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December 3, 2015

Using Design and UX to Combat Competitors

Editor’s note: Businesses compete with each other on many levels, but how important is the design of a product compared with its functionality in terms of growing a customer base? Here, app designer Stefan Hiienurm explains how companies can differentiate themselves using design and user experience (UX). 

We recently redesigned a communication app’s Web browser, iPhone and Android apps and logo for a more engaging and emotional look and feel. It had 50 percent of the functionality it needed, but it was missing the feeling and emotion of the product.

When people communicate with each other, they want to feel the same emotions as in real life. For this reason we changed the primary brand colour from the hospital green to a warm blue. We also added more secondary colours so that it was no longer monochromatic.

After getting acquainted with the product, I started to lay down the main User Interface (UI) framework, which is a fundamental part of the UI design. Defining core elements and styles at the outset, and sticking to them, helped to keep the design principles consistent across all the platforms throughout the redesign process.

Power of design

A great design as well as a great product is important as companies such as Google and Tesla show. It is important that the software performance is high and the design is easy to use. You can’t build a product without great design and vice versa.

For example, you wouldn’t wear something on your wrist if it didn’t look nice and you wouldn’t use it if it didn’t work. I am a huge fan of Jawbone, which tracks your sleep, activity, food intake and also makes suggestions based on the data collected. The interface is nicely refined so that it feels like a personal thing.

There is a huge amount of wearables that have the design right, but not the functionality or vice versa. It may be a small aspect of the product, but if it isn’t quite right then it won’t be used. We all need to eat food, but if it doesn’t look appetising or doesn’t taste nice, we are less likely to eat it.

UX and recommendation

A few years ago, people shared everything on Facebook. Now, people are more considerate about what they share on social media and in real life, which makes getting a recommendation even more powerful. When people see a great design and the product is easy to use then that creates the emotion, and like after discovering a great new restaurant, they want to tell their friends.

With product design I have an endless list of things we want to make better. The hard part is prioritizing the list to ensure the greatest impact. Sometimes this doesn’t come from just one thing but from 10 things combined together.

The small things we change to a design get to the users and they do have a big impact. On the messaging app we are working on, we have updated the sidebar for the Mac Web application and played around with the conversation bubbles as well as the colour and the conversation active bar.

We quickly receive feedback from users if it is working well — or not. It may not seem like much has changed, but people notice small changes to the text and fonts and the size of the conversation box as it makes it feel more readable.

Differentiating your product

The designer’s job is to ask questions and visualise the ideas and suggestions for the look and design of the project. I work through each step to create a great user experience – from concepts to execution.

The way you design and make a product usable is the key part that differentiates you from other products and makes it memorable to the customer. Adding small things and designing them well will ensure people come back and recommend you to others.


Stefan Hiienurm is lead product designer and co-founder of Thorgate and lead designer for the Fleep messaging app