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When UX and Business Needs Diverge

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Paper Landing Page

This is Paper. Paper is a new app for the iPad which allows you to keep sketches and notes in a simple, journal-like format. Paper is gorgeous.

I was sold the moment I visited it’s landing page, and the demo video made me want it even more. Ever since I got my iPad I’ve been downloading and testing the large variety of drawing apps that are available, and most of the ones that I haven’t deleted have two things in common: a) my initial impression was very positive and b) I stopped using them after a couple of hours. I think that Paper may finally break that cycle and become a part of my normal workflow. It’s beauty and simplicity make drawing the focus, not the interface, and I’m thrilled that somebody finally understood that idea and implemented it correctly.

Unfortunately, Paper has one annoying flaw that jumped out at me after about five minutes of use. The app is listed as a “Free Download” but when you try to use any of the drawing tools beyond the basic pen, it directs you to an interface for in-app purchases of the remaining tools showcased in the demo. You can purchase 5 individual tools for $1.99 apiece, or you can purchase the set for $7.99 in total.

In retrospect, I probably should have realized there would be money involved here. It’s expensive to create something that works as well as this app, and the use of the phrase “Free Download” instead of “Free” should have triggered an alert. I’ve worked for a company that was all about obsessively driving customers through checkout with as many add-ons as possible, so I’m pretty well-versed in the unfortunate tricks of that trade. Still, like most people, when something says free I expect it to be free.

I’m not complaining about the price tag though. I love the experience and the idea so much that I’m going to go back and pay the $7.99 that it costs to unlock all the drawing tools as soon as I’m finished writing this. My problem is that I was primed to expect the app to be free, and then asked for money after the fact. In my opinion, that’s a bit deceptive and a poor user experience. At the same time, this trick undoubtedly increases conversion and will hopefully allow the team behind Paper to create more interesting things.

This raises a bit of a quandary in my mind. As a designer I’m very invested in the user experience. I know that making something pleasant and even fun to use has a net positive effect on user engagement, and whenever I create a layout or an application flow I focus on making it as easy and clear as possible for the user. Things like surprise in-app purchases to unlock full functionality are a roadblock to the best experience. But at the same time, a business has needs, and one of those needs is making enough money to fund future development. This conflict brings forward two questions: if user experience and business needs inevitably diverge at some point, how do you decide where to create that divergence? And how do you make that divergence as painless as possible for the user?

I’d be interested to know if anyone has done any testing in this area. For example, would an up-front price of $5.99 have made more or less money overall than a surprise in-app price of $7.99. Is the current experience actually better for most user because it gives you the option of only purchasing individual tools at lower prices than the whole set at full price? Despite my initial dissatisfaction, the experience does bring to mind some fascinating testing scenarios.

One more thing: kudos to the people over at FiftyThree, the company behind Paper. My one criticism aside, you’ve done an amazing job. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised though, it seems that you’re the folks behind the Microsoft Courier. Here’s hoping you’ve got some more projects coming along.

Author Steve Hickey

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