What is UX Anyway?
It’s still a trendy buzzword in the industry, but it’s not always well explained, or it may be assumed you as a client understand what it is. But that’s often not the case. Is UX wireframes? Is it web development? It has something to do with the user interface right? Well, yes... and no.
Simply put, UX is the overall User Experience of a product, app, website or service, but it’s very often used to refer specifically to the experience of a website, mobile application, digital interface, or other such digital property. Let’s dive a little deeper.
We all know what a User is but how do we define Experience? When referring to UX, I like this definition from the Cambridge Dictionary:
You can think of UX as how the overall experience feels (the effect) to your end user which is driven by their interaction with it (doing), as well as what content is available to them and how it’s displayed (seeing).
Is the experience easy to use? Is information easy to find? Is the content valuable? It is visually appealing? It’s the combination of all these elements (and more) that creates a person’s perception of a product, system or service.
Without diving too deep, Gabriel Kirmaier’s excellent book, UX Bites breaks down UX into these key aspects:
- User Research - quantitative research that seeks to measure user behavior for statistical analysis, and qualitative research that develops a more in-depth understanding of everyday. experiences of a target audience or persona.
- Usability Testing - testing of a product with actual users to identify pain points and evaluate for ease of use, understanding and user satisfaction.
- Information Architecture - the organization and structure of content and information throughout a product or application.
- Wireframing - wireframes provide structure to content, helps define the intended functionality of the experience, and provides opportunities for prototyping and testing.
- Content Strategy - content strategy identifies relevant information and media types for your audience, and plans for the creation, publication, and governance of that content.
- Motion Design - motion and animation as part of the user interface in a digital product, help to create a more intuitive and enjoyable experience. Motion aides in telling stories and eliciting emotion.
- Interaction Design - the design of how a person interacts with a product’s user interface, encompassing, motion, animation, transitions, as well as physical metaphors like buttons, dials, etc.
- Visual Design - visual design brings form to function through the use of color, typography, photography, branding elements, shapes, and illustration.
Where UX Commonly Breaks Down
At DS, as a digitally-focused creative agency driving growth for a multitude of businesses across many different industries, we’ve built at least a few hundred or more experiences including promotional websites, landing pages, web apps, mobile apps, e-commerce sites, product selectors and a host of other digital products. In my experience, here are 5 common problems I often see with experiences we’re engaged to rethink:
1. It’s Not User-Centered
Your audience has specific needs and is searching for the types of content they’re interested in. How does your content meet those needs while fulfilling the needs of your business? Are you creating content that your users find valuable? Does it keep them engaged? Is it helping to push them further down the funnel and closer to a conversion?
Often content requirements and functionality can be dictated primarily by the requests of key stakeholders, without taking into account your end user. Instead of developing content that you think users will resonate with, without the data or research to support it, spend some time diving into the needs and wants of your actual consumer. To gain a deeper understanding of who will be using your product, develop rich and detailed personas for each of your audience segments, and conduct qualitative and quantitative research to identify key behaviors, preferences, needs and wants.
If you’re not putting the user at the center or your design solutions, you run the risk of spending excess time, effort and resources on an experience they won’t care about and won’t engage with. Is your target audience in the 55-75 age range? Maybe that super-progressive hidden hamburger menu on desktop isn’t the best decision. Is the FAQ section that your product manager is advocating for really driving the engagement he or she thinks it is? Or could it be time to retire the section in favor of something more valuable? Use data and research to answer questions like these.
Once you’ve have a complete understanding of your audience, and created your experience, evaluate it with actual end-users to see how it resonates. Prototyping and continual user testing will identify gaps in the experience, which you can then use to refine for an experience that performs.
2. The Information Architecture is Illogically Structured
Information Architecture is all about your user being able to find the content they’re looking for in a manner that is intuitive and expected. And this can have a huge impact on whether or not they can find what they’re looking for.
First, a quick story... last March, my wife Lisa (8 months pregnant at the time) and I were traveling home from our Florida visit, flying through Orlando airport. We were there with plenty of time. The rental car had been returned. We had made it through the enormous spring break security line, followed the signs for Terminal B and took the tram to where our flight should have been. We had an hour and a half to spare, so we did some last-minute shopping and grabbed a leisurely lunch while waiting for the plane to start boarding. Everything was easy and relaxed until it came time to head to the gate.
With about an hour left to boarding, we walked up to an empty gate with two Airline attendants chatting away over lunch behind the counter. This doesn’t look good. I walked up, showed them my boarding pass and asked about the flight to her response, “You’re on the wrong side, you’ve been moved to the A side,” as she pointed roughly in the direction of the tram and security line. SHIT, we must be in the wrong terminal! Without a second thought, we both started running back to the tram to attempt to make it back through the massive security line in time to get to wherever the Terminal A must be. 25 minutes to boarding, not sure we’re going to make this flight.
As we get back to the other side of the tram and start to look for Terminal A, we ask another airport representative for a little help on where to go. “You were in the right terminal, A and B go to the same place, but sorry you need to go back through security.” What! Uggghhh. Long story short, all we had to do was simply walk across the hall to our new gate, literally 40 feet from the other gate.
Coming from a military family, I’ve spent much of my life traveling, both domestically and internationally and I can’t think of a single airport that handles their terminals in such a confusing way. The signs for Terminal B actually take you to a terminal for both A and B gates. On top of that, if you want to get to another terminal A/B (there are 4 terminals with different A and B gates) you have to exit security and go through another security checkpoint in another area. It was mind-boggling.
So, what’s this have to do with User Experience? This experience is what it’s like when your website or app’s information architecture is poorly thought out. Users won’t be able to understand how to find the information they’re looking for. Users will go down a navigation pathway with the expectation of seeing certain content, and not able to find it, get lost in the experience, get frustrated, and leave. This can happen when similar information types are not bucketed together logically across the experience, menu items don’t reflect what’s on deeper level pages, or content is simply not created with the end user personas in mind.
Oh yeah, did we make our flight? Nope. As we made it through security, I sprinted to the gate only to get there as they were locking the door. We ended up booking a flight on another airline leaving a couple of hours later… out of the same gate. The irony.
3. It’s Poorly Designed
Studies show that a user can form their first impression of your website or application in as little as 17 to 50 milliseconds. Literally, a split second in which the overall visual aesthetic of your experience will dictate a person’s perception of your brand, either building trust with the user or instantly eroding it. Visual design encompasses the use of imagery, color, shape, illustration, iconography, and typography to create the outward face of your brand. The combined use of these elements (good or bad) evokes a visceral feeling in the viewer and creates their impression of your business.
To some, good design might seem a subjective and intangible concept to grasp. Who determines what’s “good” after all? But with a deep understanding of your audience and their preferences, along with a strong awareness of your own brand’s identity and the emotion you are trying to evoke, you can start to define how you should look to the outside world. Along with commonly accepted best practices, such as color harmony, text hierarchy, consistency, use of white space, symmetry, balance, proximity, and rhythm you can create something visually appealing that truly resonates.
Good design not only affects your audience from an emotional perspective but makes your experience more functional and easy to use. Design systems and component-driven design create consistency across a digital product and opportunities for a more flexible and scalable implementation. This means you can quickly and efficiently create new templates and pages across different members of a design team without loss of consistency. Bad design, on the other hand, will cause people to hit that back button. And you don’t want that.
More on Component-driven Design and its Impact on UX:
4. It’s Not Accessible
Accessibility, or the best practice of making your experience usable by as many people as possible including those challenged with physical disabilities, is moving more and more to the forefront of concerns as the web continues to evolve.
Disabled Americans are three times less likely to go online than those without a disability because of the struggles they face with technology and accessibility. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 56 million people in the United States are living with some form of disability, that’s nearly a quarter of all Americans.
“So I pose this question - if you’re a domestically based brand and could get 23% more traffic and potential engagement to your website tomorrow, would that be valuable to you?”
Following accessibility guidelines like designing for screen readers, keyboard navigation and best practices for those with color or visual impairments can drastically improve the experience of those living with disabilities and drive more engagement with your brand.
See how we used accessibility best practices to improve UX:
Google and The Reeve Foundation: Using Voice to Improve the Lives of Those Living with Paralysis
5. You Have Too Much Technical Debt
Is your website’s backend being held together with duct tape? Do you have integrations for your integrations for your integrations? Technical debt can happen when a system slowly devolves into unnecessary complexity through lots of incremental changes, often exacerbated when worked upon by several people who might not fully understand the original design.
Technical debt can be used to describe anything from buggy code, legacy code, missing or incomplete functional documentation to less-than-ideal technology implementations. It’s often a result of cutting corners in an effort to ship a product faster, which often leads to higher costs paid by you in the long run.
Technical debt can cause slow load times, the inability to easily update and make changes to your website or app, difficulty adding new pages or adding new features and functionality. According to Google, a mobile site taking longer than 3 seconds to load loses 53% of its visitors — and a single second delay in load time can reduce conversion rates by 20%. That’s potentially a huge impact on your business.
If your backend has become unmanageable, unscalable, or your technology stack is no longer serving your business needs, it may be time to refactor your codebase or a complete replatform to more modern technologies altogether. One of our favorite content management systems we frequently work in is Craft CMS.
How Does UX Impact Your Business?
Broken UX, simply put, erodes your brand’s perception, decreases engagement and conversion rates, and hurts your bottom line. Conversely, a pleasant user experience is nearly the cost of entry in today’s digitally-focused landscape, and if you don’t provide it, there is certainly a competitor out there that does. So, if any of the above sounds familiar, it might be time to take a hard look at your digital experiences across your brand’s touchpoints to see if you are truly providing value to your audience that will drive your business’s growth.