user experience & design

3 Major Things Social Media Can Teach Us About UX

Sean
June 7th, 2017
5 MINUTE READ

“Most users spend their time on other websites.”

This quote is from pioneering web designer Jakob Nielsen, who coined it a lifetime ago, back at the turn of the century. 17 years later, the line remains relevant, and has even become a sort of lynchpin maxim of UX design—it’s even colloquially referred to as ‘Jakob’s Law’.

While Jakob’s Law sounds a bit defeatist, it really just means that users expect your website to behave like the platforms they’re already familiar with. They expect the magnifying glass to mean ‘search’. They expect your logo at the top lefthand corner of the page. They expect a navigation bar.

Jakob’s Law grounds designers, ensuring all of their practices are user-centered, and that usability or conventionality is never sacrificed for creativity. So if we accept that most users spend their time on other websites, the next question is obvious: what are those other websites?

Enter social media, the engine driving the digitization of our entire lives and the reason we don’t read shampoo bottles on the toilet anymore. I don’t think I have to explain to you the total ubiquity of social media, but here’s a nice chart on it anyway.

3 Major Things Social Media Can Teach Us About UX

It really doesn’t matter who your users are they’re interacting with social media in some way, shape, or form. Because of this, social media apps & websites are setting the design standards. Users will expect your site to act like the sites they use every day: Facebook, Twitter, whatever.

So here’s a brief list of things we can learn from social media, and how to apply it to the UX design of your own platform.

1) Visual Content Is King

Since its establishment as an everyday fixture of our lives, social media has undergone a significant evolution. Perhaps the most apparent change is its shift from text-driven content to a more visual medium.

All social media platforms have not only integrated photos, gifs, videos, but emphasized their use by making their UX’s conducive to sharing and consuming that visual content.

3 Major Things Social Media Can Teach Us About UX

Who needs 140 characters when you have Twitter’s gif library?

The days of the status update are over—we use Facebook and Instagram Live now to provide our followers with even more information. We even see this in the rise of the newer generation of social media platforms, like Vine or Periscope.

In short, the camera is replacing the keyboard, which might be not-so-great news for a content writer like myself, but it does mean that your platform’s UX should consider putting an even stronger emphasis on visual content.

2) New Conventions

I’ve already stressed the importance of proper icon choices in this article: if your search is denoted by anything other than a magnifying glass, your UX suffers. While social media isn’t solely responsible for creating that particular symbol, they have influenced new conventions.

Chief of these has been the new “menu” icon: three horizontal lines stacked vertically. Popularized in the app versions of social media, you can now find this convention in most websites with up-to-date UX design.

3 Major Things Social Media Can Teach Us About UX

(Source)

Another, more app-specific standard is the swiping system, coined by dating apps like Tinder and Bumble. While the convention is typically seen in dating platforms, you should use the new “right = good, left = bad” standard if your mobile app has content that users need to swipe through.

3) Embracing The Scroll

In the past, compartmentalizing the content of your website into separate, discrete pages was the unquestioned standard of web UX design. You would never consider putting all of your content on one page—who would want to scroll through all of that?

The answer, apparently, is everyone. With the prevalence of never-ending feeds in social media, users have proven time and time again that they really don’t mind endlessly scrolling through continuous content.

3 Major Things Social Media Can Teach Us About UX

(Source)

This design practice has unexpectedly transferred to desktop web design too. It’s not uncommon to see marketing sites that are just one page that a user scrolls through. Clicking what would be the “pages” of the site in the navigation bar only auto-scrolls the user down to that section of the homepage.

Conclusion

Jakob’s Law states that you should design your platform like everyone else does. While it may seem like it’s actively discouraging creativity, it merely serves as a guideline to keep designers aware of who they’re designing for: the user.

Regardless of who this user is, it’s almost certain they’re frequenting Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or some form of social media. These platforms can act as teachers, informing some of the strategies or techniques top-notch UX design companies employ.

So if you’re searching for guidance in your quest for quality UX design services, look no further for social media. Behind the tweets, pokes, filters, and GIFS, is some sage UX wisdom.

Sean McGowan
AUTHOR

Sean

Sean is a technical researcher & writer at Codal, authoring blog posts on topics ranging from UX design to the Internet of Things. Working alongside developers, designers, and marketers, Sean helps support the writing team to ensure Codal produces engaging web content of the highest quality. When not writing about the latest and greatest in digital design, Sean can be found baking, watching movies, or complaining about the shortcomings of his favorite Philadelphia sports teams.

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