In the first part of our website blog series, we explored the topic Is Your Website Doing Its Job? There we highlight the importance of defining your website’s target audience and main objectives. In today’s rapidly shifting, digital-first business landscape, having a mediocre website is not an option if you want your business to succeed. But designing and building a website that does its job requires a good amount of discovery, planning, strategy, and testing. A huge part of that is user experience (UX) design.
What Is UX Design?
UX design is often confused with graphic design. When we start talking UX design with clients they excitedly start thinking colours, images and flashy features they envision for their website. So what exactly is the difference? Let’s start with a couple of definitions:
User Experience (UX) is the user’s qualitative and emotional impression when interacting with your site as well as their experience performing tasks. Improving usability and enhancing ease-of-use, while making your site intuitive and enjoyable, leads to a positive user experience.
User interface (UI) speaks to the look and feel, as well as the layout, navigation controls, labels and content of your website or application.
With the growth of digital interactions between businesses and their customers, there has been a growing focus on the “feeling” part of design i.e. the user experience. Therefore, if UX is the experience that a user has while interacting with your website, then UX design is the process of researching and understanding the user’s perspective in order to determine what an ideal user experience might be. The process of making your website intuitive, useful and enjoyable to your users.
It’s important to note here that UX design covers the entirety of the customer experience with your business as we explained in our blog post 7 Tips for Achieving a Great User Experience. For the purpose of this series, we’re focusing on UX design for digital interactions such as websites and mobile applications.
Is it possible to have a good UI and bad UX or vice versa? The answer is yes. A voice activated application has no visual UI per se but can have an excellent UX. Craigslist has a loyal following who love the experience on the site, but few people would say the interface is attractive or compelling. We’ve also seen ecommerce sites that had a beautiful and eye-catching UI, but the process of signing up for an account to complete a purchase was difficult and frustrating which led to a drop in sales – this would be an example of a good UI but bad UX.
These are the exceptions, not the rule. Most businesses should strive to achieve an excellent experience on your site, and a visually compelling interface that makes your customers want to keep coming back.
How Can You Improve Your Website’s UX?
Is your target audience spending less and less time on your website? Have you seen a lot of traffic on your ecommerce site but no one is buying? Do you find shopping carts are being abandoned at check out? Are prospects coming to your home page and leaving immediately? Have you often sat back wondering why your flashy website is failing to meet your goals?
These are all glaring signs that your website is failing to do its job effectively, and the culprit may be the user experience (UX) you’ve created. Assuming you already have a well-defined target audience and objective for your website, you can start evaluating your UX by looking at the key features and elements that your visitor needs to find based on that specific, defined purpose. This is where we start to get into the fundamentals of an effective UX and UI design.
Your objective should always be to eliminate instructions entirely by making everything self-explanatory, or as close to it as possible. When instructions are absolutely necessary, cut them back to a bare minimum. The fact that the people who built the site didn’t care enough to make things obvious—and easy—can erode our confidence in the site and the organization behind it.
Quote from Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited by Steve Krug.
When designing your web application or website, you need to set priorities based on the purpose you’ve defined. If your website’s purpose is for customer self-service, you wouldn’t want to bury account access three layers deep. If you have an ecommerce site, you want your customers to be able to find what they are looking to buy as quickly as possible and to make it as easy as possible to complete a purchase in the fewest possible clicks.
UX Website Design Tips
Whether you are developing a website or building a web application for internal or external audiences, here are some tips for getting the experience and interface right:
- Don’t Make Them Think: Your customers or users shouldn’t wonder what a link does or the function of a button and feel they have to click to figure it out. You’re making them work for no reason, which will lead to frustration and abandonment. Make it crystal clear what links and buttons do.
- Define Structure: In most application and website design, 90% of people use only 10% of functions. A good user interface makes those 10% functions easy to find at the highest level and from all devices. The rest of the functions can still be easily found in the second or third levels. Knowing what needs to be in that top 10% comes back to defining the purpose of your website and researching your users to understand exactly what they’re looking for when they come to your site.
- Don’t Hide: While 10% of the content is the most used, don’t make it hard to find the remaining 90% (or worse make your customers seek out help or read a manual). Have all the content discoverable, just don’t clutter the topline information that the majority will use.
- Keep it Simple: Everyone uses websites differently and for different reasons. The easier you make it to get to the information people want, the better their overall experience and impression of your website and company.
- Test Your Assumptions: We all think we know what our customers want, but do we really? It’s important to conduct website testing, such as in-person user tests, gathering and analyzing verbal and non-verbal feedback, and analyzing user behaviour through tools such as Google Analytics, to find out what issues users are experiencing while interacting with your website.
- Design is Subjective: Understanding your target audience’s demographics, preferences, and personality can help you hone the design to better resonate with them, ensuring a positive experience with your website or application.
- Think Mobile: The time to cater to desktop users alone is long past. Consider how users will connect from a range of different mobile devices and make sure that experience is consistent across all device types.
- Offer Feedback: When a user completes tasks or fills in forms, let them know the process is complete. All too often you click a button to complete a task and never really know if anything even happened. Tell users, don’t leave them in the dark or keep them guessing.
- Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: There are standard colours, icons and methods that provide sub-conscious information (like using green for accepted or task completed, red for missing information/error, a house icon signaling the home page, or a “?” for help). You don’t need to create a whole new set of icons or navigation structures. Use the ones people are familiar with so they don’t have to learn a whole new language or think.
- Be Consistent: From the language you use (first versus third person) to the style, navigation and colours, consistency across your website and brand gives users a sense of familiarity. This translates to comfort and ease of interaction, all of which produce a positive experience.
- Expect Surprises: So often we see that our clients think they know what their customers want and need, only to find out a whole new set of requirements is actually more important after doing some user research. Staying flexible to new requirements is important.
UX design is a complex, time-consuming process that involves product and user research, information architecture, wireframing, prototyping and testing. In fact, customer centric businesses are always engaging in this process and constantly iterating to improve their website and the user experience with their brand. And while for smaller to medium-sized companies it may seem like an added expense, it’s a necessary one to make sure you design and build a website that will meet the needs of your users and ultimately your business.
Get in touch with us to learn more about Whitecap’s unique approach to creating design experiences that work and keep your customers coming back.
Check out the other posts in our website series: