How to measure User Experience to boost your business success

Quite often, user satisfaction and business success are understood as opposite poles of the same axis. You either please your users by working on aesthetic functionalities, or you focus on business driven initiatives. In too many planning sessions, the need to serve the user is overly expressed, as if there was a hidden fight for priorities: You either make money, or you make the users happy. If the sentence “We can not afford to focus on UX, we are not even profitable” sounds familiar to you, then there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of why businesses are successful: They build services people enjoy, keep using and recommend to others. Great user experience is the key foundation of long lasting business success. UX and business go hand in hand. Still, too many UX professionals have to fight for a seat at the business table, and many won’t be invited. Why is that?

To be fair, UX professionals often speak a defensive and protective language towards business driven initiatives that try to boost conversion and retention beyond organic levels. Also, the positive business impact of great UX is hard to measure. If you want to influence at top level, you can not just be an expert in end users, but you need to understand the business. You need to articulate the user needs as business opportunities. That is when UX gets a voice.

As a UX professional, you are an agent of change. You are the strange one, because you see the company through the eyes of the customers, while management looks at the company through the eyes of revenue and growth. Don’t expect that they connect with you. You need to connect to them. Articulate UX in the language of business. Explain how UX drives profit, revenue and differentiation. Overall, great UX leads to success.

Source

How do you know you are doing well as a product? You are most certainly looking at a list of established indicators: Page views, Clicks, Uplift, Latency, Active Users, Revenue. The combination of these numbers create a story of success. These key metrics are established and well understood. And they a very good indicators for success. You must look at them. But they only show a fraction of what your users do in your product.

A user-centered approach to measuring performance

Business metrics alone can not explain user behavior well enough to shape future directions and make use of your potential. In addition to traditional business metrics, you should implement user-centered metrics for your product to serve company goals. In order to understand success and failure, you must understand what users do.

When business metrics are poorly chosen or optimized, it can lead to poor product decisions. I want to give you an example:

While the top line of active user metrics over time looks great and shows growth, but if you look closer, we see that we are not growing as fast as we could because we are losing existing users. So we do have something to do to keep these users from churning. So we must look into reasons why users are leaving the product and figure out if there is ways we can tackle that. While the top-line business metrics would not drive action, because everything looks good, well defined UX metrics can lead to deeper investigation of user behavior and boost overall business performance.

UX metrics are defined based on underlying business criteria. You will need two key concepts for each activity to define UX metrics:
Goal: How do you want users to engage with your product/service?
Signal: What changes in user behavior or opinion would indicate goal success?

The goal defines how we expect users to behave in order to be successful as a business. As a second step, we define the signal that indicates that we are going well. These goals and signals must be defined for every new feature and product part. There is a famous framework originally introduced by Google, called HEART. It defines fives aspects of measuring UX:

Happiness = Users enjoy/delight in using your product
Engagement = Users interact deeply and broadly with your product
Adoption = Users discover and try your product
Retention = Users keep coming back to your product
Task success = Users can complete tasks effortlessly

You can define each of these five aspects as your goals for great UX. Now what you need to do is define signals that measure how you are doing. These could be survey results, ratio of purchase and refund, feature mentions in the store ratings, feature usage, time spent, session length including an activity, results of usability testings or other applicable measures.

Let us imagine we run an online shop for sunglasses and our UX team just finished a new feature that allows customers to virtually try on our products by using their webcam and face recognition technology (a virtual mirror). We have a live version A without the feature and a version B including the feature. Our goal is to show that the improved user experience will actually lead to business success. Unfortunately, as we can see on the revenue plot, the impact of the feature was not measurable and you could argue it was a waste of time, energy and effort. From a business perspective, we should have spent our resources differently, because the implementation did not make any difference. Your feature did not boost business performance.

But that is not the full picture. Together with User Research and Data professionals, you started implementing UX success metrics and you have additional information you can look into. Let’s look at the numbers.

Happiness
Your goal is that customers enjoy using the website. Your signal is an NPS survey that is triggered whenever a person in on the website for more than 20 seconds. You can see that the happiness of your version B (including the digital mirror) was a lot lower. After a round of user interviews, you understood the reason: When a customer visited the landing page of the web shop, the browser immediately asked for permission to access the computer webcam, not only when the digital mirror would open later in the process. Customers had no idea why this website needed such sensitive access, declined and they were confused and unsatisfied. During feature implementation you did not anticipate the effect it would have on users when an online shop requests access to the webcam. The measure of happiness during the A/B testing phase made it visible to you that something is wrong, giving you the opportunity to improve the situation and unlock further potential.

Task success
Your goal is that customers put a pair of sunglasses in their cart after trying them on in the digital mirror. Your signal is the share of completed checkouts per visitor. Also here you see that version B is a failure. Less people complete their purchases than on the website without the digital mirror. What you learned after further investigation is whenever a customer selected a pair of glasses, the digital mirror would automatically open and often present a black screen (no permission to open the webcam), leading to further confusion, lower exploration, lower completion rate and therefore fewer customers who completed the purchase.

Considering the flaws of the product, how can it be that version B still generated as much revenue as version A without the digital mirror? It turns out, the digital mirror was a massive revenue driver when users gave access to the webcam on the landing page. The feature was amazing. People loved it. In a user survey you learned that those who used the digital mirror said it gave them a lot more confidence in their purchase decision. They trusted the representation of their faces with the sunglasses so much that the average cart value significantly increased. The only problem was: Not enough people had a positive experience yet.

While you know this initial version of your feature did not boost overall revenue because it scared off too many people, you know what to do to unlock your feature potential. You measured your UX on different levels and you know how people behave within your product. If you manage to fix the issues you identified and improve the experience, you can be sure that revenue will increase thanks to the improvements in user experience. Becoming aware of unused potential is the essence of implementing UX success metrics.

Measure the negative funnel to unlock business potential

With the example above I wanted to illustrate the power of UX success metrics: They force you to deal with flaws and weaknesses. It makes them more obvious. A common way of measuring success is completion rate, adoption rate, retention rate, all of which are positive funnel metrics. You measure what share of customers does something. But to fully unlock your potential, you must not only understand how many people do something, but also why the others don’t. Implementing UX success metrics forces you to deal with flaws in your funnel, issues in your products, unused potential in your implementation. It forces you to think about how the users behave, to look at data from different angles, to investigate issues you did not even consider. It gives you a more realistic measure of success, beyond the traditional business metrics. And when things go well, they allow you to link business success to improvements in UX. You will be able to show how incremental improvements in your experience can positively impact the top line business metrics of your company.

Routine building with system wide meta-layers

In my last article, I was making the point that setting goals is overvalued and does not by itself lead to behavioral change. Instead, the system needs to move in order to enable a person to achieve goals in the long term. Defining the goal to finish a marathon in 2021 is fair enough, but actually changing your routine and daily structure to free time for long hours of running training, and then actually putting your shoes on and moving your body out of the house, over and over again – that is the hard part. The goal is to allow for as little thinking and consideration between yourself and the action, as possible. In Atomic Habits, James Clear explains the Law of Least Effort:

Energy is precious, and the brain is wired to conserve it whenever possible. It is human nature to follow the Law of Least Effort, which states that when deciding between two similar options, people will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.

James Clear, Atomic Habits.

So even once you defined your goal to run a marathon, and you set your alarm clock very early to have time for a run, you will still find reasons not to do it. Therefore, you need to “optimize your environment to make actions easier”. If you imagine a perfect environment, no friction would exist between your brain and your action. How can technology support us in automizing good behavior and establishing positive routines which help us improve our health, wealth and happiness?

Automation obstacles

By definition, automation is what computers are built for. Based on an input, computers can execute predefined operations and generate an output. By defining parameters under which circumstances an operation shall be run, we can automize the generation of outputs.

Now, it turns out this very fundamental idea of computing technology has not yet reached the everyday consumer on mobile devices, when it comes to routine building. Today, it is almost impossible to define complex automations in order to establish routines. Let me explain:

I want to establish the following Monday to Friday morning routine:
Wake up at 6:45am. Do a 20 minutes meditation with Headspace. Afterwards listen to the latest episode of The Daily. Both of these shall play on my Sonos speaker in my bedroom. Afterwards I want to get up and start a 20 minutes workout based on a specific YouTube video from Fraser Wilson on my living room TV.

In order to execute this list of actions, multiple interactions with my phone and other devices will be necessary. In the meantime, while interacting with my phone with good intention and aiming for actions that will benefit my health and wellbeing, I will see the messages I received during the night, my calendar app might have informed me about an upcoming event, and ultimately I am just one click away from apps that are a lot more fun to spend time it. Twitter is just one tap away and all my goals will be forgotten. Following the Least Effort Effect, this is the critical moment I need to overcome. But what if I never had to touch my phone in the first place, not open any app, do nothing that would distract me from establishing my routine?

I want to automize this entire morning routine I described above. I want to set it up once and without touching my phone, the entire routine shall run based on the parameters I defined:

Today, neither Apple’s Siri Shortcuts not Google Home allow for routine automation on such deep level. Or better: The particular applications do not. Every app can define what information can be read or written using either of these services. You can create a shortcut that allows you to quickly add a task within Todoist, to send a message to your family within WhatsApp or check your favorite team’s upcoming match on OneFootball. But the opportunities that come with this today are quite limited. Getting back to my example above: Neither Headspace, Overcast nor YouTube support any kind of shortcut.

System wide automation meta-layer

The most obvious solution would be using the phone directly to open the individual app, find the episode you are looking for and start playing, but as described: It creates that amount of friction, potentially distraction and puts the phone too close to your hand. Instead, I can imagine a system wide automation mid-layer that actively promotes the creation of routines.

I recently read an inspiring article from Julian Lehr about A meta-layer for notes, which I really enjoyed. Julian argues that we need “a spatial meta layer for notes on the OS-level that lives across all apps and workflows”. Thinking in a similar direction, I would love to see a meta layer that allows users to pick any possible action from any app and integrate it into an automized routine. While Julian focusses on input (taking notes, quick reminders), I want to focus on output (audio and video formats) to allow for content consumption without device interaction.

In order to become independent from app specific design decisions, this meta-layer would act on top of app UX, a bit like the native sharing panel that comes with iOS and Android. The user can select from any media apps and defines either a specific episode, always the latest available episode or other rules to the automation. Within the automation settings, you can specify an output device such as phone, Wifi speaker or TV. Once defined, the routine starts automatically at the given time.

Smart home for media content

In the world of smart home, people are able to automize their light, home security and temperature based on location, time and date. What about media consumption to allow for healthier habits? Today, wellbeing settings are a bit messy. You can block certain apps after certain hours of usage, but these rules work outside the Shortcuts environment. Turning off Wifi right after the latest episode of your sleeping podcast started playing? Turning the lights to wake-up mode as soon as the morning meditation starts? Activating notifications only after the end of the morning workout? If Apple and Google forced developers to give access to all possible interactions within their products, users had an entire new field to play with and create automations that match their specific goals, routines and habits. Because if you want to achieve your goals, you need to create strong routines. It is the job of technology to support us on that path, not distract us from it.

Goals don’t matter. Aim for routines.

It’s that time of the year again. It’s goal setting time. A new year will start soon, and that is a good chance for many people to set new goals and change their habits.

The problem with goal setting is: They never work. Setting a goal will not lead to behavioral change, because it does not include a strategy for how to achieve that goal. I want to walk 10’000 steps per day is a great goal, but most people will forget about it after a few weeks. They just don’t manage to build a routine around the goal. Also quite often, goals are extrinsic: You want to lose weight because someone told you to? Not a good foundation for long lasting behavioral change.

If you really want to change your behavior, goals don’t matter. Because goals are a number of what defines success, a personal KPI. But not a path on how to get there. You are more likely to be successful if you have a plan, but no goal – than a goal, but no plan. Therefore: Don’t think about goals. Think about plans! Don’t think about what you want to achieve, but how you want to achieve it. Focus on action, not outcome.

Also, you will increase the chance for long lasting behavioral change if you make that change intrinsic. If your strategy becomes a part of you, a part of who you are and what defines you as a person, you will be more likely to succeed. Compare the two following answers to the same question:

Q: Do you want a cigarette?

A: No thanks, I don’t smoke.

A: No thanks, I am a non smoker.

While the first answer describes what you do, the second answer describes who you are, which is a lot more powerful. Redefine who you are in order to drive change.

And most importantly: Give each of your strategies time to breath during your busy schedule. Create routines. Every morning, every Tuesday, on the first day of the month: Define moments of action. When do you aim to execute? Block time. Don’t define goals. Define routines.

Of course also I spent the last days of the year to reflect on what went well and what did not. And especially: What activities had the biggest impact on my wellbeing. I learned so much about the importance of routines this year. And the danger of their absence. There are things I want to start doing, keep doing and stop doing.

This is my reflection on 2020, focussing on the top 4 things that had the biggest impact on my personal wellbeing: Meditation, Running, Diet and Fasting, as well as News Consumption.

Meditation

Status: Started doing in 2020. Stopped doing in 2020.

A friend of mine gifted me a Headspace account in December last year. For the first weeks, I did not miss a single day of meditation. I sat down, closed my eyes and followed the breathing and body scanning instructions of the app. 20 minutes per day, totally worth it. I felt more calm, the mind was clear, I got better at it. I really enjoyed the experience, but for some reason I never turned it into a routine. So I stopped doing it.

  • Learnings from 2020: I feel more calm and focussed when I meditate once per day. Still, I forgot about it because I never established a routine around meditation.
  • Plans for 2021: I will make meditation the first thing I do in the morning.
  • Tools involved: Headspace

Running

Status: Started doing in 2018. Continued doing ever since.

Running gives me so much energy and happiness that I don’t want to miss it in my life. For the third year in a row, I crossed the 1000km line in 2020. Also, I finished 13 half marathons this year. While running by myself gives me as much pleasure as running in a group, I still see that not just goals (>1000km per year), but also routines (running with a group every Tuesday 6:45am) helped me get out of bed. While goals can be delayed, routines can not. For 2021, I set three personal goals: run more than 1500km, finish one half marathon every calendar month and finish at least one full marathon. My routines will define whether I achieve them.

  • Learnings from 2020: Especially during cold, dark mornings, having a running date with others helps getting out of bed. I would have skipped multiple runs, if there had not been people waiting for me outside. Strava also helped getting that one run done before the end of a week, just to not have a 0km weekly distance visible for everyone.
  • Plans for 2021: I want to add more shorter runs (<7km) to my routine, make it a goal to find new routes and use the weekends for longer runs. Besides that, there is no need to change anything. I am happy with my running performance in 2020.
  • Tools involved: Strava

Diet and Fasting

Status: Started eating less animal products in 2019. Started intermittent fasting in 2020. Lost track.

My first wow moment in regards to diet and wellbeing was some time in 2019 when I discovered that I felt so much better by just not drinking milk. I removed milk (the liquid, not yet cheese) from my diet and my physical wellbeing skyrocketed. Since that moment, I focussed more on my personal causation between what I eat and how I feel. In 2020, I started intermittent fasting, following a Tim Ferriss interview with Dr. Peter Attia. This became a second wow moment. My sleep quality and energy level during the day increased significantly, while consuming less food.

  • Learnings from 2020: What I eat has a huge impact on how I feel. Realizing that gave me a great amount of control over my personal wellbeing.
  • Plans for 2021: I want to continue following the 16:8 intermittent fasting routine from Monday to Friday, while enjoying breakfasts during the weekends. Also, reducing the consumption of animal products to a minimum, while still enjoying life and not becoming religious about it.
  • Tools involved: Zero Fasting

News Consumption

Status: Set the goal to read less news in 2018. Failed ever since.

Staying up to date with world news makes me feel stressed and unhappy. As an educated human being I feel obliged to always be prepared for a conversation around politics, Covid and economics. In 2020, I became addicted to Donald Trump. I followed everything he said and did in real time. I hate myself for spending so much time with him. I read all his Tweets, and I read all reactions on his Tweets. It gives me zero value, I learn nothing substantial from it. And I forgot how to focus. I jumped back and forth from headline to headline, quickly scrolling through an article. By the end of the day, I remembered exactly nothing. 100% stress, 0% value. I need to change my behavior. I need to establish routines around media that gives me 100% value and 0% stress. I think, weekly news podcasts will be my thing next year. And maybe a weekly printed newspaper. My goal is to avoid digital news as much as possible.

  • Learnings from 2020: The internet is not my medium for news consumption. I need to accept that it’s OK to not be aware of everything the moment it happens. Learning about big news a few days later is not a problem. I need to establish routines that will turn news consumption into a pleasurable experience.
  • Plan for 2021: Listen to news podcasts, block news websites on the phone and laptop. I will purchase a printed newspaper whenever I feel like it.
  • Tools involved: Overcast

Of course there are more things I started, kept or stopped doing in 2020:

  • No phone in bed: My sleep quality increased after removing the phone from my bedroom and replacing it with a Kindle. I want to keep this routine.
  • Blinkist: I started listening to the Blink of the day as the first thing in the morning. But after a few boring episodes I quit. Probably I won’t get back into the routine.
  • Pushups: First thing after getting out of bed, HIT as many as possible, one round. I failed maintaining the routine, but want to get back to it.

Goals don’t matter. Routines do. 2021 will be my year of routines. Good luck and happy new year.

Lists are the solution to Twitter’s timeline mess.

What you will see on your Twitter timeline can be put into three boxes:

  • Original content, written by [person you follow]
  • Content by potentially random person, retweeted by [person you follow]
  • Content by potentially random person, liked by [person you follow]

Especially the third category can add a lot of messiness to your timeline, because people tend to like tweets which are not often part of the category of topics you followed the person for in the first place. Besides

  • Promoted content, written by [potentially random person],

Twitter adds even more vague categories of content in order to, I assume, boost engagement. Now you will also find a received a reply category in your timeline. And to be clear: I neither follow the person who wrote the original tweet, nor the person who wrote the answer:

  • Original content, written by [potentially random person], replied by [potentially random person].

The Twitter timeline looks less and less like the list of content I originally signed up for. I follow a group of people because I am interested in their thoughts, ideas and reflections. While these people might retweet content that they agree with or find interesting themselves, it gets even more vague the further you look into tweets people liked territory. From birthday wishes to promotions to random stuff: I have a hard time getting value out of this content. With the introduction of received a reply, Twitter adds even more random posts to my timeline which are further and further away from the content I originally signed up for.

Topics are not the answer

Twitter is aware of this issue and introduced Topics which users can follow in addition to people. Machine learning technology will find the most interesting content around a predefined topic and shows them to you both in a separate view, outside your regular timeline.

There are so many good conversations happening on Twitter, it may be hard to find what’s most relevant to you from time to time. […] we use machine learning to find related Tweets from these conversations. This could mean they Tweet a lot about the Topic or interact a lot with Tweets about the Topic. From there, we find the Tweets that are most interesting to those people, using algorithms, keywords, and additional signals.

“About Topics on Twitter” FAQ

Today, topics are not specific enough to be very useful. For example within the category of politics, there is only one single topic you can follow: 2020 US Presidential Election. The feature is limited, slow, rather US centric and it takes control away from the user, because all Topics are entirely defined and curated by Twitter herself. Still, Topics add a new way of using Twitter: You can follow general conversations around a larger topic. Topics will always be more general than conversations around very specific hashtags, but maybe people want to have quick access to what is currently going on in Veganism. For that, topics are great.

Leave the timetime, work with lists

Twitter offers a very interesting, yet underrepresented feature, that I see as the better solution to crowded timelines: Lists. Anyone can create a list, for example “coworkers from my company” just including people you work with. Or “Tech researchers” only containing the most interesting people from the industry you care about.

The great thing about lists is that they only contain original tweets and retweets, so compared to your main timeline, lists are a lot less messy. And while everyone can create lists, everyone can follow everyone’s lists. Dantley Davis, CDO of Twitter, follows 16 lists, created by very different people:

The main issue with lists on Twitter is the fact that you can not search them. There is no discovery experience anywhere to be found that allows me to follow a popular list of “epidemiologists” because that is what I care about. Topics are not a solution: I don’t want all the opinions from anyone around Covid, I want the latest posts from the people that are experts in the field. The only way to access lists today is by visiting a user profile and looking for the lists this person follows or created. And only then you will see if they even make use of the feature or not.

From a user experience perspective, Lists are comparable to Spotify playlists. As a user, when you want to listed to rock music without having a particular band in mind, a playlist is the answer. Spotify spends a lot of energy themselves into curating playlists for all kinds of moods and environments. But every Spotify user can create and curate playlists and every other user can follow. The number of followers will give you an idea about the quality of a playlist. The same thing could work with Lists.

If Twitter turned Lists into a central element of the user experience, the product as a whole would be a lot less confusing to new users. Just select the Topics you are interested in and subscribe to some Lists, and you get a predictable and understandable content structure. Today, Twitter is harder and harder to enjoy, while it has so much potential to be the one place for all interesting content out there.

Minimal Branding

There are these moments when someone sneaks up to you from behind and you know exactly who it is, just based on how the person’s walking sounds. The better we get to know a person, the fewer information we need to recognize someone.

And that’s the same with brands. The more we learn about brands, the more we see and hear about them, the fewer impulses we need to recognize them. McDonald’s launched a campaign this year that doesn’t contain any logo or brand name, and we still know who is talking to us. Already in 2011, Starbucks dropped its name from the logo, because the green image was powerful enough to recognize the brand.

Snack company Doritos launched a campaign in 2019 which did not mention the company name or logo once. Instead, the viewer learns “It’s the chip so iconic … we don’t need to name it”. The famous triangle shape as well as red and blue bags serve as anchors for recognition within the The Logo goes here campaign.

On their company website, Telekom makes clear how important their colours are for being recognized as a brand: “We are one of just a very few companies that are recognized internationally via their brand color. When the company was founded, we made a point of carefully selecting a magenta hue that would enable us to position ourselves“.

Fonts, shapes, color: If your brand is powerful enough, consumers need very few stimuli to recognize you. But how do these mechanisms translate into digital, especially app territory? If you build an app, you need to follow very strict guidelines, both by Apple and Google, to match their platform specific design guidelines. For the two major smartphone OS platforms, platform recognitions comes before your individual brand recognition. Apple states in their guidelines: “A consistent app implements familiar standards and paradigms by using system-provided interface elements, well-known icons, standard text styles, and uniform terminology. The app incorporates features and behaviors in ways people expect“. Google agrees: “Android users expect your app to look and behave in a way that’s consistent with the platform.

Branding in mobile UI

Colors are powerful, as we have seen with Telekom. But colors are hard to protect and competitors can use a color similar to yours. While Facebook and Twitter managed to find their unique kinds of blue, iMessage, Facebook Messenger and the recently relaunched LinkedIn blue are quite difficult to differentiate. I find the old LinkedIn blue more recognizable. On the other hand, you will also find some digital products which found their very own and recognizable brand color:

While all of the platforms above use their brand color on their app logos (besides iMessage, which is green, interestingly), you will have a hard time finding the brand colors within the products directly.

Most modern apps today are pretty clean and reduced. Over the years since the original launch of the AppStore in 2008, apps have strongly aligned on their look and feel. As a consequence, there is less space to bring your individual brand to life.

Most platforms that rely on user generated content, like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, have no influence on what the user will see on their platform. If the platform allows to share any image, link, video or text, there is not much the platform can do to make the content feel branded.

From a branding perspective, this comes with challenges: While they control the overall stream layout, they have no control over images or other visuals popping up in the users’ streams. YouTube has no impact on what video thumbnails their users will create. Twitter can not impact the look of the content being shared on their own platform. Therefore their brand needs to stay in the background and live outside the content. So brand colors exist as accent colors on logos, CTAs and info bubbles, not within the actual streams.

While UI aligns, branding hides in the details

When the content itself is not a place for branding, the space around the content could be. Instagram with its very colorful logo offers an app which is plain white. The app does not push their brand into your face, they let the content run the show. But here and there you find elements of minimal branding: In the rings around stories. When Instagram introduced stories, their UI solution was new and unique. For the first time, there was a new approach to access fresh, short content pieces outside the regular endless scrolling streams. The more people you follow, the harder it is to see everything that was posted and the more an algorithm tries to figure out what to push upwards.

Stories were different: You did not know what you would get, they used the entire screen, you could play with tags and emojis and they would disappear after 24 hours. Even though Snapchat invested stories, for a time they were truly an Instagram thing. Today, 500 million people post stories every day. Instagram’s stories were so unique, they served as a branding element. There was just no other place where you could share your content in such a fun and engaging way: UX as branding. Not surprisingly, the design has been introduced by other players as well: Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn all offer integrations pretty similar to Instagram. Give it a few more months, and stories will no longer serve as a unique branding element for Instagram.

While interesting concepts are copied, applied and adapted, the same is true for other navigation solutions. Menu icons follow similar patterns, are recognizable across platforms and don’t are not the place for experimentation and brand expression. A house is a house, Tap me to come home. A bell is for notifications. This is not the place to express your creativity, but rather to stick to recognizable patterns. On basic navigation, branding has no space.

Unique interactions and wordings

In order to establish a brand recognition within your mobile product, companies find smart ways within the niche to place their brand.

While on Facebook and Twitter you like something, on Strava you give Kudos! This term is unique to the Strava experience and sets them apart from other social platforms. Also, while Google, Apple and HERE color routes in blue, Strava uses their recognizable orange.

Another example of minimal branding is WhatsApp’s double ticks. Not only do they serve a functional purpose, but they are strongly connected to WhatsApp as an experience. On iOS, the blue iMessage bubble serves as a signaling mechanism and clear ingroup / outgroup differentiator. These are all design details, but very powerful in terms of brand buiding, since these kinds of interactions and signaling could only happen in this particular way on that particular platform. It‘s the UX, more than the UI, that creates brand recognition. The UI is pretty similiar wherever you go. The biggest brand element Twitter has is the #hashtag as a core experience, not so much icon design or color palette. Digital branding is created by unique experiences.

Ultimately, building a connection to a brand comes down to the experience with a product, the minutes waiting for the two WhatsApp checks to finally turn blue, the moment when a friends gives Kudos for the morning run, your discovery of trending hastags. It‘s not the UI that creates brand recognition, but more the UX. Even if these elements are sometimes very minimal.

After 175 runs on Strava

For those who don’t run, cycle or swim: Strava is a cross-device platform with 73 million registered users, acting as a performance analytics tool with social media elements. While its core feature is tracking, it’s packaged into a social stream on which you follow people, join groups, comment and clap on each other’s Sunday morning runs.

My Berlin running heatmap.

Since January 2019, I tracked 175 runs with a total distance of 2350 kilometers on Strava. And while the product does have its flaws, does not always track super precisely, sometimes doesn’t sync and lacks features on the mobile apps, Strava does something right: It is a strong signaling as a service product with great social glue. You can not fake to be someone you aren’t. Strava does not care who you pretend to be, all that matters is the hard, tracked facts: The distance and speed you put on the road. You will deserve the applause you receive from your followers for the hard work you put into the workouts. Every week and every month you don’t got for a run will be visible in your statistics for quite a while, both to yourself and your followers. In order to avoid that, go outside and run.

Analysing my running patterns

Thanks to the strong signaling in Strava, I managed to get through the last two years without too many breaks. In 2019, I did 103 runs, spending a total of 118 hours running (1370km total distance). There were five calendar weeks in 2019 in which I did zero runs. In 2020, so far I did 74 runs, leading to 89 hours and 1003 kilometers total distance.

Based on the raw data of every single activity ever tracked on Strava, some interesting analysis can be done. We can see that Sunday is my most active running day, followed by Tuesdays. Mondays are my laziest days, both in terms of number of runs and total distance.

When looking at total distance run, split by calendar month, I see that the longer the year, the less I run. My strongest months are April and May with an interesting drop on June. I was not injured in these two years, so I was never forced to take a break. A quick increase in temperature could be the reason, supported by the fact that August was the worst running month (December data being incomplete). I learn that for next year, I need to find ways to continue the positive trend towards summer, either by running earlier in the mornings or just running slower.

Looking at the running start times split by week day, you see that on Monday, not much is happening. On Tuesdays and sometimes Wednesdays there is some action early in the morning. Only very rarely will I go for a run during lunch break on working days. During Sundays however I don’t care.

Plotting the distances of all 175 runs from the last two years, you see not much evolution. My runs get neither shorter nor longer. I am surprised to see that, as I expected my runs to become shorter in 2020. There was not a single official run due to Covid-19 that I could have trained for. In 2019, there were multiple half-marathons I joined, so I would have expected that I did more longer runs last year. I see that as a positive sign: Even without extrinsic motivation, I managed to stay on the same level when it comes to average running distance.

Finally, we can see that I got a bit slower over time. And I think I know the reason for that. There were weeks during the summer of 2020 in which I felt like someone pulled the plug. I had no energy. I was not able to finish a 10k run without five breaks. There were bad weeks and I still don’t know why that was. I got tested for Sars-Cov 2 twice during summer, both tests were negative. All I know is that I was not the only one. I know a hand full of great runners who felt the same during the same period of time.

Final thoughts

After 2018 and 2019, I will finish 2020 as the third year in a row in which I will have run more than 1000km. I am very happy with this performance since for a few weeks in summer I did not expect to cross that line this year. 2020 was a year with no official races, a year of bad mood and a lot of uncertainty. I am happy that I managed to motivate myself to go out and run, a lot less than last year, but still. No major sickness, no injuries. When it comes to running, 2020 was still a good year.