UXperts Weigh In: Designs We Love, July Edition

July’s UXperts include Emma van Niekerk, Megan Schwarz, Doug Collins, and Danielle Klein.

Hello summer! This month our UXperts turn to user experiences that make their lives cool as a cucumber — from booking getaways, to hiking America’s great trails, to connecting with colleagues across the globe. What emerges is a theme of knowing thy user. These UXperts agree that understanding the needs and wants of a user creates seamless, natural experiences that people love to tell their friends about.

Whether you’re planning to be the next Cheryl Strayed by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or you’re just looking to read the essential news as you commute into work, July’s app-based choices remind us that the trick to user experiences that stick is knowing what your users need, when they need it.

Doug Collins, UX engineer at E*TRADE

Pick: Hiking Project

Doug Collins.****

I love to hike, but I hate hiking apps. Too often, excess functionality and data combine in a poor UX that makes finding and exploring new trails more grueling than the hike itself. Inexplicably, most hiking apps suffer the most when taken offline. When access to cloud data disappears, their functionality goes with it.

Enter Hiking Project, made by REI Co-op. From Andorra to Vietnam — and everywhere in between — Hiking Project has information on a staggering 38,936 trails, totaling 147,881 miles of trails all over the world.

A bottom-focused UI that is clean, clear, and intuitive is a big win for Hiking Project. More impressive than its layout, however, is the offline user testing that clearly went into its production.

Put simply, Hiking Project shines when offline, conquering the most frustrating problems hikers experience with their apps. Download an area before a trip (a quick process completed in mere seconds for the more than 8,000 miles of Colorado trails I use it with) and nearly all functionality is still available, in the same format and location as before. Trail and altitude maps, GPS, trail names, reviews, difficulty ratings, trail run notes, to-do, and previous check-ins all function flawlessly — a huge win that makes Hiking Project a must-have app for today’s hiker.

Danielle Klein, product designer

Pick: Quartz

Danielle Klein.

I have a soft spot for user experiences that explicitly end. When it comes to news in particular, Twitter and other endlessly scrolling websites can have you scanning headlines and hot takes all day long without realizing it.

The traditional design of newspapers and magazines is a breath of fresh air by comparison, featuring a last page and a pause to process until the next issue comes out.

That’s why my pick is the Quartz news app. The app uses a simple conversational UI to provide an opinionated curation of the news, aggregating not only the most important stories of the day, but also the most interesting investigations, scientific studies, and opinions. Its voice is clear and playful, punctuating content with emojis, images, and pithy commentary.

And if being a chatbot wasn’t trendy enough, they also leverage augmented reality to supplement stories with 3D objects, like a model of the Berlin Wall that casually manifested itself next to the whiteboard in my pod at work.

What I love most about this experience, though, is its ending. Stories are delivered in batches three times a day (morning, afternoon, and evening). Once you’ve gone through them all, Quartz writes, “You’re all caught up! Check back later,” always accompanied by a humorous or calming gif. It’s a great example of human-centered design that’s respectful of your time, giving you just what you need to know — nothing less, nothing more.

Megan Schwarz, lead UX designer at Thomson Reuters

Pick: Capital One app

Megan Schwarz.

I’ve been a Capital One customer for some time now, and I continue to be impressed with the entire end-to-end digital experience it offers. The app seems in tune with its users’ needs and the context in which they might be accessing their banking information using various platforms. The team has prioritized a self-service model, constantly finding new ways to reduce the reasons for their users to need to access a customer service representative.

For example, when the user books a trip using their Capital One card, the app automatically logs that trip so the user no longer has to call to inform the company that they will be using their card in that country. If Capital One does need to verify a purchase, the app texts and/or emails the user immediately so that they can confirm right then and there with minimal interruptions. Also, using the mobile app to sign-up for purchase notifications allows the user to monitor their card without ever even having to log in to their account.

I am also continually impressed with the consistency Capital One has been able to maintain across platforms, both from a branding perspective, and in the features available. The company builds a sense of trust with its customers simply by being recognizable and reliable in a fundamental way.

Emma van Niekerk, product designer

Pick: Figure it Out Chrome extension

Emma van Niekerk.

Anyone who’s worked with distributed teams is familiar with the nightmare of scheduling meetings across different time zones, especially when the seasons shift. Why is it that daylight saving time takes effect on different days for various countries anyway? Yes, Google Calendar supports a secondary time zone, but I deal with attendees spread across more than two time zones. That’s why I love this Chrome extension.

The odd name aside, the tool is incredibly simple and to the point. It turns every new tab into a rainbow banner of customizable time zones, displaying current time (either a.m./p.m. or 24-hour format), date, and location. It also includes time zone abbreviations and the number of hours ahead or behind your “home zone.” I live in my browser and find it convenient to check the current times of my teams (and distant family) by opening a new tab. Even better, I can scroll forward or backward in time to see what time it will be across all zones when it’s 8 a.m. next Wednesday, for example. It also alerts me to national holidays for each time zone, so I don’t schedule my Dublin folks on a bank holiday.

The initial color scheme is pleasant enough and becomes quite delightful when you scroll up or down on any time zone to move forward or backward in time. The color smoothly shifts between hues, representing the hour of the day in a given zone. Noon is a clear yellow while late night moves through a spectrum of deep purple. This is a simple, focused utility that solves a real problem for me in a beautiful way and in a convenient location.

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