UX Lessons I’ve Learned from my Cats
May 4, 2016
In case you didn’t know, the rule for becoming a crazy cat lady is n+1, with ‘n’ representing the number of humans per household. My boyfriend and I have three cats, so we’re just one stray kitten away from wearing tacky sweaters with excessive amounts of fur on them.
With three cats in a two bedroom apartment, I spend a lot of my downtime observing, playing, and socializing with them (kind of – they meow, I talk back), and through this I’ve learned that they are independent, selfish, vain, and, at times, destructive. Despite all of their flaws, I still love them.
It sounds like the definition of an unhealthy relationship, but I think there’s something to learn from it because, clearly, they’ve mastered the user experience. Let me explain:
Drive attention to the important stuff, hide the complexity
Over the years, I have spent hundreds of dollars on cat toys and treats, and what do you think the little fur angels choose to play with? Empty boxes, hair ties, Christmas decorations, pill bottles, hair ties, that glass of water I just filled for myself – you get the picture.
So, what do I do? I put their approved entertainment choices in super accessible places, and keep the not-so-cat-friendly items I don’t want them messing with tucked away in drawers and cabinets.
This also applies to how a user should experience content- They need to be able to find the content they need quickly, without being presented with too many choices.
Google is a perfect example of this.
Google has tons of offerings and solutions, but people mainly use the search function.
Google makes search an obvious action, located in the center of the page, so that users don’t have to question the functionality or choose between several options.
However, if a user explores just a little more, they can seamlessly access all of Google’s additional features that are neatly tucked away from the landing page.
Speaking of attention, they’re the center of it
If you’ve spent any time with cats, you know that they have a very egocentric view of the world. You are definitely here for them, not the other way around, and they will make sure you don’t forget it.
This is not entirely unlike how you should view a user, because without the users the product is pointless.
Sometimes, we come up with solutions that simplify or maybe even add interactivity; however, if you’re not certain of who the users are, their demographics, and what they hope to achieve in the experience, then you risk failing.
Engage the human’s (ahem…user’s) emotions
Because cats are so independent, when one takes the time to curl up in my lap for some one-on-one time, it makes me feel special.
Not only do they make me feel special, but due to hundreds of years of breeding and evolution, they’re very pleasing to look at. Making you feel special, being pleasing to look at – reminds me of things some brands do to attract users. First one that comes to mind? Apple.
Much like there are “cat people,” there are definitely “Apple people.”
Devoted Apple users swear by the simplistic designs and intuitive interface. Apple spends a lot of their time on style and brand to make users feel good because, after all, brand loyalty starts from the inside out.
Did you know there is a scientific field of study for cat-human communication? It’s a small field, but it exists.
Cat’s have a very different form of communication with humans than their canine competitors, and this field of study breaks down all the meows and purrs. Maybe I’ve just reached that point of insanity, but I choose to believe that my cats are extremely expressive.
Similarly, users need to be provided feedback with every action, otherwise there’s a huge potential for confusion and pain points.
I recently took a course on using CSS for animation (shout out to Val Head) where she brought up several examples of animation as a form of feedback. One of those was Shopify’s loading animation.
This loading animation guides users through the process of signing up for Shopify, showing them a pleasing animation of what’s happening on the back end. So the animation might not be precisely what’s going on, but it’s purpose is to entertain.
Check out the animation here: Feedback Animation.
One of our cats is extremely particular, especially when it comes to his food.
He will straight up not eat something if it doesn’t smell the way he’s feeling it should smell that day. So, when we decided to switch from hard food to raw, we had to test it out first.
We did this by mixing different types of raw food a little at a time with his regular kibble, until we found one that worked best for him. That way, we didn’t invest a lot in a single type of wet food that he would never eat.
This is the diet equivalent of prototyping. We make quick revisions to ideas and concepts to test before fully committing the time and energy into a developed solution, saving both time and money.
Though I love my cats dearly, I find tons of other things that inspire me as a designer. Regardless of the inspiration, I think it’s important to take the time to analyze what I find interesting or exciting, and figure out how I can use them in my work.
So I pose the same challenge to you, what inspires you, and how can you implement those inspirations into your work? Let me know on Twitter: @jilliancairco.