Application Process Flow
An application process flow is a high-level understanding of how people interact & behave with our applications or system based on the three defined types of processes. Below we will describe the different types of processes used commonly by people to interact and complete tasks within applications. At a low level the page ui designs and components designs will affect the type of process that is inherited from them. The type of process used will directly affect users behaviour and interactions with applications. Applications are based on a CRUD system whereby users can typically create, read, update and delete within a mobile & online desktop experience.
Types of Process
Single Page Process
Completing actions & tasks on one single page. A user stays on a single screen actively completing core tasks then completing secondary tasks. The design can initially show core features, then progressively show secondary features and finally less important information or form fields. One page with associated tasks & features. For more simplified & less complex designs.
Step-by-step forms and e-commerce checkouts using Staged disclosure.
Shopify payment checkout
Taxation Applications (My Tax Australia)
Completing tasks in a linear process from one page to the next including (SPA) single page applications & step-by-step forms. A user moves from page to page actively completing tasks with multiple steps. Multiple pages with associated tasks. For a more complex design and larger scope of work use a linear process. The inclusion of visual indicators, step heading text and wizard steps can indicate to the person (using the application) how many and what steps there are to complete their goals. They should also know where they currently are, and where they’re going in future steps. It’s essentially a progress indicator of goals with both business objectives and peoples needs being met as easily and less painful as possible. Being able to go back and move forwards easily via the design is a good idea too. Outside of making mistakes (field level validation) people may want to go back to make changes after further thought and consideration.
By breaking complex tasks down into multiple sections and potentially multiple screens that are manageable (in a step by step process) people are likely to be more effective and motivated to complete them. Look to have a save option or built in auto-save of the users progress to enable them to come back & finish the tasks at a later time.
As Luke Wroblewski said “web forms suck!” (Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewski) and the form should be designed top to bottom, left to right (form level) with a clear path to completion. Luke Wroblewski suggests top aligned labels are generally preferred for making a form more readable and for efficient page scanning. This was validated by using eye-tracking tests. One day forms may never exist at all, let’s hope 🙂 (Auto-completed information, Apple Pay, PayPal, Stripe e.t.c.) Be wary of funnels, using funnel techniques and this type of manipulation. People are smart, if something isn’t right or doesn’t suite them, they can simply close the browser window/tab, be slightly aggravated and potentially never return (head to the competition). Forcing people to do something they don’t want to do or feel uncomfortable with, like a funnel technique to simply gain sales along with other problems at the time of check out is a bad idea and can lead to loss of trust, business and a damaged reputation.
If something isn’t right at checkout, or part way through the form filling process and the numbers don’t look good (quantitative stats) create an A/B testable prototype, have feedback forms to assess issues or ask questions through holding interviews and potentially usability tests to ascertain what is causing the lack of completions, sign-ups or payments, presuming site traffic isn’t an issue. Understanding and prioritising what people do compared to what people say, or even what they say they do or want is important. Experiments as part of an MVP are useful and this can lead to a much greater understanding and validated learning before the costs associated with a feature rich design and build are sunk.
There are similarities between LEAN principles, Design Thinking, and Human centered design, although quite different approaches. Whether during the initial stages of HCD (Discovery) or as part of “less wasteful” MVP gaining key understandings about customers and their needs including the problems they face is used by all methods with an emphasis on leaning outcomes to provide more value to customers through improving product design. Traditionally user experience wasn’t used within agile software development or part of LEAN manufacturing (Toyota). There are often difficulties integrating user experience within software development but as time will tell, on-going changes to methodologies and processes will continue to evolve and improve integration across all areas of technology innovation.
By completing experiments, A/B testing, usability studies, holding interviews, gathering feedback, researching for user journeys, personas and on-going learning we can gain insights into customers needs, test our hypotheses and test the companies products assumptions and validate them (persevere) or pivot. Measuring our successes and failures to continuously improve is pragmatically useful too. In some cases successful companies by doing this can pivot toward fulfilling unmet needs in terms of their technologies uses or find new areas of growth and have a competitive advantage, which yields a much better chance of success.
While understanding forms are only a micro-part of these broader processes they are an important interface between your company and your customers. In terms of the mentioned design methodologies there is more than one way to skin a cat and implementing one process over the others all the time is problematic. Today MVP’s, Agile and LEAN are commonly integrated into software development using UX methodologies too, however start-ups, mega-cap companies and governments operate at very different scales and operate organisationally very differently in which case for user experience designers it’s important to understand each process or method, continue to learn and practice based on outcomes using them in different scenarios. To pivot for an organisation of 10,000 employees within a competitive landscape of mature products along with issues involving skills capability and hiring domain experts can be a very difficult thing to do, even for a a start-up of 25-50 with capital backing and single focus.
External Process (Multi Page)
Completing actions and tasks using both a single page process and linear process across multiple screens/sites some being external. A user moves from screen to screen and/or tabs, windows, external links while also completing multiple tasks on a single page. The user will move from a linear process to a single page process intermittently and be directed externally. Multiple pages with associated tasks. For highly complex designs and features you could use an external process however it is not recommended. There is added complexity when using an external process (multi-page) and having people move from one screen to additional tabs, links and windows externally. It’s best practice to use a single page process or linear process to reduce the chances of cognitive overload and improve the ease-of-use of the application. There are problems with people leaving one main app or web-app screen then potentially not returning as the overarching site process is broken and becomes increasingly more complex with the addition of external links, re-directs, open tabs and windows. This is the case even when not considering accessibility concerns, it is magnified for screen reader users or people who are visually, auditory, physically or cognitively impaired.
This above processes assist people and the business to reach the desired goals or outcomes by reducing the chances of cognitive overload, improving learnability (usability), increasing efficiencies of use (usability), decreases in error rates (usability), while making the tasks more manageable and achievable.
Simple interactions and a low level of cognitive load use a single page process. Complex interactions and intensive cognitive load look to a linear process using content, instructions & design techniques (diagrams, infographics, images, charts, analytics, tooltips, explanations, block quotes, video & video tutorials, interactive content, visual references, iconography, layout and symmetry, descriptive headers & text, table data, animations or animated gifs, more simplified/succinct language (not legal or convoluted) and simplified design, visual spacing & negative space e.t.c).
Seek to minimise extraneous cognitive load through functionally appropriate, yet simplified visual design and user interface design. Try to not over simplify, reduce functionality or content too much as complex tasks require continued load in the person completing the tasks in order for the information to be retained in memory and task successfully completed. It’s important for the person completing the tasks to build a mental schema and understanding even when facing difficult problems or questions. In some applications it’s as much a learning and education process (though various forms of design & content approaches) to better inform people as to what to do, rather than assuming people will automatically know or understand what is required to proceed. Sometimes people simply need to be led. STEM: (brilliant.org ), Taxation apps (ATO Online), Online educational apps: (coursera.org), e-commerce checkout: (shopify).