UX design is a part of almost everything we do with technology, from dialing a phone, shopping online or even staring a car. It describes a way of shaping the way people approach and use products and services, both to make the experience better and more rewarding for the user, and also to better monetise the interaction.
No matter whether your product is a good, a service, a website or even an idea, you use user experience design to make it useful, accessible and enjoyable for your customers. But what is UX design and how can you use it to improve your websites?
Designing a Better User Experience for Your Website
When it comes to making a website, UX design has three key goals:
Simply put, your website has to work. It needs to have key features that your prospective customers want or need, and it needs to do it well. Exactly what functionality means for your website will be defined by what you expect customers to do there. It is easy to say this is not a part of user experience design because it has little to do with making it all ‘pretty’, but user experience truly starts here.
Ease of use
This used to be called ‘user friendliness’. Simply put, your customers don’t want to be frustrated, confused, or made to feel like they can’t ‘figure out’ how your site works. You might have invented a search engine 1000 times as powerful as Google’s, but if a user has to type in 100 characters of odd words and symbols to find the nearest kebab stand, you are not going to attract many users.
One might think that functionality and ease of use are the whole of the matter. If something works well, and is easy to use, it’s a winner. And that may have been true once. To stay with the example, let’s look at Google 15 years ago. Functionality? Check. Ease of Use? Check. Enjoyment? Nope. To be fair, much of the web was a joyless, typesetter’s dream in 2001. Now look at Google.co.uk – the first thing you see is that doodle. A lot of people go there every day and don’t even search, they just want to see if the doodle has changed. It’s a small thing, but important. Google’s website user experience is actually fun.
So, you need to make your website powerful, easy and fun. OK. But how?
UX Design tools
One proof that UX design has come into its own recently is the sheer number of design tools competing for the UX designer market. Here are a few examples grouped into three large categories, but this list is far from exhaustive.
User personas are fictitious people created to represent your different user groups. Think of them as characters you create to test how they would use your website or app. This lets you test for functionality by seeing if your potential customers need your product. Xtensio offers a free persona creation tool, as does Grayscale and any number of other organisations.
Storyboarding is borrowed from the movie and television industry. It is essentially drawing pictures of what your users will see and experience, and helps you ensure an enjoyable experience, while also giving you a better idea of how easy it is to use. The most basic storyboarding tools are a piece of paper and a pencil, but Solidifyapp, UXPin and hundreds more digitalised versions are out there.
Website User Testing
Website user testing is the ultimate way to ensure usability and enjoyment in the real world. It involves putting your site in front of users, and watching how quickly they learn how to use it, and whether they really enjoy it. Again, you don’t need special tools for this, but many helpful solutions exist, such as usertesting.com.
Moving Forward: Mobile UX Design
I can’t address website UX design without saying a few words about mobile UX design. We already know that a large and growing segment of the people who access the internet (and therefore a growing segment of your market) do so on a phone, tablet, or other mobile device.
UX design for mobile devices is not essentially different in philosophy to that used for ‘traditional’ websites. It has the same goals, the same tools and the same methods. The only real differences are those of the platform. Your useability work has to address things like the size of the screen, the amount of attention and time mobile users are willing to spend on a single interaction or transaction, and the simple fact that they don’t like to type.
This article, of course, only scratches the surface of website user experience design. The details could fill several books, and already do. However, it should give you the understanding of the core points of UX you need to find the rest of the information. Happy hunting, and don’t forget: your audience might not use the internet the same way you do.