Better versus best — the best design solution isn’t always the better one for your SaaS product. That sentiment may surprise you, but I always say that simplicity can’t be invented; instead, you have to craft it.
To that end, in designing a simple-but-powerful SaaS platform to create a profitable digital experience, there are three important aspects that I’ve time-tested as essential for better adoption: It must propel autonomy, feel familiar and look consistent.
Simplify Complexity With A Strong Enough Why
Having been at the mercy of contract management disorganization myself, I was committed to the idea of making something better. In creating my company’s platform, I first had to consider the design complexity of digitizing the contract life cycle in its entirety so that it not only looked and felt simple, but so it also would support growth for any size or type of organization. If your SaaS business is like mine, it’s doing so many things. For my business, it was like building the functionality of Google Docs, Dropbox and DocuSign — to name a few process steps — into one platform.
If you’re contemplating the best approach, or how to progress, these are the three principles that we’ve learned throughout our journey:
1. Care Deeply About User Autonomy
When you consider intuitive products, you understand the best-designed software needs little to no user instruction or explanation. The more intuitively designed a product is, the more autonomous a user is. My grandmother, for example, can play her favorite game on an iPad quite easily. In the same vein, iPhones come with little to no instructions, whereas years ago, my new Nokia phone came with a manual hundreds of pages long.
What’s the difference? Every step in the design process created user autonomy.
But designing simplicity into a product is not about just one element or feature. Rather, it’s about crafting an intuitive system. We’ve become ever more accustomed to streamlined functionality within a product. A digital action like bulk uploads is now a norm of digital culture — and one that’s come to be expected. You can bulk upload images, documents or folders in many digital spaces. Of course, it greatly streamlines your actions. But even more importantly, it provides you full autonomy. You don’t need a service, nor do you need additional help. Businesses manage, on average, between 20,000 and 40,000 contracts. That one piece of functionality is fundamental to how simplicity drives autonomy and adoption. Ask yourself if you can create a way for your customers to solve problems for themselves through your product rather than relying on your team.
2. Support Functionality With Familiarity
Simplicity in design isn’t about making something pretty and functional. Rather, it’s more sophisticated than that — it’s a visual form of language.
When I consider my background, I’m not a marketer, engineer or salesperson. I’m a person of words. I speak four languages and saw early on that software design is another form of communication. Good design empathizes with a user and what they actually want to achieve.
So how do you do so from a practical standpoint? Create functionality that’s familiar. Overall, in choosing the best design path, a wise approach is to opt for what’s better, but not necessarily the best choice. It may seem counterintuitive. But, a familiar system is easier for a user to understand, so they can more easily achieve an outcome. Generally speaking, the Dvorak typewriter layout is a much stronger design compared to the QWERTY system, but imagine how difficult it would be for your team to adopt. The same principle applies to designing for SaaS.
When it comes to SaaS design, we focused on a Gmail inbox type of design, so it’s simpler for users to understand and to adopt. On the surface, that may seem straightforward, but in fact, identifying familiarities early on is foundational to successful user experience and adoption.
3. Commit To Consistency To Reduce Complexity
Whether you’re designing SaaS software or crafting a piece of writing like this, creating consistency is never additive. Rather, it involves taking elements out. As a founder of a company that has matured from a small startup to a sustainable organization, I’ve found it invaluable to have an exacting approach in our commitment to consistency in design.
Behind the scenes, we may pore over what seems like minuscule design details. But the effort provides us with a more accurate perception of whether our product is genuinely easier, and that’s a result of how consistent our design choices are. We know we’ve landed on the best choice when we receive customers’ feedback that the platform is flexible for their needs but does not require additional IT or development support.
It’s essential to define elements across a product that convey consistency in order to lessen complexity. Slack’s interface is a great example of how design consistency serves multifunctionality. Users can create numerous Slack channels, share documents and receive notifications, but what actually changes about the page design or on-page elements when a user takes any of these steps? The interface is consistent no matter what step a user takes.
In SaaS, design consistency lessens uncertainty in user experience. Users feel confident they know not only what to do next, but also how many steps to take in order to do so.
Craft simplicity by adhering to these three principles. Keep in mind the overarching premise that when designing for SaaS, the best isn’t always better in order to keep your users engaged and supported so they ultimately feel like your software is indispensable for their needs.