What on earth is Slippy UX design?

Categories Trend Hunting, Web Design

Have you recently heard about the proliferation of the term ‘slippy UX’? I have and I must admit, I’ll hold my hands up, I only first came across it in UX Mag’s top 10 UX predictions for 2015. Is this just me? Well, I’ll also out Katie Li as well to back me up here….

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Funnily enough, I wrote an article about my predictions for 2015 also because, let’s face it, we all do it in the industry – people are interested in it. Upon seeding it out there, whilst it received a lot of praise and interest, someone, who shall remain nameless, spoke up about those terms that were missing – the core one being ‘slippy ux’.

I wanted to explore a little bit more about this term, where it came from, what does it mean and will it go anywhere?

What on earth is slippy UX?

Well in my personal opinion, that’s exactly what it is; a term. To establish, it’s about glance-ability and focuses less on engagement but more on quick task-based user requirements. Let me explain.

Jake Zukowski at Frog Design, apparently, coined the term. I could be wrong but the first instance what I can find on slippy design by Jake is a presentation talking about the user experience within cars. Slippy UX or not, it’s a fantastic presentation and well worth a look at!

If online we’re told to make our experiences sticky we need to question why? The association between ‘user engagement’ and conversion rate is often misunderstood. The best way I can describe this is the metric given to us in Google Analytics within the overview screen of “time spent on site”. For me, this is a double-edged sword. For example, are users spending longer on your site because they’re engaged or is it because they can’t find the content they want? Taking that metric, do we want a higher figure to demonstrate engagement with the site, or do we want a lower figure to demonstrate more of a slippy UX approach?

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Figure 1. Users on my site (http://davidmannheim.co.uk) spend on average 3 minutes 46 seconds. There is a lot of good content on the site so that doesn’t surprise me – but what does this individual metric mean on it’s own in context of my site and my users?

Generally it’s context dependant and that’s why Jake talks about slippy UX in cars. He mentions “for the car, you need to make things slippy. Make it scannably beautiful”. In a car you’re in a high-stress situation and if engaging with your car it’s often for a task-based purpose. Changing the radio. Setting a destination. Etc. That’s also why UX Mag discusses the same concept in terms of home automation.

I would also extend this to wearable devices. In the same concept that a watch, for example, will often be a task-based operation it would notably require a slippy UX. This, in addition with the lack of real estate, means that glance-ability and scanability (if they are such words) become more important. Take examples of the Apple Watch by Apple, especially with their Health and Fitness integration, this is a brilliant example of how just ‘glancing’ at the screen can provide you with all the information you need in a snapshot. Slippy UX, right? I hope Jake agrees.

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We’ve spoken about how slippy UX is in use and can be in use today, but we’ve only really explored task-based systems: wearable devices, cars, home automation. Is this really a term that should be used in context with designing websites?

In my opinion yes. In theory, ‘slippy UX’ is just good usability. Hannah Atkin talks about this more, but the comments are what struck me most about this article. A gentleman called Mike Donaghue wrote that “UX designers should never be taught to make things sticky and desirable, they should be taught to make things appropriate” and unfortunately he stole my thunder. This is exactly what I believe in and slightly allude to above where the context of the UX will define what ‘type’ of UX is required.

Slippy UX is just a term. A nice term, don’t get me wrong, but ultimately it’s a derivative of UX (I guess that’s why the term “UX” is within the term “Slippy UX”).  Let’s just call it “good UX” or as Mike Donaghue calls it “appropriate UX”.

Author Bio:  David Mannheim works as a UX and Conversion Rate Optimisation Freelance Consultant in Manchester and Liverpool. He has written several UX related blog posts in the past.

Feature image curtsey of Jake Zukowski

Guest Author

This is a guest post. Please see above for Author Bio.

  • Jake Z

    Jake Zukowski here. Couldn’t agree more. It’s more a reframe of good principles of UX than a new core idea. Distraction is the new black. (Thanks for the awesome analysis.)

  • Mike Donahue

    Nice article David. The one thing I still struggle with is that all the examples given are more focused on the UI which is just a part of the UX. It seems like the term should reflect that focus like Slippy UI or Transparent UI.

    Your example of time on site all eludes to how the heavy UI focus when the term is used only speaks to half the issue. The devices are an interface for us to interact with some content. The content needs to be evaluated and considered within the context to determine that appropriate experience. Without equal focus on the content and it’s purpose to the person the term UX is not accurate.

    In your watch example, if I’m tracking my current heart rate while exercising don’t force me to stop what I’m doing to check – slippy. On the other hand, when my workout is done and I want to evaluate my progress, and maybe compare it to others, I may want something more engaging – sticky. Same device different UXs based on context and content.

    content + context (person + device + situation + user goal) + UI = appropriate UX

    • David Lanphear

      Well said! I think it’s important to define how things become “appropriate,” as your equation does quite nicely. Otherwise, horrible UX and/or UI choices could be make simply on the basis of feeling appropriate. The USER and use-case are the common “U” in both UI and UX.

  • Completely get where you’re coming from Mike and perhaps it is a more appropriate term. I do believe my point still stands where it is ‘just a term’ and we could debate on it until we’re blue in the face – the definition of a term can often be contentious / argued / debated. Ultimately, I think the crux of the article about it being appropriate and contextual still remains.

    Great points as usual. Hope you don’t mind linking to your LI profile – you’re a hard chap to track down!

    Thanks for the input Jake ;)

  • sneedy

    ‘UX designers should never be taught to make things sticky and desirable, they should be taught to make things appropriate’ – EXACTLY RIGHT. i have NO desire to have pleasant feelings about a UI. the ONLY feeling i want is the ABSENCE of having been pissed of by it. i just want it to work, and work intuitively. allow me to complete my task with maximum ease, and otherwise stay out of my way.

  • Maximum ease of use and pleasurability are not that different from each other.

  • Ofentse

    So I am sitting wondering if this is another principle that ALREADY exist within the UX world being worded differently?

    I mean if we where to break down the foundations of Lean UX (UCD) approach wont it fall under the same guide as “Slippy”. I feel like we losing the plot and quick to come up with “cool” names to name principle that already are in place.