Fireside Chat: Creating Patterns, Not Puzzles

Thoughts on app design:

I hate jigsaw puzzles, I always have. I am bad at finding where pieces fit and I always feel dumb after interacting with one. I have come to terms with jigsaw puzzles and by never visiting my family during the holidays I am able to avoid having to deal with them (jigsaw puzzles). You would think this would lead me to a life free from worry; sadly, as a someone who is engaged with the digital world, puzzles are all around us.

Think about it. Puzzles are an all-or-nothing game. The desired end result necessitates perfection; anything less and you have a lot of useless cardboard pieces. As a UX designer; the thing that keeps me up at night is the fear that I am forcing our users to solve a puzzle when all they want to do is set up their phone.

Recently at Republic we started thinking about redesigning the Republic app. If you look at the app today you will see a grabbag of account and phone management features that were created in silos. The design is all over the place from a design pattern standpoint.

In order to rectify this injustice (I’m passionate about this stuff), we spent time thinking about the app more holistically. Similar to how the military breaks down recruits and builds them back up to be stronger, we’re doing the same with the app – breaking it down and building it back up, pattern by pattern.

Why do patterns matter?

The definition of a pattern is  “the regular and repeated way in which something happens or is done”. When applied to app design, this would mean predictable and consistent navigation as well as predictable areas of content – dedicated to specific types in information.

Humans naturally identify or develop patterns as a way to cut down on how much information they need to consume everyday. While it is fun to explore unfamiliar territory and soak in the wonderment of a new world, a Republic customer looking to change his or her plan isn’t looking for wonderment. After many sessions directly talking with our customer, we know, in fact, that they are looking for a well-lit place with recognizable landmarks and plenty of signs showing them the way.

UX and product designers are actually world builders (I know this sounds like UX delusions of grandeur but stay with me). Good world building in UX involves laying out intuitive clues as to what tools your app has to offer and how a user can take advantage of those tools. A simple example of this would be setting up a color system. By coloring all help content blue, a user would quickly infer that they should look for the color blue when they need help. With this type of knowledge, a user starts to feel more comfortable about exploring the world built for them.

To illustrate my point about patterns specifically within our app, I will use our solution for cell data management to show how we used patterns to create a better user experience.

Using a mix of card sorting, user testing, and brainstorming to help us come up with a simple conclusion to the pattern problem, we found that people wanted to know three things quickly about their data usage:

  1. What is going on?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. What can I do about it?

Now that we have a basic rubric, how would this manifest itself into a user experience design pattern?  We started off thinking that there should be three sections to surface information to answer those three hot-button questions listed above. Here’s a sneak peak:


This layout resonated with users in multiple rounds of testing. With this user feedback we decided to use this design pattern for all the major sections of the app. Be on the lookout for our updated app experience – rolling out in batches today!

Let us know too…What do you think about the app, about patterns, or about the utter nightmare that are jigsaw puzzles? For those of you who like puzzles always remember, you can use patterns to create puzzles, but you cannot use puzzles to create patterns. Keep an eye out for more cool tech, tools, and information in the coming weeks. We’ve got a lot planned to help make your Republic experience even better.

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