Defensive Design and Critical Transitions

In much the same way that special teams can quickly improve a football team, defensive design can make a big difference by taking control of decisive, transitional moments.

I’ve heard it said that to have a better overall listening experience in your home stereo, it’s important to focus & spend your money in those areas where the signal transitions from one format to another (music storage system >> electronics >> sound waves)

  • Turntable
  • Speakers
  • Headphones

By the same token, I think you can do much to improve a mobile app or web experience by focusing on those critical moments when things go wrong.

Offensive Design Choice – the Heavy-Handed Onboarding Flow

Frequently, you’ll see coach marks or a tutorial as first-time users try to start using an app. The idea is certainly logical, but these approaches tend to get in the way of the user’s intent. They just want to get started using the app, poking around, and accomplishing their goal. If you need to put a whole tutorial on how to use your app, chances are, your app will not be used that much.

The Defensive Design Prescription – Prepare the User’s Experience with Care

In the same way that most reviews are written based on negative experiences, get ahead of your users with defensive design and put a plan in place to step up in the decisive moments.

  • Onboarding – How simple can you make it? Can you resist the marketing team’s desire to capture more analytics?
  • Registration – Can you use social login? Make clear that this is separate by sharing to the service
  • Calls to Action – Don’t keep the user guessing about how to accomplish their goals on any given screen, or at every interaction fork in the road. Make it unambiguous.

Spend the lion’s share of your time thinking through user goals and intent. Create cushions through established patterns and quick safety release valves. Allow the user to recover easily and quickly.

In that way, you’re taking care of what you need to make things right up front, instead of having to try to fix things that are broken for the rest of the experience.


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