Business owners and marketing managers alike hear a lot about ‘user experience’ when it comes to websites and other digital assets. It sounds important, and that isn’t hype: ‘UX’, as it’s sometimes known, very much is crucial to making the most of digital communications.
But what is user experience, and how can it be measured and accommodated in design projects, from websites to mobile apps? The good news is that understanding the basics of UX isn’t so difficult, and for businesses that means there is little reason not think about it – and engage experts to finesse their UX strategy.
What Is User Experience Design?
Fundamentally, user experience design is the process of building a website – or indeed anything – with explicit reference to the manner in which it will be interacted with by the public.
All good design is ultimately about usability: an ergonomic keyboard, a website that flows, a mobile game that is addictive … all of these have been designed to fulfil a need, and shaped around responding to it.
User experience design revolves around some core assumptions which can inform and power any design process. First and foremost, it acknowledges the needs of the end-user, and puts those at the centre of the project.
What UX design offers is a set of tools that can be used to understand what that need might be – and how best to meet it. The user-centred principles of UX design demand that teams do their research, crafting user personas to imagine needs – and conducting user interviews to hear about them.
Critical user experience design should be staged: in order to arrive at the best outcome possible, each step of the design process should be checked against the projected user experience goals.
User Experience Process
What does this stage approach look like in practice? Well, imagine a design process not informed by user experience principles. A client comes to a designer and asks for a website. The designer builds a website. Project done, right? There may be a few extra steps of sign-off in there, but without the need to tether a project to UX goals, problem proceeds to solution fairly straightforwardly.
The problem, of course, is that no one has checked that the solution is fit for purpose – and that’s where user experience design earns its spurs. First and foremost, the problem itself will be interrogated: is there an problem? If so, has it been expressed correctly? Do users have other problems, too?
From here, a solution to the identified issues can be proposed – but that, in turn, should then be checked against the user personas for the project, and user feedback on the suggested solutions should be sought. Only then can a design be built … and, of course, prior to launch that should be run through the UX process, too.
At every stage of the user experience process, the governing question should be: how does this work for users, how does this achieve the goal a user would have for themselves? In this way, design becomes a process of incremental progress against measurable, user-defined objectives.
The Six Qualities of Good User Experience Design
This approach is tailor-made to create better end products, and of course ultimately this has real business benefit: websites that offer more rewarding user experiences retain audiences, convert more customers and enhance brand authority.
When considering what users might want – although they should never assume they know without checking! – designers tend to consider six key qualities: Usefulness, Findability, Credibility, Desirability, Accessibility and Value. In each of these cases, the key question is: will a user find that quality in this particular design?
For a website, much of this comes down to structure and lay-out: a good navigation menu for a website, for instance, will be useful, help users find credible content, offer some pleasure or satisfaction in function, and be offer both ease of access and give something backto the user.
Such a nav structure would tick all six of those boxes. The website’s content and graphical identity should do the same. But of course, different users will find value or desirability in different things, and have quite separate accessibility requirements of technical know-how. And that’s where user personas, user feedback and user testing all come in.
What a proper UX design process will arrive at, then, is a website that users love to use – and which can be demonstrated to achieve that goal way before launch. After all, bad user experience costs businesses customers – and every effort needs to be made to avoid that. Ultimately, that’s why user experience is so important.