Perhaps, one of the best opportunities coming from the Internet and appreciated by great variety of users all over the world is the ability of easy communication, first of all via different social networks. Today there are loads of social networking sites and services starting from general ones providing multiple functions and features for broad target audience to specialized networks concentrating on needs and pains of narrow target audience. There are specialized social networks for mums, scientists, cyclists, writers, tourists, teachers and so on and so forth.
Moreover, target audience is not the only point to concentrate on. Type of content can also become a key factor to make the social network go round photos and images, videos, short or long copy blocks, links and recommendations or something else. Anyway, although diverse social networks spring up like mushrooms, in most cases they still find their user and reader, especially if UI/UX is thought-out from the very first stages of design.
Having practical experience of design for various social networking websites and applications here in Tubik Studio, today we decided to share some of our ideas on things important to consider in the process of creating a product targeted on communication. As this topic is really wide and it’s impossible to mention everything in one post, today we only start this conversation having gathered the general positions designer needs to take into account while working on this kind of product.
UX screens for social network Echo by Sergey Valiukh
Features of a social network
Social networks as the services concentrated on communication usually have some basic features, which are mostly universal independently from target audience or perhaps content on which the communication is based. Among this basic features we would mention:
— Creation and easy editing of personal account, preferably with the ability to protect the data it includes
— Easy search of users and content
— Categorizing the content
— Sharing with friends or followers
— Feed showing the latest updates
— Personal and group chatting and discussions
— Creating groups, public pages or other kinds of communities
— Clear and organized notifications informing the user about activity and socialization with his/her circle of friends, followers, communities etc.
All these features, actually, make the network social, so the better they are thought out, the easier and clearer it will be for users.
Dating App Concept by Valentyn Khenkin
Vital points for efficient UX
Thinking over the design of social network, from the very start the designer should be concentrated on several points:
— Social network is made for communication. It is not a personal exhibition, the newsreader, a set of articles or a gallery. It is a community, where a user can be both silent and loud. It is a platform where people can communicate easily any moment they want.
— Successful, popular and efficient social networks are all based on user-generated content. Therefore, the user should be offered multiple functions to generate that content via discussions, posts, sharing, chatting, libraries, collections and so on and so forth. Otherwise, the risk of fail gets really high: the social network will not attract the users and will not create the platform of pleasant communication.
— Most users of social networks are people who are not highly-tech. They don’t easily switch to updates and don’t read the sophisticated designer solutions beyond what they see.
— The power of habit in this case is often stronger than the wish of revolution. Nowadays most people using internet are acquainted to one or several social networks so they have a kind of general understanding on basic functions and possible transitions. Certainly, just copying the existing social network scheme and functionality will not produce original product; however, going too far from the common image of social networking features and creating something revolutionary new can confuse users. Keeping the balance on this thin line between habit and innovation is one of the vital tasks the designer will have to work out.
— Most users (if not all) are not ready to spend a lot of their time to learn how the social network works. Even if they have time, they would rather spend it on doing something interesting and engaging in the network instead of working out how it functions.
— Social network should provide useful functions and make user aware of them. Nobody now needs the social network just for pure communication – it should give more to be attractive. Creating additional features and adding useful integrations id the good way to attract the target audience.
Remembering and considering the mentioned positions helps the designer to make a successful user research and build efficient user stories and flows so that the social network provided positive user experience and was able not only to attract users but also retain them and group them around convenient and useful platform.
Solutions for efficient UX
Some of the general solutions that could be a kind of basis for the designer working on UX for a social network, we think, are the following:
1. Easy and simple registration with minimal number of steps needed to be done. It is advisable at the very beginning stage to provide a kind of simple, catchy and entertaining tutorial or presentation of the basic advantages, engaging the user, but not overloading with too much information.
2. Account should be easy to get filled in and should provide several modes of openness to others. The user should be sure that he or she is able to keep low profile or close the data for strangers any time when it is wanted.
3. Optimized and well thought-out search with clear system of filters is one of the basic factors to create positive user experience.
4. Functionality of generating and sharing content should be clear and make the process fast.
GIF for the ECHO App by Sergey Valiukh
5. Feed page or screen which provides to see the updates in the network easily, set wanted data or users visible and giving the ability to move directly to different functional zones of the network should be carefully designed.
6. It’s important to enable user categorize the content according to different nature, popularity or other characteristics.
7. Direct communication features such as discussions and chatting should be visible, clear and available from any point of using the network.
8. Opportunities for engaging other users, creating groups, lists, clubs, communities, public pages and discussions become the efficient basis for making the network really social. The good way to ease using them for user is the feature of automatic grouping along the content or other characteristics and manual (personal) grouping, created by the user.
9. As social networks are always full of different information and usually filled with it dynamically, it is important to enable users to save or mark the content or people they want to remember or move out of the general flow.
10. Depending on the target audience, integrations, games, special functions or tight connection with other networks can become the factor of making user experience positive and increasing the level of usability.
Certainly, the points mentioned above are generalized and they should be carefully revised according to the specific design task. Thorough research of the defined target audience, understanding target users’ needs and pains will help to think over the mentioned positions in perspective of efficient UX, which will outline some of the points as the most important factors while the others will stay behind the scene in the specific conditions.
No doubt, this list is going to be continued in our next posts where we will tell more about UX and UI design for social networking sites and services.