Experience. We love it, we talk about it, we criticize it, we crave it and we sell it. Is experience more of a modern currency or something beyond that, more profoundly attached to how people live and act in a global online marketplace?
User experience in web design starts with real people and grows from there - not only the people who are customers, but also the people who are involved in the process of building a website. There is an interesting blend of knowledge, goals and ideas that go into the process of designing for the best user experience. Throughout this post we will talk about three major components that go into designing great experiences.
Since user experience is the end result of and encompasses all parts of the creative process, we have designed this awesome infographic to illustrate and explain what is involved when creating the best user experience. The infographic can be useful to both businesses and creatives for a detailed look at the components that make up UX design.Infographic: UX Design - Made by People for People (click to download and view larger)
Is Usability a Good Metric for User Experience?
One of the biggest frustrations for businesses and web design studios is to find out that people do not use their website the way they intended. Usually these problems are discovered through usability studies. When defining usability, we think of a product's ability to help users reach goals efficiently and easily. Related to that, a website's usability can be studied by measuring the user satisfaction when a user is using the interface to find something or accomplish a task. Poor usability will cause a business to lose potential customers. If a site has poor usability then the business will have a number of visitors who want to make a purchase, but give up and leave the website because of a poor experience.
Usability is a powerful metric to start with, but user experience cannot be limited to that. In fact, it makes sense to put on your business spectacles first and think about user experience as a strategy for interaction through design, rather than being content with simply building a website that is usable. When we design for great user experiences, we take into consideration three major components: Information Architecture, Interaction & Dialog and Design & Development.
Start with Information Architecture
The scope of information architecture is to structure information, databases and content in a logical way. At a very basic level information architecture is connected to usability through navigation, accessibility and website structure. From a business standpoint, information architecture is connected to the goals, products and services of the company, presented in such a way that people can use and relate to.
One of the simplest and safest method to improve user experience is to make sure that the interface you build makes user's navigation towards the goal as frictionless as possible. If your site's purpose is to provide specific data from different streams of information, make it as simple and as fast as possible for the user to get it. Easy access to relevant information makes the user feel satisfied with the site's ability to respond according to their expectations.
In some cases, users will have to give something in return for finding/doing what they want on the website. Sometimes they will provide contact information, other times they will have to register for a paid monthly subscription. The point is that frictionless experiences are something that users will feel comfortable and even enjoy paying for.
Great business players with a rich and engaging strategy make sure that easy and fast navigation, as well as instant access to various services are provided to their users. This approach is already raising the benchmark for the rest of companies who turn high usability into a pulley for additional profit.Photo by: Nathanael Boehm
Information Architects will also have the responsibility of analyzing the project requirements and providing advice on what technology the team should use for best performance and scalability. At the same time, they should be able to make an assessment of the client's current hardware and resources and make suggestions on migrating to a different platform, if required.
The best way to start with your UX strategy is knowing what works best for your own business and how long it will take to do that. This implies that you are aware of the costs and resources needed for building and maintaining a website, especially if your website is a web app where additional resources will be necessary. Commonly people involved in the workflow setup are also leading the development team. What they need to be aware of is the budget, deadline, project requirements and available resources - like databases, hardware, technical sheets and so on. From an operational point of view it is most efficient to start working on the information architecture of the website and then organize and plan the project along those lines.
Interaction and Dialog - Guidelines for a Better User Experience
Focusing on user experience should first be aligned to the company's communication strategy. There are six aspects of communication pertaining to interactive marketing methods that you need to consider: content, interaction, dialog, support, presence and engagement. Depending on the industry, a high level of engagement can be achieved in different ways. Sometimes betting on more interaction pushes user experience outside the boundaries where communication is actually effective. For example, inviting the user to find a plane ticket by first viewing a virtual tour of the agency may not be the best choice. Though the virtual tour may be flawless, this experience is not in tune with the user's primary motivation to be there, that is, purchasing a plane ticket.
We have already talked about Why Content Will Always be King when it comes to positioning and influence. Great content facilitates dialog and helps the business gain a stronger web presence, especially if the content provided can be shared by people. Of course, there are a couple of SEO-related benefits derived from generating great content online, but the company's goal should be greater than that. Strong brands encourage communication on multiple levels, in meaningful ways. Storytelling has a lot to do with crafting captivating experiences through interaction and dialog; read our previous post about Storytelling in Web Design or learn more about Telling a Story through Your Brand.Photo by: Reilly Lievers
Design and Development
Designing for better user experience is designing for human beings. Get to know the people you design for: understand the company, the team, the products and why customers would want to find them. There is a lot of research involved with that. Some of the first topics that deserve investigation are: brand image, customer profile and competition. It's also useful to learn about previous marketing campaigns and understand the style and the personality of the company. What words best describe it? What do people already know about it?
There are two main types of workflow when it comes to web design: first, it's iterative design, where the interface is continuously improved and adjusted. Second, it's a more practical approach where you provide the client with the design and allow for a couple of reviews on it; this is called "Big Design Up Front". Both of these workflows start with the initial working prototype and with a few initial specifications - such as color palettes, structure and style.
Design and development can be tracked and run separately, but there are a lot of inconveniences that either the client or one of the teams will have to handle in time, if that is what happens. The most efficient scenario is where development starts immediately after the Big Design Up Front phase and runs parallel to other minor design iterations related to that. Some of the challenges involved with development are usually related to building custom applications, integrating modules previously developed by the company and optimizing the system for high performance, for different browsers and for various devices. There are a wide variety of web technologies the company can decide to use to accomplish this. Taking a look at what your competition does and what they do to engage with customers online is a smart practice. This is usually called benchmarking and it's not a practice related only to marketing anymore.
When it comes to business intelligence and website testing, large companies will often want to outsource most of it to the big shark agencies in the industry. That is not very affordable for start-ups, but once the budget can be stretched to include testing, you're on your way to strengthening your position and strategy through business intelligence. In UX design, there are a few common methods that gained popularity through the last five years.
Based on the depth of investigation and the method of gathering data, a company can run usability tests using eye-tracking, A-B testing and task completion tests. Also, design and experience is measured through self-reported metrics, guided interviews and brand awareness studies.
There are a few really amazing apps designed to measure and monitor engagement, web analytics and performance, as well as traditional ways to learn about your customers feedback and experience with the website - through e-mail, social media channels and online support.
Choosing from either of these is strictly related to costs, time and experience. Paid services provide relevant data over time, but using this data to make decisions is really the scope of testing. You can't get around that, no matter how hard your try.
So What Is User Experience?
This question is fascinating, isn't it? How about trying to answer another question instead: what makes a great memory? Is it about the people you meet, the setting you were in, the music that was playing or the emotions you felt? Great memories come with smooth experiences. It's when everything comes out right. you can actually isolate a great memory and just reflect on it for a couple of minutes. It is unique and powerful.
A good metaphor of UX is "The Fourth Wall" metaphor. When people watch a great performance, they sit in front of the theater scene. There are three walls with decorations and light surrounding the scene that remind the audience that everything is staged, directed and practiced. The fourth wall is the invisible boundary between reality and fiction. The audience watches the performance through this wall and its transparency draws the audience in for the two hours that they sit there, totally immersed in the performance. This is user experience.
Endnote: UX design is a challenge for both the company and the creative agency working on it. If you found this post useful, please share it with your friends and remember to download the infographic too.
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