Heard a reference to this on the radio this morning. Looked it up, and the best quote I can find is from Rob Goodlatte, a product designer at Facebook who worked for over a year on the vaunted/maligned new user experience. See the whole interview for more.
...Try to figure out what the ‘ah-ha’ moment is in the new user experience. Last year, we brought in some users to test our registration flow. The tests were going all right until we got a woman who had the worst experience. Everything that went wrong did. She got a tough captcha, had trouble logging into her webmail account, and got error after error when filling out the forms.
But then something awesome happened. She got asked some basic information about where she went to high school, and in the next screen, her face just lights up because she saw someone she recognized as a suggestion. As a result, we designed an entire roadmap around that ah-ha moment.
Nowadays, we let people continue with the new user flow even if they haven’t confirmed their e-mail yet, so they can get to the ah-ha moment sooner. This boosted registration by 5%, which is phenomenal.
Another ongoing test is to eliminate everything before the a-ha moment. Just type in your e-mail and we’ll try to show you people you could be connected to. This way, you don’t lose the people who would otherwise be frustrated by having to go and confirm the account…
As far as I can tell, Facebook is all excited about their new UX because at some point in the process most people “get it,” and are suddenly pleased by some portion of the experience (they have “uh oh moments” too, but I can’t find a solid print quote about those right now). Facebook might have taken those lessons to make the “ah ha” moments appear sooner, but they still miss the whole point: users still have to put up with the system for a while before they get any payoff.
This all avoids a key mantra I was required to work from, which was “setting expectations.” Sure, some of this is social or cultural, and those with a big enough budget (Apple) can use advertising and other marketing to set expectations, but you can work on this with the interface itself.
This is so baked into UX that I can’t even find the initial reference to it, but it pops up all over. For example, here’s some Microsoft UI guidelines:
Example: You can also download a new picture from the Internet.
Even with careful effort, the screen title may not be sufficient to adequately explain a complex task. The subtitle allows you to elaborate on the screen’s purpose. You can use a subtitle to help clarify the purpose of the page, provide additional task description, or help set expectations. Users who don’t read the subtitle should be able to use the page successfully. Just like the title, the subtitle should avoid describing details for completing the task.
The same issue arises with entire UI paradigms, like how to discover gestures. This is okay if it’s a secondary feature or another way to do stuff, but what about those times the user can’t do basic things until they get to an “ah ha” moment?
In fact, I say the name (“ah ha”) is wrong. I’ve seen the same both anecdotally in real life, and in testing. It’s really an “about !@#$ing time” moment. Frustration cannot be alleviated with a delightful moment later on. The users are very likely to simply abandon the process, or your whole product. You have to set expectations, follow through, and if at all possible exceed expectations.