My parents have pressured me towards law school for the better part of the last decade. For my Vocabulary App Project, I decided to explore the way that 1L Law Students learn legal vocabulary. I selected this area because the target user is not unlike where I am in my UX design journey—starting a new career, committing highly specific and often situational terminologies to memory.
The parameters that I used to select the three apps for competitive analysis were as follows:
- The results of an iOS App Store search for “Legal Flashcards.”
- The app description should target itself at law students, not seasoned attorneys.
- The app should be free, at least initially—in-app purchases are acceptable.
Three of the first five results on the iOS App store met my selected competitive analysis parameters—Critical Pass, Flash Law, Basic Legal.
Critical Pass initially appears to be the most robustly supported offering. The developer boasts enhanced UX as of version 4.0 (released in July 2019).
Basic Legal was compiled for iOS 9.3 and is currently on Version 2.0, released three years ago with no significant updates since.
Flash Law is on version 1.1, is over a year old and has included no significant updates since being listed on the iOS app store.
App #1: Critical Pass
CriticalPass is successful because it intuitively meets and sets the expectation that I naturally have for a Flashcard App. CriticalPass included basic on-boarding, easy card stack navigation, quizzes, an area for notes and settings to control basic user features.
This particular app has received some attention in the area of UX design, the iOS App Store description says so directly. The on-boarding process signifies the expectations for the application in three quick steps. The designers used elements that I’m already familiar with as a user of other apps, creating a clean conceptual map for navigating the product. For example, page control elements on the card stack screens are already an element of many apps that I regularly use. The design of the product signals to users three main tasks: obtaining the right card stacks for studying (Products), studying, and quizzing yourself. Other product features reduce on-screen clutter under “More.” If I’m looking for something else that isn’t immediately available to me, I can intuit its location.
Critical Pass is my favorite of the three apps selected for CA, but I don’t enjoy using the product. There are times that the UX is bulky. For example, I slip and presume the tutorial will go away with just one additional swipe, but I have to click “Let’s Go” as an extra step. As a user, I prefer that my first interaction with an application is not a “Products” page, which sets the expectation that I’m expected to make a purchase related to the application. I can imagine that this is one place that the product may lose some users. Nothing in this section is labeled as free content. Still, I appreciate the Critical Pass presentation of this purchase option more than BasicLegal. In this case, I see that CriticalPass does have a substantial amount of product for sale, creating a perception that I’m working an established brand.
I also navigated the app in linear order indicated along the bottom of the screen, resulting in a presentation order of Products, Study, Quiz, More. If the on-boarding process does not include a “tour” of the menu, I would instead start my interaction with the main functionality of the app, a Quiz. If I were designing this product, I’d take the path of least resistance to get my user to the product as soon as possible, not asking them to navigate at least three screens before they see a CriticalPass flashcard. CriticalPass is a flashcard app, but it calls the flashcards a “quiz.” After selecting the “Quiz” option, the card stacks are easy to navigate. I immediately chose “Law School Flashcards,” providing two choices: Sequential or Random Mode. At this point in the interaction, I don’t know where either of these options is going to lead me because I have neither purchased or uploaded any content. I ultimately discovered later that “Sequential” and “Random” don’t impact the totality of flashcards, just the organization within a particular stack. This option is a simple “toggle” feature that could be tucked into a Settings menu or on the card screen (like a shuffle option on a music app). User navigation on the card screen is straightforward and intuitive. After launching the topic, the app provides a text-based description of the concept. In-card options include settings (text size, spacing, etc.), a star feature (which is presumed to function as a bookmark), a headphone feature to read the text, and hash marks on the far right that which allow the user to take notes.
Small UI improvements might be better icons. I quickly discovered the notes feature, but there isn’t a clear signifier its location. Additionally, the purpose of the two emojis at the bottom of each card is not explained, further complicated by the fact that I don’t initially understand both of these buttons as emojis. The “crying” emoji looked like an “H” until I stopped to evaluate it while writing this writing the competitive analysis. Additionally, no matter which emoji you click, the user is advanced to the next card, which means that the purpose of the emojis as buttons is not immediately apparent to the user. I ultimately realize that the crying emoji is saving “Weak Points” in the Study section until the user later discovers the outcome of their action by exploring the app.
App #2: Basic Legal
I do not believe that this is a successful product in terms of meeting the goals of its users. BasicLegal lives up to its name—an elementary flashcard app with pre-loaded definitions and no customizable or interactive user experience. There is no on-boarding screen. The after opening the app, the user experience begins with Card 1 and is a single screen through Card 645.
My experience with CriticalPass already informs my perception as a user of a legal flashcard app. BasicLegal doesn’t include user-on-boarding, card categories, user notes, advanced settings, legal resources, or in-app purchase options that increase my perception of the brand. If you don’t want to practice the exact 645 definitions pre-loaded into this app, users have little reason to engage with the product since it’s a single screen. I believe that the designer of this app sought to make a lite and simple app for studying basic legal definitions. One element of this product that might test positively with users is the single-screen functionality. The designers did not make a successful product because, even as I try to find features to praise, I’m left only with criticism. The text on the screen serves the main navigation options with no clear signifiers beyond basic haptic feedback.
Overall, I dislike using this product. I would make it better by adding an on-boarding feature so that the user knows what to expect. That an app is lite on features or complexity does not necessarily correlate to negative user experiences. But the lack of on-boarding means that I’m left to learn the conceptual map of the product through trial and error. For example, “Show/Hide Definition” operates as a toggle feature which determines whether or not the definition will appear below the term automatically when the user navigates to the next card. If “Show/Hide Definition” is toggled into the correct position, the “Definition” button at the bottom is functional and allows the user to toggle the appearance of the definition onto the screen, but only once. The addition of essential UI elements (like buttons rather than plain text) could immediately increase usability and function for a user. I would also design product features that allowed users to take notes, seek additional information, or purchase other resources.
App #3: FlashLaw
FlashLaw is not a successful product. As is the case with BasicLegal, FlashLaw does not include an on-boarding screen. Absent my previously existing conceptual map of how a flashcard app likely operates, the product does not endeavor to acquaint the user with the available features.
The app designer did very little to make a successful product in terms of the users. FlashLaw only acts as a paywall. 50% of the available buttons on the landing page prompt the user to purchase content for USD 9.99. I’m suspicious of any live product in the iOS app store which includes “Coming Soon” features. The “Coming Soon” button doesn’t perform an action. The attempt to feature “coming soon” content is a design choice to signal to the user that more content is on the way. In this case, I believe that the design choice backfires— more content appears to be under development than resides in the app.
As a user who has now quickly surveyed three apps in this market, it’s a red flag that basic content is coming soon. In both BasicLegal and CriticalPass, all of the definitions are readily available. Any law student would know that these definitions are freely available on the internet. In this case, the content isn’t the product, the method of accessing the content is. These companies don’t own legal definitions of concepts like “Ad Litem.”
FlashLaw should be a tool for memorizing legal terminology, not accessing a pack of definitions for USD 9.99. As soon as I see that Criminal Procedure is “Coming Soon,” I probably would have deleted the app. I would make the app better by producing a functional landing screen/on-boarding page. I would create a new logo and set of brand identity standards that jettison the poorly designed logo and red/black colors; entirely changing the look and feel of the app. I would also make some content available to the user of the product aiming to increase the conversion rate from free to paid users. Users are likely unwilling to give up USD 9.99 to a product that has demonstrated zero utility at the time of purchase. There isn’t so much as a screenshot in the iOS app store indicating what this product does, how it works, where the content comes from, etc.