UX Revolutions

I work for a company that has created, in my eyes, what will be regarded as a UX revolution. Why? Because it took a common frustration and eliminated it by changing what users experience when they seek help on how to complete a complex procedure on various online services.

As such, I was looking for other examples of online features that changed the world of user experience as we knew it until then. Facebook, for example, built the revolutionary News Feed, which delivered information about your friends to your page, so you would be able to skip the imposing task of visiting their pages for updates. Facebook was a narcissist’s dream come true. Whatever you posted immediately became available to your friends and friends of friends. This meant that more people could show off themselves. The other category of people attracted to Facebook was those who like to keep an eye on what’s happening in other peoples’ lives. This was a marriage made in heaven. Twitter took off because even though they didn’t know it yet, people yearned for a low effort medium of communication.

Michael Freeman, Senior Manager of Search at ShoreTel, shared with me his votes for two very important UX changes in the last 10 years: 1) Google Maps and the use of Ajax to reload map images: In my opinion it was Google Maps that put the Ajax experience in the mind of most Internet users. Before GMaps, users were used to having to refresh every page every time that they clicked on something. That was true not only for maps, but all web pages. Ajax is what made web-based applications truly possible because you could interact seamlessly with an application without having to disrupt user flow. 2) Infinite Scroll: The last couple of years has witnessed the widespread use of the infinite scrolling list. Its popularity is counterintuitive because we like closure. However, it is exactly that insight which the infinite scroll takes advantage of. In our quest to “complete” reviewing the list, we try to reach the bottom only to find that we can’t. In this way, we stay more engaged with a webpage because it does not let us reach the “end”.

Mark Miller, a 20+ year veteran of the geographic information systems field, added in response to my question that Google fundamentally changed the way people interact with web mapping sites by introducing the concept of the “slippy map” – the idea that users could pan by simply grabbing and sliding the map in any direction. The map image is refreshed by loading tile images without requiring a full page reload. Map exploration instantly became more dynamic and intuitive.

Jon Fox, Director of UX at LoveIt.com pointed to the significance of the influence of mobile, which not only has supported the adoption of responsive design, viewable on a multitude of screen resolutions, but has brought about a revolution in simple design, making things easier to find and use. The prevalence of mobile, time and speed are paramount and has led to simpler and easier-to-use applications and sites across the web.

With that, it is evident that there are quite a few examples of game-changing UX features that impacted how people consume content on the internet today – infinite scrolling, which at long last did away with pagination and also server performance that has allowed for larger amounts of media to be consumed at faster intervals. It is, however, proven once more that a great solution is almost worthless without great UX.