All of us have used that ‘ONE’ SaaS platform that seemed promising while we were walking through its demo. We envisioned all of the amazing things we could do with it; how it would help us reduce our turnaround time, increase our efficiency, and reduce our costs.
I am sure you got lost in its sea of features after you started using it. You were fumbling around trying to perform even the most basic tasks. Everything seemed like hard work – until you quit and/or switched to another SaaS platform.
Retaining users is one of the biggest challenges for SaaS platforms. To capture newer market segments and keep their user base happy – oftentimes these applications tend to get overcrowded with a large number of features. This makes their application a ‘One size fits all solution’ – the Frankenstein’s monster of SaaS platforms.
To prevent this, the user experience of the core users has to rank at the top of the priorities list when designing such a platform. I agree that it is crucial to cater to the needs of power users, fulfill minor requirements and satisfy edge cases of the user base; but while doing so, we should not jeopardize the core experience of the majority of users.
Avoiding overload when designing for a SaaS platform:
Every time I try to design a SaaS platform, while not losing sight of the primary users’ priorities, an analogy shared by my mentor always comes to my rescue. It’s a little unconventional, but it really drives the point home better than my prattling of design terms would.
Seasons change, and moving from winter to summer brings a change in our clothing styles and requirements. So more often than not, we all tend to reorganize our closets with light and breezy summer clothes. And, we move our warm winter clothes into the attic or boxes. After putting in all the best bright summer clothes into our closet, we hear on the weather news that a freak snowstorm is coming our way… Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice but to unpack our winter clothes and use them until the storm passes.
However, I am sure you will agree that in anticipation of unforeseen snowstorms we don’t overcrowd our closets with winter clothes all the time, but would much rather bring them out as and when needed.
This analogy directly relates to SaaS platforms – the closet is the core of your SaaS platform, your summer clothes are your core user features, and your winter clothes are the features to deal with edge cases and power users.
By trying to make sure no one is left out, many SaaS platforms tend to blur the lines between the core experience and the edge cases (what belongs in the attic and what belongs in the closet).
Without realizing it, they overload their users with options and information. This causes their users to be flooded with many options, leading to cognitive overload. This makes it hard for the user to even perform the simplest tasks on the application. Moreover, they need to assess and analyze every option to understand what it does before taking any action. The result is a poor user experience and a decrease in retention rates. This also in turn increases the training time needed to onboard users onto the platform.
Instead, if the SaaS platform was designed to offer a world-class user experience while accomplishing its core tasks (even if that means some of the edge cases require a few more steps to do); the user base would be much happier. This is because their most frequent actions can be done with ease.
Here are 6 design strategies that have always worked for me when designing a SaaS platform.
1. Prioritize the user groups and use cases
During the research phase of the project make sure to understand who your users are. Which users are the main priority of the application and which users are not? Understanding your core customers’ capabilities and limitations at an early stage will act as a rudder to guide your platform’s design in the right direction.
2. Identify the core use cases
This point ties in with the first one very closely. Once the major user groups have been identified, it then becomes very crucial to identify all the major tasks and goals that these users want to achieve when using your SaaS platform. Having an immovable set of core use cases will give you a yardstick to measure resource requirements for each element of your platform’s design.
3. Know the mental model of your users
A mental model is a person’s intuitive knowledge of how they perceive something should work. Users who are used to specific patterns in other sites or platforms can easily leverage their knowledge to limit how much learning they need to do in your application. This will greatly increase the ease of use of your platform, given that the right patterns are used in the right places.
4. Make it simple
Aiming for simplicity in the user interface and content is easier said than done. Make sure that your users can understand what they need to do to accomplish their core tasks; without having to wade through a lot of support content and training material.
5. Contextualize user’s experience
Within any feature aim to provide personalized and contextual content and actions to the user. Make sure that the contextual content doesn’t just add clutter, but actually provides value. This can be done by taking a step back and looking at the big picture. Additionally, linking commonly used tasks in a workflow that efficiently allows them to do their work is appreciated by the users.
6. Declutter the interface
In terms of the interface and visuals make sure to not use five fonts and 28 colors that are trying to ‘wow’ the user. Instead, use a consistent visual style to make sure that your users are focused on their tasks. Your platform will simply act as a subtle but effective aide in helping out the users carry out their tasks in an efficient way.
Being able to strike the right balance between a SaaS platform’s visual interface and its ease of use can be a challenging task. But by using the above pointers as a guide, we will be setting ourselves up for success from very early on in the design process. In the end, if there is one thing you leave with from this article, I want it to be this: Edge cases don’t break a product – the core user experience does.