Think about your favourite websites and apps. What do you love about them? The articles, the user community, the fact you can buy what you want for a great price. All these things will rank highly on someone’s tick-list. But user experience design? Not so much.
Doesn’t mean it isn’t critical to the success of your website or app, though.
Exceptional digital platforms don’t begin and end with content and price points. They need to be easy to use, clearly signposted, and not cluttered with unnecessary features that will compromise load-times.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, these are the things we appreciate when browsing, scrolling and shopping. These are the things that keep us engaged with a website, decreasing bounce rates and increasing conversions. And these are the things that fall within the purview of user experience design.
What is user experience design?
Coined by American researcher and author Don Norman in 1995, UX design focuses on creating the best possible user experiences. It considers users’ requirements, emotions and possible responses to a company’s product, platform or service.
The aim of UX design is to create an accessible, easy and enjoyable experience that gives users what they want while meeting the brand’s objectives.
But UX doesn’t exist in a vacuum. To make an experience as engaging as possible, UX designers need input from marketing strategists, researchers, web developers and copywriters. Making a user-friendly website? It takes a village.
Having a site or app that’s ergonomic and enjoyable is crucial in converting and retaining customers. Especially when you consider that people judge websites quickly and harshly — you have about 10 seconds to grab your user’s attention.
Great user experience is about giving people what they want effortlessly and enjoyably.
User experience design principles
Because UX is often synonymous with software, it moves as quickly as technology does. However, there are a number of principles intrinsic to user experience design:
Designing with the end-user in mind at every stage in the process is the most fundamental aspect of UX design. And this means knowing your users inside out.
Is yours a cross-generational, mass-market audience that needs a straightforward experience? If so, it will need to look and behave differently to a website appealing to a niche audience, where graphical curlicues and animations will resonate more with users.
Going into greater depth, it’s important to build a detailed picture of your audience through user or buyer personas. These are fictional representations of your target user as defined by certain characteristics – age, sex, income, lifestyle and so on. But whilst they’re fictional, they’re the result of very real data and insight gleaned from customer interviews, website metrics and experience.
User personas help designers keep sight of what their users actually want. So instead of the designer creating something they love, they create a product its users will love.
In defining your user, you’ll need to consider how they think, what they want and how your website can give them it easily and enjoyably. Which means undertaking behavioural research in the form of:
User interviews. These are crucial for UX designers to uncover behavioural information. These are qualitative in nature – feedback that’s emotional and anecdotal rather than data-driven.
Interviews can take place with existing, ex- and potential customers to work out what you’re doing well and how you could improve your user’s experience. And they can take place at any stage of the design and build process – from before a single icon is designed to after the product is built and in the marketplace.
Task analyses. This is the observing of users interacting with your product or service to understand how they achieve their aims. Task analysis helps you pinpoint where you might make improvements and make your UX easier or more engaging.
And while it’s good to observe users first-hand so you can ask them questions and get their feedback, you can also use tools such as Hotjar, which visually represent where your users are clicking, scrolling and tapping on your website, so you know what they’re finding most — and least — interesting.
Customer journey maps. These are visual representations of a user’s interaction with your website or app.
Like task analysis, customer journey mapping helps you see things from their customers’ perspective, giving you insight into common pain points, product features users want to see, and any barriers to purchase.
Customer journey mapping is useful when taking a growth-driven design approach to web development. Growth-driven design removes the complexity of web builds by starting with the essential parts of a website and then expanding it over time based on the requirements and feedback of its users.
That means customer journey mapping is important when first building your site, so you can understand the fundamental aspects all users will want. But it’s also important in identifying what elements to add into your site when you expand it. That might be an extra landing page, a conversational marketing chatbot or an explainer video.
Size up the competition
Whether you’re looking at direct competitors (who offer the same service and are chasing the same customers as you) or indirect competitors (who offer a similar service but at a secondary or tertiary level), you need to consider their:
- Website or app’s usability
- User reviews
- Design/brand aesthetic
- Copywriting and tone of voice
- Loading times
- Customer service
How do they compare to your website or app? Do their user reviews reveal anything you can do better to win them around to your brand? What are the gaps in their offering that you can fill? What are they doing well that you need to emulate?
Your competitors are a treasure trove of insights, so make sure you spend sufficient time sizing them up.
Usability Geek has more information on how to perform a UX competitor analysis.
Less is more
Hick’s law states that the more choices someone has, the longer it takes them to reach a decision.
This might be fine on a supermarket aisle, where a customer can take their time considering what chocolate they want that evening. But on a website, where the user often has a clear idea what they want before they start, more options often means more frustration — which means more people clicking away.
The less-is-more design approach reduces the operational and cognitive inputs of the user — i.e., it makes it easy for them to get what they want.
This simplicity also has the benefit of making your site or app more aesthetically pleasing. Just as clutter can confuse your user’s digital journey, so too can it make an ugly and off-putting user experience, thus giving your viewer another reason to press that X button and not come back.
A designer knows they have achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Have a clear hierarchy
Your hierarchy needs to offer a clear and smooth navigational experience for your user, so they never feel lost or frustrated that they’re not getting what they want from your platform.
There are two types of hierarchy. The website or app hierarchy is associated with how content is organised and distributed through design. The biggest example of this is a site’s navigation bar.
A quick look at HubSpot’s homepage reveals a nav bar that sorts by software, pricing, resources and so on. When you hover over these, they unveil a more specific hierarchy related to that broader topic:
HubSpot’s UX designers spent lots of time researching the most important aspects of their user journey — what it is their users most often want from HubSpot — and placed them in the most prominent parts of the site.
There’s also the user’s visual hierarchy, which allows them to easily navigate a web page or section. At this point, UX designers — and copywriters — need to ensure the most important information is top-loaded on the page, so the user can’t miss it.
Again, going back to HubSpot:
This homepage looks clean, simple and inviting, but it contains a lot of information: the primary nav bar; the secondary menus that expand from it; a call to action relating to a recent event they held; an attention-grabbing headline that defines the key benefit to the user; and another call to action that sells their free service.
Through excellent UX design and copywriting, HubSpot’s homepage is heavy in content but has been designed in a way that makes it a pleasure to navigate.
Nailing the landing
This approach isn’t just specific to your homepage; it needs to be taken for every page on your site. Take a landing page that’s having traffic driven to it by an advert. Its headline will need to immediately repeat what the advert is selling, reinforcing why the visitor clicked on the ad and encouraging them to scroll down and click that call to action.
So if your advert says: “Save 20% on trainers this weekend at Run Right.”
Your landing page headline might say: “20% off getting fit — this weekend only.”
This is your page’s most important message in the hierarchy. It lets your user know they’ve come to the right place, hooks them in and gets them reading more.
Your UX then needs to consider your user’s mindset in a hierarchy of information that might look something like this:
Features. The key physical aspects of the product. (‘Running-on-air’ trainers.)
Benefits. The positive difference your product makes to someone’s life. (Getting fitter, living longer, seeing your children grow up.)
Problem. Focusing on the actual issue so you can relate to your audience’s problem. (‘Tired of living on your sofa?’)
Solution. Focusing on how your product solves the problem. (‘The comfy fit makes running up mountains a walk in the park.’)
Testimonials. Using customer feedback or endorsements as social proof. (‘Best. Trainers. Ever. – a former couch potato.’)
Best in class. Calling out award wins or customer review scores. (‘We’d walk 500 miles to run a mile in these trainers – 5 out of 5, Men’s Fitness Magazine.’)
To ensure there are no cul-de-sacs and to encourage sales, this hierarchy of messaging would be interspersed with at least one call to action taking the user to the product page.
Every page on your site has to cater to your users’ needs and be designed and written with them in mind. Make your website about your users, not about you.
Once you understand your user’s needs, how you fare against the competition and your information hierarchy, your UX designers will need to follow a set of core consistencies to ensure an ideal user experience.
Be contextual. Good user experience design should be like a well-drawn map, so your visitors know exactly where they are in the user journey. They should never feel unsure of where they are or how they can get to where they want to be. Good UX design signposts users and guides them on their travels.
Show personality. Your user experience design — just like your copy, logo and brand colours — is a representation of your brand personality. Are you a high-end retailer or artisan? Then bring that flair, craft and sophistication into your UX. Or are you a prestigious law firm? Then keep your UX straightforward and professional to encourage confidence in your visitors.
Keep it simple. People are busy. As much as you’d like to believe otherwise, when most people visit your site, they’re not reading every tidbit of carefully crafted copy or marvelling at every illustration. Instead, they’re focused on a specific something — a need they want you to meet.
From your user research, you know what that need is, so now’s the time to deliver it simply and consistently. And in a way that requires as few clicks as possible.
So, what does a UX designer do?
A UX designer’s job is to create something so intuitive that users don’t focus on what they’re using but on what they want to achieve whilst using it.
Despite the job title, much of user experience design time isn’t spent designing. It’s spent in interviews, building user personas, creating wireframes or testing prototypes. We’ve already covered off user interviews and user personas, so let’s focus on the other two.
Wireframes are images that display how a site’s or app’s pages will look once they’ve been built. Essentially, they’re sketched-out screenshots showing where each element of the product will sit, such as nav bars, copy, videos, calls to action and so on. They outline what steps a user must take to outline a task.
A completed wireframe is the product of many iterations, add-ons and amendments, if only because a lot of people’s opinions need to be considered when building them. From end-users to copywriters, strategists to web developers, all stakeholders should input into wireframes so that the rest of the process goes smoothly and the final result covers all relevant perspectives.
Completed wireframes can be connected to form prototype screens, using software that lets a tester click through the design as if the site or app were a finished article. These are particularly important when the time comes for testing designs.
Our designers use Adobe XD to build their interactive prototype designs. For those used to the Adobe suite, XD offers a familiar UI and lets you create designs within the platform — as opposed to, say, Invision, which requires you to design in Photoshop and then upload to Invision.
Once built, end-users can interact with your prototypes to see how well the product meets their needs. Does the digital journey make sense? Are they easily able to find what they want? Does the design represent the brand personality? Is there too much or too little copy? Is it eye-catching and memorable or just another website?
User-testing shouldn’t be reserved for prototyping, however — it can happen at various stages in the process. In fact, the earlier you invite users to test through your design, the more likely you are to catch issues before the design goes live.
What a UX designer does at any given time will depend on what stage the project is at. This start-to-finish process includes everything from research and design to testing and user feedback.
But whilst the day-to-day tasks might vary, the mission of a UX designer stays the same: to create the best user experience possible.
A UX designer’s biggest strength is their empathy. They understand what others need so they can create technologies that meet those needs.
Summing up user experience design
Whilst in our marketing world, UX design normally refers to websites, software platforms and apps, it essentially follows universal considerations that all good design should aspire to:
It should be equitable and flexible, so that it appeals to people with diverse abilities.
It should be intuitive, so that the product is simple to use, no matter the user’s experience level.
It should be informative, so that the user gets the information they need, irrespective of their sensory capacity and surrounding environmental conditions.
And it should require low physical and mental effort, so that it can be used efficiently by everyone.
This is no mean feat. It requires buy-in from everyone involved in the building and creative process, detailed user research, rigorous competitor analysis and regular testing (both during and after the build).
But get it right, and you’ll create a digital experience that engages, is easy to use, that looks the part and — most importantly — ensures your users get what they want with minimum fuss.
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