For years now, practically every tech product on the market has been undergoing a radical shift.
Technical products are becoming simpler, and simple products are becoming easier to integrate. Both of these occurrences are due to a profound market-wide interest in improving the user experience (UX).
UX design is what makes complex, technically demanding tools easy to use. Simplicity, supportability, and manageability are now competitive advantages for the developers who can offer them.
While most people still associate UX design with user interfaces (UI) and front-end development, the user experience encompasses a far broader spectrum. It goes beyond what an application “looks like” to how its visual design, information architecture, and interactions impact one another.
API Integration Is Part of Good UX Design
UX designers who delve deeper into what makes an excellent user experience quickly find that application programming interface (API) integration is one of the main tools they can use. Designers who understand the functionalities their users expect can create integrated solutions that serve those needs, while hiding unnecessary complexity.
The ability to meet user expectations while hiding complexity is one of the main advantages API integration offers. A well-integrated API can maintain the user’s attention while hiding technical complexities that would otherwise result in a steep drop-off in user engagement.
RESTful APIs are a particular type well-suited to this task. They use representational state transfer to break transactions down into a series of small modules that address a specific part of the API interaction.
But there is more to API integration in UX design than simply throwing RESTful APIs into the mix. Each API function has to correspond to real user needs. This can happen in one of the four following ways:
1. Know Your User
The first and most important rule of using API integration to improve UX is knowing your user. If the user persona in question is a tech administrator who develops applications in Python, you will need to respond to the specific set of needs and circumstances characteristic to that language.
The same goes for user roles. Because APIs bridge software systems, the choice of what to integrate can vastly improve the UX design of an application. If you’re developing the UX for a non-technical end-user, you can use APIs to sidestep technically demanding steps that your users would prefer skipping.
2. Be Consistent
The whole point of a RESTful API is to expose a programming model that requests and responds to user behaviors in an automated way. Because those actions are automated, they have to be engineered for consistency from the start.
That consistency takes various forms. One of the most important areas for UX designers to demonstrate consistency is in method names, return types, and return formats. These would respectively refer to your URLs, API response data types, and schema consistency — like the decision to use json over xml for an API response format.
3. Keep Your Mind on the State of the System
REST stands for Representational State Transfer. The important bit to remember when developing API integrations for UX design is that the APIs response captures the state of the system. The principles of UX design must be implemented at that level.
For instance, the Hypermedia as the Engine of Application State (the HATEOAS) expresses navigation from one API response state to other states. The UX designer’s insight into the principles of interaction design matters here. They can inform the decision to include certain links in the response using the HATEOAS principle, according to user expectations and needs.
4. Don’t Get Lazy With Versioning
There are few examples of set-and-forget APIs in the wild. In practice, APIs evolve over time as developers enhance their features to meet new needs. Every change that occurs must be accompanied by an appropriate versioning solution.
There are many different versioning options out there and no one-size-fits-all answer for your API integration. Just make sure your versioning solution complies with your clients’ software development kit (SDK) and makes the API most accessible to developers. Well-defined versioning makes developers’ lives much easier.
Keep Gathering Input From Users
Responding to users’ needs and expectations while minimizing friction is at the heart of UX design. These rules hold true for integrating RESTful APIs for UX design purposes, as well.
A good UX designer never stops anticipating users’ needs and continuously strives to provide better, more integrated solutions for serving those needs. Keep gathering user data and look for opportunities to streamline the experience in valuable ways.