How to Win Friends and Influence Pixels

February 22, 2016

In our next series, let’s take a look at some famous books and re-invent the titles to help us better understand apps and technology. The book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published. Written by Dale Carnegie and first published in 1936, it has sold more than 50 million copies world-wide. The book provides readers with self-help advice such as:
  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

These principles got me thinking more about user experience design. According to the web definition, “user experience (UX) refers to a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human – computer interaction and product ownership.” We often think about UX as the layout of pixels on a screen for an app – it is the design which is intended to be all about the user – but it can be more than just pixels. When you think about user experience, you can begin to see how it ties together with the book. Allow me to explain with a few examples.
For example, the third bullet point in the book says that you are supposed to use a persons name. Apple has a program called Siri which attempts to help users do simple tasks such as reminders, directions, or searching for answers on the web. In Siri’s response to the user, she will often say the person’s name. The reason why this is important is the connection that it provides the user to the device. The designers of Siri thought in terms of the experience that you would want as a user when interacting with technology. According to the book, a person’s name is the sweetest sound they can here – and Siri knows that is true.
Another example is from the sixth bullet point. An app should respond in a way that makes the user feel important. Meaning, the design of the app should allow the user to easily find the information which they need. The Facebook app has nearly mastered the art of making the user feel important. It automatically brings in new posts once it establishes a connection rather than waiting for the user to press refresh. But Facebook was not always a good experience on a mobile device.
On August 23, 2012, Jonathan Dann, an engineer at Facebook announced that they were rebuilding Facebook for mobile users. Before this date, Facebook was only accessible through a web app. The disadvantages of a web app were the slow response times and reliability of refreshing content. Jonathan writes (on Facebook of course):

“Today we released a new version of Facebook for iOS that’s faster, more reliable, and easier to use than ever before. The development of this new app signals a shift in how Facebook is building mobile products, with a focus on digging deep into individual platforms. One of the biggest advantages we’ve gained from building on native iOS has been the ability to make the app fast. Now, when you scroll through your news feed on the new Facebook for iOS, you’ll notice that it feels much faster than before. One way we have achieved this is by re-balancing where we perform certain tasks. For example, in iOS, the main thread drives the UI and handles touch events, so the more work we do on the main thread, the slower the app feels. Instead, we take care to perform computationally expensive tasks in the background. This means all our networking activity, JSON parsing, NSManagedObject creation, and saving to disk never touches the main thread.”

Imagine if Facebook didn’t consider the user’s experience and kept the app inside a web app or browser only – it would have likely been a poor user experience and they could have lost millions of mobile users. Looking back, it was clear that Facebook made the right decision. By switching to a native app for iOS and Android users, the performance of the product was improved and Facebook was on the way to becoming the world’s most used mobile app.

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