Automate Your User Experience

As a User Experience Designer, I help design tools for a living.

I work among folks with an eye for user-centric design principles, affordances, and user research. Even though we work in this industry, it’s not uncommon to hear or voice complaints about the tools and software we use… with no effort to fix it. “I wish that X worked a little more like Y” or “why can’t I get straight to Z functionality without all these menus?”

While you can’t change everything about the software you use, you can certainly tweak and hack your way to a better experience. You can employ user experience principles on your own digital toolset… making you designer, stakeholder, and user all in one! It’s terribly fun, but then again… I love making tools.

The key phrase here is automation. Automation is the gateway to improving your own work experience through applying UX principles on your own tools… or even creating a brand new tool. Automation can allow you to connect the scattered parts of the different tools in your life to allow for a better, more personalized experience.

Tools

There’s so much to say here, but here are some places to start looking:

iOS Shortcuts

The best thing to start automating is the device you use the most… the dopamine addiction factory powerful computer in your pocket.

One function: I like using Shortcuts to get deep into an app to accomplish the one task that I opened the app to do. Strava for instance, has inboxes, news feeds, addictive comments and likes… but I only need to open it to “go run.” I’ve basically replaced Strava with an iOS Shortcut that starts a run, and I find myself on the trail faster by bypassing the gameification and social aspects.

Chaining: Another great use of iOS Shortcuts is to tie together common workflows. When I’m away from home and I get in the car, 90% of the time I text my wife to let her know when I’ll be home, open Google Maps directions just to get the traffic avoidance, and start a podcast with my AirPods connected. Now that’s just one button on my phone.

Airtable

Airtable is a very cool tool. Think of it as a super spreadsheet app with many connections and automatable hooks, and the ability to view your spreadsheet in different forms and views. @sirupsen has already written the quintessential article on this, so I’ll just quote him.

While you may have the ambition to turn your idea into a full-blown app, that takes hours, days or weeks. Creating an Airtable for your first prototype to get intimate with the data and get something out there takes minutes. Some systems just don’t deserve the time investment of a full-blown app up front. Worse, good ideas never get started because the upfront cost is high. That’s why today any personal system I build starts as an Airtable. I follow this 4-phase system when prototyping with Airtable, starting with the Minimum Viable Airtable:

Airtable in particular works really well as a custom database to prototype something you wished existed for storing and relating data.

IFTTT/Zapier

If This, Then That and Zapier are to the web what iOS Shortcuts is to your iPhone. If you kind of wished that every post you made to Instagram was automatically saved to a Dropbox folder, or every workout was automatically inserted into a Google Docs spreadsheet, these are the tools for you. IFTTT isn’t as powerful as Zapier, but is often a good starting point for most folks.

Look Behind You

One way to teach yourself to find these opportunities is to look backward through your day… what did you do? Do you do that every time? Is there a checklist of tasks that you do the same way every time that needs to be consistent? Is there something that’s particularly tedious? If you are a UX practitioner… these are a sort of desire path. We can optimize our own workflows using the principles we use in our day jobs.

I was a “programmer” for years before I started thinking this way.

Nowadays, my automation tag is filled with these realizations: newsletters, working out, moving files to new folders, moving windows on screen… the list goes on.


Other Resources

How to Build Your Idea Into an MVP and Fake it Into Reality | Capiche

Start by thinking through your app idea. Sketch out how a basic version would work. What data would you need to store, how would it be entered, and what would be the best way to display and organize the data? Do you need to do anything with the data once you have it?

Then think through what tools would be needed. You could start with a form app to collect data, and a spreadsheet or database to store the data. Built-in integrations or a tool like Zapier or IFTTT could connect the two. Or, you could use a tool like Airtable or Zoho Creator that includes forms and a database in one.

Then, what do you want to do with the data? With Google Sheets, say, you could embed a filtered spreadsheet into a website for an easy way to share the data. Or in Airtable, you could build kanban boards, calendars, and organized lists of the data. If you want to do more than just show it off, integration tools could come to the rescue again. Connect your spreadsheet or database to Twilio, say, to send SMS messages, or to Gmail and MailChimp to send emails. Treat apps like LEGO and pull them together, and you can bring your idea to life in an app built from apps.

How to Build Your Idea Into an MVP and Fake it Into Reality | Capiche

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