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7 minutes read

Designing for the Next Generation of App Users

By Robert Kazmi
By Robert Kazmi
7 minutes read

The company that was to become the first SaaS startup began business in 1995 as a packaged software business, selling floppy disks and CD-ROMs.

Remember those?

The chances are if you do, you’re probably from a generation older than today’s digital natives. It wasn’t until 2001 that Concur made the transformation to a company resembling the SaaS we know today, selling software accessible via an internet browser.

We’re seeing a new generation of SaaS users come of age, digital natives who are highly tech-savvy and don’t remember a time when technology wasn’t so prominent. Designing for the next generation of app users means not only taking emerging technologies into account but designing for what people and businesses expect:

What do digital natives demand?

We used to put up with a lot when it came to software, cumbersome interfaces, and the types of programs that required extensive “help” documentation in order to learn how to use them. Much like how we’ve come to expect more from our internet speeds since dial-up, people also now expect more from their software.

Simple and meaningful apps are in-demand, yet to add to that complexity, we want the latest technologies to be incorporated also.

Designing for the Next Generation of App Users

It must be intuitive

If you’re not sure what this means, watch today’s toddlers pick up a phone or tablet. With just a little exposure, most are automatically scrolling touchscreens, tapping on the task or app they want and swiping through different screens.

When designing your new SaaS app, a major next-generation expectation is that it is intuitive to use. People want to be able to pick it up with minimal fuss and understand exactly how to use it, with commands they are used to (swiping, clicking, tapping) incorporated.

Digital natives want software that adheres to design simplicity principles. They don’t want a user manual or many hours of tutorials, they want something that “just works.” Think about popular apps like Instagram or Uber – they don’t come with complex instructions because people instinctively know how to use them.

In the SaaS world, this is sometimes easier said than done. The software may be quite complex and require more than a cursory glance to learn to operate. The point is, the closer you can get to that intuitive experience, the better reception your software will receive.

Where that software isn’t automatically intuitive, SaaS can help by:

  • Keeping workflows simple. How many steps must a user go through to achieve the task they’d like? Generally, less is more
  • Implementing simple onboarding. Your onboarding experience sets the tone for your app. The simpler and quicker, the better for most users. Quick walk-throughs, progressive, or function-orientated onboarding are popular ways to give just enough information as-needed.
  • Prioritize simple UI. This is a must for any SaaS app and tends to earn praise for those who do it well. Look at examples such as the productivity app, Quip which has been widely praised for its UI.

Mobile is a must

In 2015, millennials surpassed Gen X as the largest generation in the US labor force. Now consider how most of this generation of workers has grown up; mobile phones have been ubiquitous, to the point where digital accessibility is simply an expectation. As consumer technology has become easier and more accessible during their lifetime, they often tend to rely on it to conduct their work and personal lives.

If a SaaS is to be relevant in the workday of a new generation, they need to consider what that workday now looks like. It’s often the case that desktops have become ancillary to mobile and that workers are taking more of a “work anytime from anywhere” approach.

A recent Gallup survey found that more American employees are working remotely and doing so for longer periods. Forty-three percent of employed people surveyed had spent some time in the past year working remotely. Employees are demanding more flexibility in their workdays and companies are catering more to a non-traditional structure.

For SaaS, this means that many are turning to a mobile-first strategy to meet the demands of a remote workforce or at least releasing mobile and desktop options at the same time. Look at popular apps such as Slack, which helps to facilitate communication for remote teams. Users easily pick up conversations whether on a web browser or using the mobile app.

Ability to customize

With earlier SaaS, it was thought that standardization was the way to go for scalable, cost-effective app design. What has been found though, is that customers tend to request or require customizations which will fit their own particular situation or business needs.

Consider this point from SaaScribe:

“…the ideal of complete standardization in SaaS is somewhat unrealistic. Customers have unique requirements, and it is too easy to say that it is only large enterprises that have these requirements and that large enterprise isn’t your target market. In reality, custom requirements develop at the very early stages in even the smallest of businesses, owing to the infinite number of variables that determine how each business operates.”

Simple sign up

“Reduce friction” is the term to keep in mind when designing the signup experience for a SaaS app. Users are averse to multi-stage signups with companies whom they’re only just getting to know. They’re also cagey about handing over credit card information and prefer to use short forms which don’t require a lot of information.

As a general rule, only ask for the information you absolutely need right now. You can always request more later on when the user has come to know you better. Signup workflow should be as simple as possible with as few steps as you can possibly make it.

Consistency between devices

Today’s users typically hop between devices throughout the day and expect to have a seamless experience with the app on each device. We’re using a tablet at the breakfast table, switching to our phones on the morning commute, and powering up a laptop during the workday. How will your app maintain a consistent experience?

There are a couple of things to consider, the first being the user interface. SaaS that is successfully providing multi-device accessibility is ensuring that the basic appearance and functionality of the app remains consistent. Slack is once again, a good example of this.

The other point is for users to be able to continue on the next device where they left off on the last one. How easy is it to continue with a task or get back to the point they were at? A consistent experience is a must that should be part of your initial testing.

Final thoughts

SaaS has come a long way since the early days of development, but so have the expectations of today’s users. Digital natives are fast becoming the largest group in the workforce and their expectations hold app design to higher standards.

Simplicity, even in the face of complex technology is key. Whereas previous generations may have blamed themselves for finding an interface difficult, today’s “next generation” grew up with the simplicity of Google and expect more from software designers.

The design must be intuitive and in line with the typical workdays and lifestyles of a new generation.

Koombea helps SaaS create beautiful apps with “next-gen” interfaces. Talk to us today about how we can help you.

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