How to Design a SaaS Product: 6 Best Practices
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If you take good care of your SaaS product’s design, users will receive a seamless online experience no matter if they are viewing your landing page, using your product with their smartphones, chatting with your support team in a web app, or reading a blog post on your website.
Eleken is a SaaS design agency that helps companies create cloud products that clearly communicate value to users with the help of high-quality UI/UX design. From our experience, we know that clean and simple design can make any cloud-based product easier to understand and therefore increase user satisfaction and promote product growth.
In this article, we will share key tips on how to design a SaaS product so that it satisfies users’ needs, business objectives, and technical requirements. But before diving into the best SaaS design practices, we need to explain why we talk about SaaS design as something special, something that stands out from other things related to product development.
What is so special about SaaS design?
Though, the below list could be much longer, here are 5 major facts you should consider when designing a SaaS product.
Retention is essential for SaaS success
The main distinguishing characteristic of the SaaS model is that the client doesn’t need to purchase a product or a license to use it. Instead, customers buy a subscription and pay monthly, yearly, or for certain services. Therefore, the success of a SaaS product depends on consumption and retention that can be measured with MMR (monthly recurring revenue) and ARR (annual recurring revenue).
To retain users, SaaS companies should think out quick ways to clearly communicate the product’s value. And a consistent UX SaaS design is one such way. For example, reducing friction in the sign-up process, and designing simple onboarding decreases the time needed for the user to reach their goals (and therefore feel the value).
SaaS has no final version
In comparison to on-premise products, SaaS solutions are usually simpler and solve fewer user problems as in most cases they are focused on a particular niche. This allows cloud solutions to have a better design.
SaaS products don’t have a "final version", as they are constantly evolving. To keep growing and meet users' needs, cloud companies conduct testing, add new features, and constantly improve the design. At this time, users don’t have to pay each time for new versions and download individual products and add-ons, because with the SaaS business model all these updates are performed on the go.
SaaS allows gathering accurate analytical data
SaaS model makes it possible to collect analytics on how users behave and engage with the service inside the application. This fact allows SaaS owners to track users’ reactions to new features, understand at which point of user journey they drop off, define common user behavior patterns, ask users for instant feedback in real-time, or even shape new industry trends.
SaaS makes it possible to provide contextual support
When users encounter some problem while using the on-premise product, they are redirected to a company’s website to solve the issue or have to contact the support team, which creates friction and negatively influences the customer experience. At the same time, the SaaS model allows the company to provide user support while keeping them in the context of their task with the help of tooltips with relevant information or live chat.
Fast and simple SaaS onboarding helps turn leads into users
Very often companies use the freemium pricing model or provide their customers with trial versions of their SaaS. The quicker users understand how the product works, the quicker they can decide whether to upgrade and start paying for the service. Therefore, it’s very important to design a simple and unobtrusive onboarding process from the very first stages of users’ interaction with the cloud service.
Best SaaS design practices
SaaS trends tend to change dynamically every year. Still, there are certain design practices that stay relevant beyond the calendar or type of product.
1. Build the right interface hierarchy
One of the most important things you should consider when developing a SaaS product is the fact that you have to think out a crystal clear unique value proposition and ways to communicate it to your customers. Organizing a straightforward hierarchy with intuitive navigation helps users quickly find the needed tools/information and therefore quicker feel the product’s value. In other words, building a clear information hierarchy makes it possible to easily navigate through the application.
So, the first screen users see as they open your cloud app should provide quick access to the most relevant data. As well, it should line up all the essential features in a menu bar so that your users don’t waste time searching for something they’ve initially come for.
For instance, in Gridle’s app (a client management platform that Eleken redesigned) users view a comprehensive dashboard that presents their current progress right after signing in. And a menu bar in the form of a vertical side column presents menu items both with readable copy and understandable icons.
2. Frictionless sign-up
As we’ve already mentioned, as SaaS companies are subscription-based, they often use a freemium pricing model or offer their customers a free trial. This fact may cause a desire of product owners to gather as much information about their users as possible upfront, with the help of a lengthy and complex sign-up process. However, with a SaaS product, you’ll have many opportunities to study users later as they engage with the app.
Not to scare away all your customers, it’s essential to design a fast and frictionless sign-up.
- Create a noticeable CTA button for your free trial/subscribe option
- Gather only basic information such as name and email address
- Shorten a number of steps for sign-up as much as you can
- Make it possible to register with social media or Google account
Still, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid a long path of registration. That was the case with Habstash, a startup that helps people save up for their homes. To be effective, the app has to gather a lot of user information. To prevent users from dropping off at the sign-up process, our designer used Wizard, a design pattern that specializes in making complex processes simple. We broke the sign-up steps into separate screens to make the information easy to perceive.
3. Use common patterns
Most users have a tremendous amount of knowledge in their minds organized in patterns. So, when they start interacting with a new app, they expect it to have something in common with applications they’ve used previously.
To reduce cognitive load and help people learn faster how to use your SaaS solution, Eleken designers recommend using SaaS architecture design patterns - “a reusable solution to a commonly occurring problem in software architecture within a given context”. Right-left swipe to scroll through images, hamburger menu for app navigation, data input with feedback that lets users understand if they fill in fields correctly are only several examples of UX patterns.
Additionally, reusing patterns creates consistency between the website (landing page) and the product or between different company products, avoiding mismatch between the styles.
For example, as Google reuses patterns for its different products, people who like Google Docs will quickly adopt Google Sheets.
4. Strive for simplicity
Striving for simplicity doesn’t mean you have to choose only flat and monochromatic color schemes, it’s more about making sure each visual element and piece of content has its purpose apart from just looking pretty or taking up space.
Every extra UI element competes with the relevant UI elements and diminishes their relative visibility. Therefore, it’s important to carefully prioritize your content and features. If you know that a new element/feature will be used by a small number of users who don’t contribute much to the company’s goals, it’s better to refrain from adding it.
For instance, when we were designing an MVP for Prift, a personal finance platform, we decided not only to focus on minimalist UI design but also used a MoSCoW diagram to carefully prioritize which features to implement.
5. Make it accessible
Good design should make the product usable to all people, no matter what their age or physiological conditions are. Make your SaaS inclusive, readable, and legible even if you have to sacrifice the visual beauty for this purpose.
Next time you hesitate about which font to choose, opt for the one that will make your product more accessible.
For example, Headspace provides its customers with an accessibility menu that allows adjusting their website to different users’ needs.
At Eleken we also take care of accessibility in each of our projects. And as we make all designs in Figma, we use its accessibility-focused plugins to ensure that people with different abilities can easily interact with the product.
6. Don’t forget about flexibility
We all know that to copy text we can use either “CTRL+C(for windows)/Command+C(for macOS) shortcut or highlight the desired text and right-click the mouse. That flexibility helps users be more efficient. Offer people different ways to carry out processes within your app, so that they can choose what method is quick and convenient for them.
Getting back to our example with copying the text, the shortcut option will suit better for experienced users that want to make routine tasks more quickly, while clicking the mouse is good for newbies.
Good SaaS application design makes your product flexible enough to be efficient for experts, and friendly to newcomers. Do not overwhelm new users with too much information (there’s no need to teach them to use every single feature of your app during the first session). At the same time, let expert users quickly perform their tasks.
For example, at Airbnb, you have an option to quickly scan accommodations (their images, rating, price) or click on the offer to see the full info. This feature makes the platform flexible for different customer intents.
The fundamental rules of the design listed in this article let you understand what makes a good SaaS product, but they're useful only when they are being used.
In case you need professional help in designing your SaaS product, the Eleken team is here for you. Schedule a call to discuss your project.