What is User Experience & Why it’s Important (Back to Basics)
What Is User Experience (UX) And How To Get Started
The user experience (UX) is one of the most important elements (if not the most important element) of a successful software program, mobile app, or website design; however, UX can refer to almost any product or service throughout numerous industries. Poor UX design will prevent users from wanting to interact with your product or service again; good UX will keep your users engaged.
User Experience Overview
So what exactly is UX? It’s the overall experience that a user has with a product or service. Take a website for example. The UX of your website will depend on a variety of elements, from the ease of navigation to the visual layout of each page to how fast each page loads. Each element contributes to the experience a user has on your site.
Importance Of User Experience
A poor UX can sour users on your brand. It can make it difficult to convert the leads that you put so much effort into attracting to your site and it can make it difficult to get potential customers to use your app even after they’ve downloaded it.
Take the UX design of a company website, for example. A lead may end up on your site after performing a Google search for a product that you happen to sell. If your page doesn’t load fast enough or the layout of your e-commerce page is confusing, they may go back to Google and click on another link. If they’re trying to find information about a problem they have on your site and you don’t have a search function that works effectively, they may give up and try elsewhere. Good UX design will help keep leads on your site and make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for.
The Difference Between User Experience & User Interface
User experience and user interface (UI) are terms that are often used interchangeably, but mistakenly so. UI refers to how a service or product functions and looks on the surface. UX certainly focuses on the function of a product or service as well, but in the name of the user’s journey to solve a specific problem. For example, the visual design of a screen on a mobile app or the CTA (call-to-action) button on a website is part of the UI. The UX takes into consideration all of these elements and how they function together to create an overall experience for the user. Essentially, the UI is a part of the UX.
Another way to look at it is to compare it to the human body. When you interact with a person, you’re interacting with what’s on the outside. This would be equivalent to the UI. However, the UX would be everything found inside the body that actually makes it function.
The Basics Of User Experience
Your entire website plays a part in the user experience. This includes everything that makes up how your site looks, from the colors and fonts to the images. Even the negative space on each page affects the UX. This is because a webpage needs to be easy to scan so that users can find what they’re looking for. If a page is cluttered with text all in different fonts, countless images, and clashing colors, then it will be an overwhelming mess.
Beyond the aesthetic of the site, the actual function also affects the UX. For example, your pages need to load quickly, your links need to work, your site needs to be easy to navigate, and everything should be optimized for mobile use (a website not optimized for mobile use will not load properly on smaller screens and can make navigation incredibly difficult).
Minimum Requirements for a Good User Experience (Web or Mobile Applications)
At the very least, your website or mobile app should have these elements to ensure a good UX:
- Relevant Content – It’s not all technical — your website or app needs to have the content that users expect to find. If you’re running a website for an HVAC company, a user expects to find information on A/C and heating systems. You should have content addressing what services you offer or products you sell as well as content that addresses particular problems your target audience is trying to solve (such as through a blog). How effective your site’s visual design is or how easy it is to use won’t matter if you don’t have content that’s relevant to your users.
- Usable Interface – The best interfaces are those that the user doesn’t even have to think about, they just feel natural. To create a usable interface, be consistent throughout your site in terms of the fonts you use, the colors you choose, and the general layout of each page. To avoid clutter, use only two fonts (one for headers and one for body text) and choose colors strategically. Carefully plan the layout of your pages based on importance, and stay consistent. For example, if you use a CTA button at the end of one blog post, adding a CTA link to the beginning of a different blog post will confuse the user – they won’t know where to find your CTAs. Keep in mind that every page should be easy to scan so that the user can find what they’re looking for within seconds.
- Easy Navigation – Your website needs to be easy to navigate. There are several ways that you can ensure this. First, a navigation bar should be easily found, such as at the very top of every page on your site. This navigation bar should include links to the major pages, such as your contact page, your blog, your e-commerce page (if you have one), etc. If you have a significant number of subpages, create drop down menus for each category. Include a link to your homepage on every page. A search function will be beneficial to users who know exactly what they’re looking for as well. Lastly, add breadcrumbs so that users can see exactly where they are on your site and can easily backtrack to previous pages.
- Credibility – Users need to be able to trust your app or website. There are several ways that you can establish credibility. You can do so from their first search by installing an SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate. Having this will encrypt any data that transfers between you and your users (for example, if they provide you with personal information). If that data is hacked, it will be encrypted, which means your users won’t have their information compromised. Users will know that your site has an SSL certificate as your address will start with “https” instead of just “http.” The “s” stands for secure.
Fields Related To Building User Experience
We’ve only really scratched the surface of what UX consists of, but one conclusion that’s easy to draw based on everything you’ve read is that the success of your website or app depends on your UX design. Keeping that in mind, building UX involves more than a few different fields. Some of the different departments that focus on UX design include:
- Project Management – Project management involves the planning and organizing of a project, such as a website or app, and all of the resources that go into it. This process includes identifying and managing the lifecycle of the project and applying it to the design process, which is centered around the user.
- User Research – User research is responsible for studying and analyzing user behaviors, user needs, and user motivations.
- Information Architecture IA – IA refers to how the information hosted on your site or app is organized, structured, and presented to your users.
- User Interface Design – UI designers are responsible for determining what users will need and want to do on the site or app. They must design a UI that makes the site or app easy to access, understand, and use to meet the wants and needs of the user.
- Interaction Design – Interaction design is responsible for creating interactive systems that are engaging and that have well thought out behaviors.
- Visual Design – Visual design is responsible for how the app or website looks on an aesthetic level. The look should be consistent with the goals of the brand.
- Content Strategy – Content marketers and writers are responsible for planning, creating, curating, and delivering content that is relevant to your users.
- Accessibility – Websites must be accessible to users with disabilities as well. Elements that could hinder accessibility include text that is difficult for users with vision problems to read and a visual design that may be problematic for users with chronic headache issues or epilepsy. Focusing on accessibility helps ensure that a site or app is accessible and/or beneficial to disabled users.
- Web Analytics – Analytics helps with collecting and analyzing user data, such as how users interacted with your site or app. This information can help identify weaknesses in your UX that require improvement.
User Experience Goes Well Beyond Design Elements
UX doesn’t just begin and end with the design elements of your website or app. There are technology-based impacts as well as human-based impacts that affect your UX as well.
Technology-Based Impacts on User Experience
These technology-based impacts on UX should be addressed when building your app or website:
Stable and Reliable Infrastructure
It won’t matter how much effort you put into the design or interface of a product if your site’s or app’s infrastructure is poor. A stable and reliable infrastructure will help prevent the site or app from crashing due to a variety of reasons. Poor infrastructure can also result in slow down if your site draws a significant amount of simultaneous traffic. Any kind of slow down or crashing obviously affects the UX of your site or app.
Intuitive and Functional Features
Certain features, such as a search bar, can greatly improve the function of a website. However, not all search bars are intuitive. Your search bar should be noticeable and not hidden in your navigation bar, and should be accessible on every page. Also, consider allowing users to search for multiple criteria, which will improve the effectiveness of your search function. Then, add an auto-suggestion mechanism to your search bar. The point of such a tool isn’t necessarily to save users time when typing in what they’re looking for, but to help guide the user by helpfully suggesting searches that may be relevant.
Usage of Automated Personalized Communication
Automation can help improve engagement with users, thereby improving the UX of your site. For example, if they sign up to your email newsletter, you can use automation tools to send out a welcome email as soon as they submit an opt-in form. You can also implement a chat bot on your site that can automatically answer basic questions your users may have on your behalf. This keeps users from having to wait for you to get back to them and allows them to continue using your website in an effective manner.
Human-Based Impacts on User Experience
Don’t assume that your UX is based solely on the technology you use and implement. You can’t just build your site and then wash your hands of it, no matter how carefully you planned the UX design. This is because the UX of your site is also a dependent on your ability to personally engage with your users.
Response Times to Online Communications (chats, forms, etc)
While you can automate some of your responses, this isn’t always possible every time a user tries to engage with you. For example, it’s better to have someone engage with a user in person via live chat on your website if they have questions or concerns. While automation is great for answering basic questions after hours, optimum UX calls for a human to speak with users to answer more complex questions or provide guidance or advice. Additionally, if they fill out a contact form or send you an email, you will need to respond quickly or you could lose your leads.
If your content is poor, users won’t stay on your site for very long. They are likely looking for content that will address a problem or question. If your content isn’t relevant to their problem, they won’t waste their time on your site for much longer. If it is relevant but it’s of poor quality, it will reflect poorly on your brand. If your content isn’t of quality, what assurance do they have that your product or service won’t be of poor quality as well? Good content is essential to not only engaging users, but also to helping build your brand authority, which, in turn, builds trust.
Focussing on UX First Brings Every Other Component Into Alignment
Always start with the user. You’re building a website or app to attract more leads to convert into more sales, so the UX design is the most important element to address. To create a good UX, understand who your audience is, what their needs are, what their problems are, and what solutions they’re looking for. Build your site or app around this understanding of your users (taking into account your business goals and objectives as well) to ensure a good UX design. Remember, good UX revolves around improving the user’s interaction with your site or app and improving the perceptions of your product or any related services.
CTA: Need some assistance with planning your user experience? Speak to the experts today