.

purpose-harvest

A screenshot of a timesheet in the Harvest mobile app – www.getharvest.com

What they do:

The purpose of Harvest is insight. The user experience makes two critical aspects of time tracking easy and habitual: recording your time and reporting on your time. When it’s painless to collect data, it becomes easy to analyze how you are spending your time.

This simple, yet powerful software has challenged my assumptions and made me more self aware. How we think we spend our time is often far from the truth. I don’t go a day without relying on Harvest to help me maximize my productivity.

What they don’t do:

Harvest stays out of its own way. It doesn’t distract you from its primary purpose with superfluous content and features. Over the last decade, the product has evolved smartly and deliberately. The user experience always remains in service to the core purpose of recording and reporting time.


Google/Android Weather

Google Weather provides a glanceable summary of the temperature, precipitation, and cloud coverage when you simply type “weather” into their search engine.

purpose-google

A screenshot of local weather in a Google search

What they do:

The purpose of any weather app is to deliver the forecast, but Google focuses their UI on a concise wrap-up of the day’s conditions. They rely on crisp typography, color, and simple iconography.

On an Android phone I can add the app to my home screen where the UI delightfully sums up the current conditions with the help of a friendly illustrated frog — which I must admit gets me to grin.

The purpose is achieved through the speed at which you can register the information you seek. But Google doesn’t sacrifice depth for speed. They use simple swipe gestures to let you dig deeper into the data. Swipe horizontally and switch from today, to tomorrow, to a 10-day outlook. Swipe vertically and only then do you begin to explore additional details such as wind, daylight, and humidity.

What they don’t do:
Google doesn’t assault your eyes with an overabundance of information. You won’t have to search for a forecast in a sea of infographics, tiny type, and advertisements (bleh). Other weather apps have strayed very far from the simple purpose of preparing you for your day, but Google’s purposeful design holds back more complex data until the user requests it, rather than burdening them with too much upon arrival.


Zeplin

Zeplin enables designers to easily communicate the intricate details of a design to the developers that will bring it to life.

purpose-zeplin

A screenshot of the PreVeil mobile app project in Zeplin – www.zeplin.io

What they do:

Zeplin’s purpose is improving collaboration between designers and engineers, which they achieve by understanding the unique needs of each group of users. Zeplin makes it a breeze for designers to upload their work from any software they choose to use. Developers on the receiving end aren’t burdened with the learning curve of new software. From any web browser they are able to inspect the measurements and properties of a design in the coding language they’re currently working in.

What they don’t do:

Unlike others in the industry, Zeplin doesn’t try to change how I work or expect developers to learn to use my design tools. Zeplin doesn’t demand that their customers adopt a new software ecosystem just to collaborate. And their pricing model puts no financial burden on the members of projects that simply need to review and inspect designs.

Zeplin is so damn easy to use. If you’re a developer who isn’t receiving designs through Zeplin yet, send this post to your designer and tell them the grass is most certainly greener.


Wrapping it Up

When we make purposeful products, we make more successful products. Purpose is a quality that translates directly to value. When we align to it, we don’t have to spend so much time convincing people to use our products. They get it.

I recommend you pull out a Post-it, write down the primary purpose of your product in a few short words, and keep it somewhere you can see. Test every idea you have against it. Be your own harshest critic. And if the idea doesn’t fit your purpose — it doesn’t fit your product.