UX: How the user experiences the web

User Experience, or UX, is the backbone of designing websites. It is entirely centered on how the people use the site, how effective it is, how much the user values it, and how enjoyable the site is. User-centric design is the way we design websites now, so it’s important to know how the users feel about the sites they visit. Simply finding the information is not cutting it anymore. There is a focus on how the user feels about their experience. Not just ease of use, but accessibility, effectiveness, and enjoyment.

Think about the layout of a grocery store. The aisles and products are laid out specifically with the consumer in mind. If you are going for flour, you may also want sugar. If you are getting sugar, you are probably baking, therefore you might need all of these other baking ingredients. When you can’t find something, there is a board and signs for navigation, or you can specifically ask a worker. When you are buying pizza, you close the door and there is parmesan and red pepper flakes on the end cap by the pizza. You fill your cart with canned vegetables and there are can openers hanging on the aisle. People don’t think about the can openers if they don’t need them, but as soon as you do, it becomes wonderfully convenient. If you just picked up lunchmeat, bread is right around the corner.

Good UX is invisible

When a user has a positive experience with a site, they hardly have to think about the effectiveness of the design. It was a successful, positive experience, and therefore they were able to get what they need and go. It’s the terrible UX that draw attention. We go back to the grocery store. If you go in for a jar of pickles, you walk in and look at the aisle description. You go to the aisle that will most likely have the pickles and pick out the jar you want. Head over to self checkout, pay and leave. You are happy with your quick visit and will likely return to that grocery store.

Now you walk into a different store in search for pickles. You go to the same section that has olives and condiments but there are no pickles. You look for a directory but there is just a board that says figure it out. All of the employees are hiding from you. You search for the pickles in every conceivable place until 30 minutes later you find them on a shelf next to the cucumbers. Weird, but you grab them and go to checkout. Self checkout is only in French, but you can sort of get through it from previous experience with self checkouts. You start to scan the label but ads for a different brand of pickles keep popping up. You finally pay and leave, but are completely unsatisfied and will never return.

This is the same idea with user experience. If it makes sense to the people who are using it, it will flow naturally. UX creates an invisible roadmap for the user. It isn’t forcing them to navigate from one end to the other, but gives them paths to follow, while clearly stating what is at the end. When it is reliable and effective, loyalty from the users will stay with it. Bad UX will leave users frustrated and completely unwilling to deal with it, no matter how much they want the pickles.

How to design for the users

The best way for designers to begin is to establish a flow of information. Creating a hierarchy in a way that is easy to understand is vital to making any design work. If nobody can use it, it doesn’t matter how pretty it is. Create for the target audience. If it is a site aimed towards the general public, you need to design with a wider scope. If the site is business to business, you need to design with a narrower, more specific scope. For example: if you are creating a site for a skiing company, you can’t assume that only skiers will be accessing the site. There could be anyone from beginners looking for information, to experts looking for specifics. This is a broad scope of people that will be traversing the site, so it needs to have easy to understand navigation and language for anyone to access. However, if you are making a site for a paper supplier that only deals with businesses, the vernacular can change and be more specific to the people that they market to. These are just a few things to consider when organizing information.

A Tip for designers

Don’t make any assumptions. It is a very common mistake for designers and developers to assume anything about their users. If the user is older, it does not mean they don’t know how to use a computer at all. Because they are young adults, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are experts at finding everything on a website. When a site is created too simple, it becomes a possibility that the user feels belittled. If it is too complicated with the assumption that they can figure it out, the site will fail. Of course, take studies into consideration, but don’t make blanket decisions. Design with everyone in mind, but you cannot assume that people have the same abilities, education, experience, or patience.

This is a wonderful book that goes more in depth about how to design for the users in mind. I highly suggest it for a design tool, and to rethink about how you design for yourself, and how to design for others.

How the users can communicate with your designer

If you are looking to get a website designed, one of the questions that we ask here at Melinda McCaw Media is “what websites do you not like?” Many clients go for websites that they don’t like the aesthetics of, which is of course useful and helps us on our path to make something you want. But when you are taking a website into consideration, think about your experience with a site. A common thing I do is take 10 minutes and find all of the ins and out of a website, taking notes verbally of what I’m doing and roadblocks that I run into. Everyone has personal tastes and preferences, but there are mechanics that if they don’t work they aren’t effective. Do this for yourself on websites that you are considering, and gather your experience from the site, as well as your aesthetic taste.

For example: pull up a website that you like or dislike. Where is the menu? Does the menu have drop down links, and if so do you have to click or hover to get it to drop down? Pick a specific section of the site to find and navigate to it. Was it easy to find, were there other places to get to it? Continue to do this for the rest of the site, and feel about how that experience made you feel as a user. These feelings are essential for designing a successful site. Frustration with a site will quickly lose traffic, and lose any purpose.

A tip for us

Find sites that you love using not just for the how it looks, but how resonates with you as a user. Also, find a site that frustrates you, and really pin down the reason why. Do you dislike the fact that you have to click a tiny arrow to make a menu drop down, whereas this site you only need to hover? When you scroll does the site jump to the next section unexpectedly, without you wanting it to? Take note of these things and let the designer know. It will make building the site better for everyone involved.