What is UX design and why is it important?
As a UX designer (short for "User Experience designer") I think about user experiences. A User Experience (UX) could be anything from how easy a chair unfolds, to how the buttons on a TV remote control feel. For us at Versantus, the UX focus is how intuitive the websites and applications we create are and how they make the end user feel.
At Versantus, we believe that UX design should be considered at every step of a project, and by everyone involved. After all, the end user is who your website or application is for, whether they be customers, prospects or potential investors, if your team is not focused on their needs then you won't create something that's fabulous to use and you’ll lose business because of it.
UX design means putting yourself in their shoes
Website visitors will have their own goals when visiting your site, and you should consider your design and messaging from their points of view not just your own. Are they visiting to read industry insights, check your prices, find a phone number, or follow up after a sales call? What type of personality are they, and how much time do they have? Do they want detail or a high-level summary?
Understanding a potential user's background and motivations as early as possible can help you to make considerably better decisions when designing your online strategy.
Thinking about the Information Architecture of your site - how the pages are organised and grouped - and the words, pictures and calls to action on those pages from the point of view of your users will help them to find what they need more quickly and easily. Faster information means less frustration and less frustration means more business from happy customers.
UX design means naming your users
It’s easy to think about your users as a single group, and business people often think they know their customers better than they really do. This can lead to some dangerous assumptions and some unhelpful design decisions.
To avoid this, it can be helpful to think about real-life personalities, rather than an abstract, average Joe. UX designers often create what we call "Personas", which are detailed profiles of a typical user. Personas would include the user's name, a picture, their likes, dislikes, capabilities, and challenges. Anything that's relevant to your assumptions about them. Here’s an example of a Persona (from http://www.inclusivedesigntoolkit.com)
Jenny is a 29 year old single mother to Jack and Ellie.
Going shopping as a family is always an adventure. Ellie is curious about everything and often wanders off in a world of her own, unaware of where her mother is, while Jack longs to run around and often tries to escape from his buggy. Two active children, a buggy and bags of shopping do not make for an easy or comfortable bus journey!
Jenny’s time is incredibly precious to her and so she has little patience with anything that unnecessarily wastes her time. One night a week she manages to escape to her aerobics class, while the children’s grandparents baby-sit.
You will probably find it useful to create multiple Personas to reflect the different audiences for your website or product. Use them in every UX design meeting - talk about "What Jenny wants", not "What our customers want", and you'll start to get better, more user-focused results from your design process.
UX design means listening, watching and refining
Your business and your customers will change all the time, and UX design should be an ongoing part of your online business strategy. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is an old business adage and one that resonates with successful online businesses. Don’t assume that you understand your users - check the data!
Using tools such as Google Analytics, Crazy Egg, and Optimizely, you can gather insights into your existing UX issues and test and measure the results of changes to your site’s content, design, and features.
If you can, talk to your website visitors. There’s nothing quite like hearing first-hand the goals, impressions and frustrations of a real user, and tools such as usertesting.com’s Peek service can give you valuable insights into how your website and brand is perceived online. And remember - you probably have a bunch of internal users too - don’t forget to talk to sales, operations, investors and other internal users. What do they love, hate and not know about your organisation’s website?
UX design means starting now
Websites can present a number of UX problems, and it can be hard to know where to start. We’ve compiled a list of areas to consider, below. But don’t be daunted by the number of things you can explore, measure and improve. Instead, start with whatever you find simplest - measure your bounce rate on Google Analytics, or ask a few customers for some honest feedback on your products. Then based on this data, make small changes to your website and measure again.
Tiny changes can have a huge impact, and you can do more as your knowledge of your users grows.
Organise your content (“Information architecture”)
“Content information architecture” focuses on where your pages are in the navigation/menu and how they’re named. You might also hear discussions of “site maps” or “site structure”, and there are some easy wins to be had right here. If your users don’t understand your information architecture, they could be struggling to find the information they need.
Think about your layouts
Commonly referred to as the “in-page information architecture”, the arrangement and priorities of in-page content can make or break a site. A good layout can make your pages clearer, more consistent and more easy to use, leading to greater conversions.
Does your site appeal to your users?
Commonly referred to as the “Visual design”, this area focuses on how the design appeals to your target audience and how it reflects your brand. This includes typography, colours, images and textures.
Tell your users where to go
You should never leave a user confused about their choices, and clear “calls to action” will guide them to the information they want (and that you want them to have). This includes thinking about button/link design, positioning, size, wording and is often an area for huge improvement. If all of your links say “click here”, you’ve a UX goldmine waiting to be uncovered!
Let them know it worked
Think about the satisfying “clunk” of a German car door, or the “beep” that your microwave emits when a button is pressed. Commonly referred to as “interaction design”, this focuses on the more complex interactions such as form submission, error handling, shopping carts, etc., and ensures that a user knows they’re doing the right thing (or not).
Think about how they use your site
Some of your visitors will be using large screens, and others will be looking for your contact details whilst on their mobile phone. Making sure your site works well on all devices, and think about how it should behave differently for different audiences with their own peculiar needs. Often called “Responsive design”, making your pages work well on all types of device can be a huge factor in online success nowadays.
Don’t keep them waiting
Is your website fast enough so that they don’t get bored or frustrated? Put yourself in a user’s shoes and think about how they might respond to your beautiful high-resolution images when they are on the far end of a low-speed copper line from BT. Use tools such as GTMetrix to measure and improve your site’s speed - it’s a cheap and effective way to improve conversions and your site’s Google ranking.
UX means continuous improvement and learning
UX is everywhere from a fast loading web page to a clear call-to-action, and by thinking about your users' experiences from the outset, you'll get more leads, more sales, and a happier business. If you’re keen to know more, there are many books on User Experience design to choose from. We’re fans of the lean approach to product and website development, and have found the following books extremely useful and full of great advice, with solid, real world examples. What’s your favourite?