Designing Engaging User Experiences

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Designing engaging user experiences (UX) has become paramount for any business. The success of websites, applications, or any software product is deeply intertwined with how users interact with and feel about them. The right UX can make the difference between a product’s success or its downfall. In this article, we explore effective strategies for designing user experience. 

Beyond the Numbers

I have been with Agoda for over six years, and I’ve worked on initiatives that span both consumer and supply-focused products. In the last two years, I have led the design of our design system. Working in a data-driven culture, it’s easy to get stuck in the numbers, and I often encourage my team to look beyond the minimum viable product (MVP). We strive to design experiences that we’d be proud to demonstrate outside of our immediate team or even outside the company. This approach fosters a culture where we strive for the highest standard – design that hits the mark for the business and creates intuitive and engaging user experiences.

Understanding User Needs 

Leading the design system, our primary users are other designers and developers at Agoda. Our goal is for them to be able to design and ship better products faster. My job is to figure out how we can best deliver on that mission. To understand their needs, we use a dedicated questions channel for immediate feedback, which helps us identify and address common pain points. Additionally, we track every merge request to spot when our system is not being used. This helps us understand where we fall short. For example, we might be missing something, or the developer was not aware that we already had it. These insights can help us improve how we communicate and educate our stakeholders. We also encourage all Agoda employees to suggest additions or changes, which helps us capture a broad range of user needs and integrate them into our system. It’s crucial to recognize that what the user says and what they actually need are not always the same. When designing a foundational system, we conduct a thorough root-cause analysis to ensure we’re solving the right problem, not just patching things on the surface. This approach often opens the door to solving other related problems as well. 

Role of Accessibility 

My commitment to accessibility began in 2016 when I had to design a fully accessible web product. Back then, no one was talking about accessibility, we barely knew what it was. This experience highlighted the importance of accessibility, revealing that challenges often stem from a lack of knowledge rather than negligence. As designers, we are the first line of defense in ensuring accessible products, so education is key. At Agoda, we prioritize education on accessibility; we provide our teams with resources to ensure our designs meet high standards of accessibility, demonstrating our value of doing things the right way.

Recently, I worked on a project to make our colors accessible at Agoda. By changing our colors at a foundational level, we have the opportunity to impact how all product teams at Agoda work with colors that are accessible by default. I did a deep dive into all aspects of colors for a few months to learn about color models, gamut, terminology, and accessibility guidelines. I discovered that the current WCAG contrast ratios have big flaws in how they measure legibility. New methods to measure contrast are underway and will likely become best practices within a few years. With this knowledge, I was able to create a color palette that met both current and future standards. This effort is a clear manifestation of our dedication to inclusivity and responsibility, upholding our commitment to create products that are accessible to all users.

Tools and Technologies

We are very intentional in what tools we use and how we use them to engage with our user base. By integrating our workflows with platforms like Figma, Slack, Jira, and Gitlab, we meet our users where they are most active. For example, our new AI integration in Slack automatically scans and summarizes our documentation to answer questions instantly. If needed, a team member will step in and help. This aligns well with Agoda’s value of being efficient and moving fast.

Regarding technologies, I am particularly excited about the potential of generative AI to transform our work processes. By automating low-value tasks, AI will allow our team to focus on bigger design challenges. For example – our system is a set of rules, guidelines, and artifacts. That’s the perfect input for an AI to analyze and output the next necessary artifacts. Then, analyze if these hold up against accessibility best practices, write the code for all our platforms, perform QA on that code and write the documentation. 

Challenges and Solutions 

As a platform team catering to many, we constantly face tough trade-offs. The more flexibility we provide in our tools, the harder they become to use and the higher the risk of mistakes. Finding a good balance is something we’ve been striving to achieve since I joined the team two years ago. 

Identifying edge cases and all potential use cases is challenging. Even when we do identify them, it’s hard to decide to what extent we should investigate, design, and build support for those use cases. We always have to consider the opportunity cost of addressing these issues versus all the other things we want to build. 

Incorporating Feedback

At Agoda, incorporating user feedback is integral to our design process. From the requirement stage through to the completion of the design, we engage users continuously. This approach helps us ensure that our designs effectively meet user needs and enhance the overall experience.

We dedicate a significant portion of our time to addressing requests and feedback from users. Through topical Slack channels, our teams can discuss specific components or artifacts of our design system in detail, allowing for dynamic and real-time input. Quick polls and collaborative discussions help us gauge the best solutions, and I often bring crucial design decisions to other design leads within the organization to ensure alignment and share best practices.

Trends and Innovations 

Accessibility has been a trend for a while now, and I hope it continues. My goal is for designers to develop deeper skills in this area, beyond just color contrast and basic accessibility concepts. Hopefully, stricter regulations around the world will support this trend. 

In addition to accessibility, I am keenly interested in the evolution of design systems and how they can further enhance both quality and speed in the development process. Being part of the very active design systems community, there are tons of insights I can bring back to Agoda to help inform how we can take our system to the next level.

Advice for Aspiring Designers

There are a couple of things that I value in designers with high potential. Curiosity and passion for the craft, for example. Our industry is moving at a very fast pace, so these qualities help us keep up and stay relevant. I enjoy working with people with a “can do” mindset. It’s about allowing yourself to ignore the obstacles for a second and assume it will work, then backtrack and figure out how to get there. 

 As a product designer at Agoda, your main job is to solve problems – so we want to understand how you do that. If you find yourself presenting your work to us in an interview, think carefully about how you frame your work:

  • What problem were you trying to solve?
  • Why was that the right problem?
  • How did you know it was a problem?
  • How did you solve it?
  • How do you know that it solved the problem?
  • How would you measure it?
  • What would you do differently next time?

We are aware that most projects take unexpected turns and don’t have the ideal timeframe or circumstances. Set the expectations by being honest about this and tell us how you did the most with what you had!

About the Author

Alexander Fanden is a Lead Product Designer at Agoda.

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