October 11, 2020

It isn't new, it just got better.

Ask any designer about their views on design, and they will quote the infamous “design is problem solving”. In fact, we designers, even claim to be “problem solvers” in our resumes and portfolios. We like to elucidate how our efforts are channeled towards building products with the vision to fix major life problems. Every new product that crops up online, promises to provide a magic formula to make your problems disappear. Which inevitably puts designers at the heart of organisations that are trying to create solutions.

But are we even creating solutions to make the problems go away?

If you see from a certain point of view, almost all the digital products built in the last two decades have not exactly fixed users’ problems. Instead, they focused on creating delightful experiences and improving on the existing solution.

Think about it. Some of the most successful products like Spotify, Netflix, WhatsApp, Slack, Airtable, just created a better experience for their users.

Listening to music wasn’t a challenge. We had our means — we had the disc player until iPod bettered the experience. And then came along Spotify, with an even better and simpler experience of discovering and listening to our favorite music on-to-go.

We watched movies by renting them. That’s precisely how Netflix started — as a movie renting library. But it evolved as a company to provide a better user experience. Instead of renting a DVD, we now pay a fixed monthly price and watch movies and shows at our convenience, on our choice of device

Texting was fine for everyone. We even learnt to express better by creating our own version of emojis using punctuation marks :) Enter WhatsApp, a universal messenger to “chat” with people.

Same with Slack and Airtable. People were doing fine with emails and Excel. Communication, delegation, maintaining database was working well for users. Slack and Airtable made the experience several times better.

All these products are game-changers in their own way. I can’t imaging my life without them. But if you see, none of them created a “new solution”. Rather, they created an unimaginably delightful user experience. Creases are ironed out, processes seem simpler, dealing with problems feels a lot more easier. Everything happens so intuitively that you actual don’t care if the problem exists. You are confident enough to tackle these problems without any conscious thought. That’s how powerful the UX of these products (and many more) is.

Which makes me wonder, have we stopped solving problems altogether? Or we’ve changed the meaning of the expression “problem solving”? Is UX the holy grail of delighting customers? Is UX the only value to measure a product’s success?

I guess the answer lies in empowering the users with a mechanism that makes them feel confident in dealing with the problem. The idea is to provide the user with enough resources to tackle the problem or perform tasks with minimum effort. Want to be entertained? Here’s an on-demand library of millions of movies and songs in your back pocket. Tired of exchanging emails and thinking of subject lines? Here’s a simple way to collaborate with your team. Can’t find a cab? Call one with just a few taps on your phone.

The easier you make it for the user to deal with their problems, the more they’ll love your product. It’s as simple as that. Because, a user would happily pay for the problem to go away and not to “experience joy”. Businesses who have this figured, will undoubtedly value a good user experience.