Why UX Matters When Seconds Count

Picture of Rand Refrigeri By Rand Refrigeri


why UX matters

User experience (UX) is the study of how someone interprets and engages with an interface. When it comes to product development here at Rave for our mass notification and panic button systems, one of the most important processes – next to performance – is the application of sound UX principles into the design of our apps.

"Why UX matters" is a critical concept and one everyone in the public safety industry should consider. While coding, performance, security, and other factors behind a safety app are necessary to ensure a user can send a notification to the right audience, or make a panic call in the nick of time, if the user can’t visually identify and make sense of the interface, quickly, while possibly under tremendous stress, it will defeat the entire purpose.

Designing an app should start with first understanding and hierarchically ranking its primary goals. From there, we can incorporate four key elements into our design process to promote a successful user experience.

1. Determine All Possible Use Cases and Situations

The concept of why UX matters starts with the user. What are the most common situations in which a user would use a particular application? Many times, this needs to begin with field research and other forms of study, such as targeted focus groups. For Rave Panic Button, we were able to boil it down to five types of emergencies: Active Shooter (or other type of active assailant), Fire, Medical, Police Needed, and other 911 emergencies. While there might be other emergency types such as a chemical spill, streamlining by common situations provides a cleaner user interface.

All emergencies are serious and require perfectly tuned crisis communication; however, the Active Shooter button is separated in the interface by a different color, position, and size than the other buttons. The idea is that this emergency type would be the one that could potentially send the user into the highest state of panic, so having that button be the most abundantly clear and accessible is important.

2. Weigh Human Factors Heavily

When people are unexpectedly faced with an emergency, the “10/80/10 rule of survival” usually applies, where only 10 percent react, eighty percent don’t know how to respond, and the final 10 percent shut down completely. Therefore, as 90% of people will experience physical and mental limitations due to an overdrive in their sympathetic nervous system, the design of an interface utilized in such situations must be deeply considered. Accounting for factors such as decreased mobility or dexterity, both physical and mental, the design will need to support a simple, minimalistic user interface, with large call-to-action (CTA) buttons labeled with abundant clarity.

Why UX matters when it comes to labeling items like CTA buttons is critical. Think of labeling CTA buttons in three virtual languages:

1) the primary language of the target audience,
2) iconography (icons/visual aids), which has evolved into a language in itself thanks to social media and modern cell phones, and
3) the words that are read to a visually impaired user who has his/her device in accessibility mode.

By applying these three simple principles for our Rave Panic Button app, for instance, a user in an active shooter situation will be able to open the app and quickly activate the active shooter button – the single button activation feature allows the app user to launch a facility-wide alert, initiate an emergency call to 9-1-1, and seek refuge at the same time.

3. Enable Efficiency and Accessibility

Making safety apps user-friendly goes beyond designing for different screen sizes and operating systems. Contrasting colors can be used to draw more attention to components that require the most attention or that will affect immediate next steps. Here at Rave, we measure this using a tool designed to evaluate contrast effectiveness and ratio.

Remember the yellow box at the beginning of this page?

Black font on a yellow background is among the most visually noticeable combinations on the planet. When Rave Panic Button is activated by an app user, a 9-1-1 operator immediately sees a window pop up on one of their five or six screens with a similar yellow box, alerting them to the emergency type and location.

While having as many visual aids as possible is a very sound practice, good UX design has to go beyond the visuals.

Rave’s Smart911 service, for example, is used by over 43 million US residents, and as such, testing for web accessibility is imperative. Some of our users, who are blind or are visually-impaired, use Job Access With Speech (JAWS) screen reader software. We conducted user testing with The Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts to optimize screen reader compatibility for what could be a life-saving tool for its users in the event of an emergency. The importance of this extra step in designing Smart911.com can be summed up by the Carroll Center’s Accessibility Services Manager, Bruce Howell, who states, “When designing and coding are not done with accessibility best practices, many potential users are prevented from enjoying the full potential of the product or service." He's right.

Understanding why UX matters goes beyond the typical or target user. In Rave's case, for instance, it is critically important for our services to support a simple interface experience for emergency management and first responders -- through our simple interface, we enable a faster response to 911 callers.

4.  Anticipate Human Error

30% of 911 calls are attributed to pocket dialing, and with safety apps on touch-sensitive phones, it can be even easier to accidently send a false activation. Built-in protections such as a slide-lock or press-and-hold activation strongly decrease the likelihood of a false activation, but again, design should also consider if they might hinder the ability to send real activations. As with so many things in life, it’s a balance, and the answer is somewhere in the middle.


Learn More About Why UX Matters

The UX design process for safety apps is complex, but necessary. By incorporating these four elements into our design processes, we strive for the end result to be a safe and happy user. Find out how Rave's safety apps can help your community today.

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Written by Rand Refrigeri

As Rave's Senior Director of Design, Rand lives by the belief that good design can solve almost any problem, and is executed via a balance of art, digital psychology, and the scientific method. As a result, he has built intellectual partnerships with MIT, Babson College, Ottawa County 911, and other Rave clients to ensure the feedback and situational realities of the user are always taken into consideration in Rave’s product experiences. Prior to joining Rave, Rand lead various design initiatives in Fortune 500 biotechnology (Bio-Rad), retail (Staples), and pharma & healthcare (CVS).


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