Your Product is Speaking. Do You Like What It’s Saying?

Nate RaganProduct

Part of creating a usable product is expressing the character of your brand through the user experience (both interaction and visual design). It includes the tone and voice of the text, the atmosphere conveyed through the use of a color palette and the way that various tools and features present themselves to the user.

Over the past few years at Realtracs, our engineering team has grown into multiple squads, each made up of a product manager and several engineers. Along with the benefits that this growth and mitosis provided, we also realized product initiatives on each squad were introducing some level of divergence in user experience. Our product was evolving into something without a consistent personality — and this was a problem.

As a team focused on serving the needs of the real estate industry, we asked ourselves what voice Realtracs should use when creating products for our users. With that in mind, we identified five primary design principles that we should embody when creating products. These design principles are informed by and work in conjunction with our brand and product principles to achieve the best possible outcome for all of our customers.

Trustworthy (vs regulatory)

We want to be honest and helpful. We design user interactions to function with reliability and dependability in mind. Examples include auto-filling commonly requested information, relying on familiar conventions when introducing users to new tasks and providing dynamic feedback as soon as possible.

Empowering (vs controlling)

We want our users to feel confident in their actions and emboldened to explore new tools. Everyone — at all levels of experience — should feel like they know how to use our product, regardless of how many features they use. Examples include confirmation modals for destructive actions, consistent placement of tools and settings and concise usage of assistive text on form fields

Communicative (vs punitive)

We want to encourage an open, continuous conversation with our users by imparting useful and contextual information — when appropriate —without inhibiting their progress, being demanding or being disciplinary in nature. Examples include error messages that help users know the answer to their question of “what’s next?”

Intuitive (vs incumbent)

We believe we need to provide interactions that help our users achieve their goal in the shortest amount of time possible by avoiding ambiguity and being straightforward. We want our users to quickly perceive what is important, why something is happening and how they can achieve their task. Examples include the standardization of instructions and actions, the use of familiar colors to provide feedback and the use of familiar workflow patterns.

Consistent (vs innovative)

We want interactions to function in similar patterns and similar elements to perform similar tasks. When possible, we want to follow rules that were previously in place. Examples include using the same operation to select all objects, or using the same input action (always click left mouse button) to highlight any graphical object on the interface. Although we believe in innovating to help our users, we won’t innovate for the sake of innovation alone or at the cost of increasing inconsistent interactions.

Defining these principles (and subsequently starting a centralized style guide) empowered each squad to autonomously make design decisions with confidence. And empowerment is a big part of a successful culture. 

While these principles are most important to our team, you’ll find different principles being used by other brands, based on their industry, their position in the market and their target audience. What principles are being spoken by your favorite products or brands? What is being communicated (intentionally or unintentionally) by the design of your products?