Websites and Web applications have become progressively more complex as our industry’s technologies and methodologies advance. What used to be a one-way static medium has evolved into a very rich and interactive experience.
But regardless of how much has changed in the production process, a website’s success still hinges on just one thing: how users perceive it. “Does this website give me value? Is it easy to use? Is it pleasant to use?” These are the questions that run through the minds of visitors as they interact with our products, and they form the basis of their decisions on whether to become regular users.
User experience design is all about striving to make them answer “Yes” to all of those questions.
What Is User Experience?
User experience (abbreviated as UX) is how a person feels when interfacing with a system. The system could be a website, a web application or desktop software.
Those who work on UX (called UX designers) study and evaluate how users feel about a system, looking at such things as ease of use, perception of the value of the system, utility, efficiency in performing tasks and so forth.
UX designers also look at sub-systems and processes within a system. For example, they might study the checkout process of an e-commerce website to see whether users find the process of buying products from the website easy and pleasant. They could delve deeper by studying components of the sub-system, such as seeing how efficient and pleasant is the experience of users filling out input fields in a Web form.
Why Is UX Important?
Nowadays, with so much emphasis on user-centered design, describing and justifying the importance of designing and enhancing the user experience seems almost unnecessary. We could simply say, “It’s important because it deals with our users’ needs — enough said,” and everyone would probably be satisfied with that.
However, those of us who worked in the Web design industry prior to the codification of user-centered design, would know that we used to make websites differently. Before our clients (and we) understood the value of user-centered design, we made design decisions based on just two things: what we thought was awesome and what the client wanted to see.
We built interaction based on what we thought worked — we designed for ourselves. The focus was on aesthetics and the brand, with little to no thought of how the people who would use the website would feel about it. There was no science behind what we did. We did it because the results looked good, because they were creative (so we thought) and because that was what our clients wanted.
But this decade has witnessed a transformation of the Web. Not only has it become more ubiquitous — the Web had at least 1.5 billion users globally in 2008 — but websites have become so complex and feature-rich that, to be effective, they must have great user experience designs. Additionally, users have been accessing websites in an increasing number of ways: mobile devices, a vast landscape of browsers, different types of Internet connections.
With all of these sweeping changes, the websites that have consistently stood out were the ones that were pleasant to use. The driving factor of how we build websites today has become the experience we want to give the people who will use the websites.
What Situations Would Benefit From UX Design?
Saying that all Web systems would benefit from a solid evaluation and design of the user experience is easy; arguing against it is hard if you care about user-centered design at all. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and we don’t have unlimited resources. Thus, we must prioritize and identify the areas that stand to gain the most from UX design and UX designers.
Complex Systems Link
The more complex the system, the more involved will the planning and architecture have to be for it. While investing in a full-blown multi-member UX study for a simple static website seems excessive, multi-faceted websites, interaction-rich Web applications and e-commerce websites stand to benefit a lot from UX design. Designers risk big losses in revenue by neglecting the user experience.
Start-ups and smaller companies generally do not have the resources to hire dedicated employees for this. In this situation, training existing employees (specifically, the Web designer) in the principles and processes of UX, or contracting out the UX work as needed, might be more suitable than hiring a full-time employee. However, creating a solid user experience for users in the very first versions of a product or service can certainly make it stand out and attract users’ attention.
Things To Know About UX Design
UX design is an amazing discipline, but it cannot, or will not, accomplish certain things.
UX Design Is Not One Size Fits All
User experience design won’t work in every situation for every user because, as human beings, we are all different. What works for one person might have the opposite effect on another. The best we can do is design for specific experiences and promote certain behaviors, but we can’t manufacture, impose or predict the actual experience itself.
And just as we can’t design a user experience, we can’t replicate the user experience for one website exactly on another website. User experiences will be different between websites. a design must be tailored to the goals, values, production process and products of its website.
Can’t Be Directly Assessed With Traditional Metrics
You can’t determine the effectiveness of a user experience design based solely on statistics such as page views, bounce rates and conversion rates. We can make assumptions, and we can ask users for anecdotal evidence, but we can’t install an app (at least not yet) that automatically records user experience statistics directly.
Not the Same Thing as Usability
User experience and usability have become synonymous, but these two fields are clearly distinct. UX addresses how a user feels when using a system, while usability is about the user-friendliness and efficiency of the interface.
Usability is big part of the user experience and plays a major role in experiences that are effective and pleasant, but then human factors science, psychology, information architecture and user-centered design principles also play major roles.
Tasks And Techniques Of UX Designers
UX designers perform various tasks at various points in the process. Here are a few things that they deliver.
Evaluation of Current System
If a system already exists, a UX professional will holistically evaluate its current state. They will report issues and suggest fixes based on their analysis of research data.
A UX specialist might devise a study to compare the effectiveness and quality of experience of different user interfaces. This is done by stating a hypothesis (e.g. “A green button is more attractive than a red button.”), proposing or creating multiple versions of a design, defining what a “better experience” means (e.g. “The green button is better because users clicked it more.”) and then conducting the test.
A UX designer could interview existing and potential users of the system to gain insight into what would be the most effective design. Because the user’s experience is subjective, the best way to directly obtain information is by studying and interacting with users.
Wireframes and Prototypes
Based on their findings, UX specialists might develop wireframes of different layouts and perhaps also higher-fidelity prototypes.
Designing how users should move through a system is another popular deliverable.
By engaging the emotions of users and drawing on familiar elements, UX designers tell stories and teach information. Learn more about the value of storytelling in the context of UX in the two-part post “Better User Experience With Storytelling.”
Patterns provide consistency and a way of finding the most effective “tool” for the job. With user interface design patterns, for example, picking the right UI elements (e.g. module tabs, breadcrumbs, slideshows) for certain tasks based on their effectiveness leads to better and more familiar experiences. UX designers not only propose design patterns that are used on other websites, but develop custom patterns specifically for the current project.
User Profiles and Personas
Knowing your audience is the first step in UX design and enables you to develop experiences that reflect the voice and emotions of your users. Personas can be developed using website data.
In the simplest of terms, content inventory is an organized list of pages on a website. Doing a content inventory is a step towards proposing changes in information architecture to enhance the user experience (e.g. user flow, findability and efficiency).
Content Style Guides
Consistency is critical to crafting a memorable user experience through your brand. Content style guides give writers and designers a framework in which to work when creating content and developing a design, and they also ensure that the brand and design elements align with the owner’s goals.