If you’re involved with website or software design at all, you know that the huge buzz words floating around right now are user interface design (UI), and user experience design (UX). Since these both have to do with users, the jobs often get lumped together, making them seem like the same thing. While they are related, UI is generally more about coding and actual website creation, while UX deals more with how users are going to interact with and like the site as a whole.
Now, you might be thinking, “I know what makes a good website. I’m on so many different websites all the time. I would know where to put buttons and how to make a site easy to navigate. And I could certainly do it much better than (insert least favorite website here).” And maybe you could. You could probably include all the right elements in all the right places. But could you create a good user experience?
We all know a bad user experience when we see one. You know, that website that you have to use at work and totally hate? It’s over-crowded, the buttons are in places that don’t make sense, and it’s virtually impossible to find anything. But knowing what makes a bad experience doesn’t necessarily translate to creating a good user experience.
Its All About the Research
Creating a good user experience starts with research. Lots and lots of research. You need to find out all about your users. Who are they, why are they coming to this site? Is their goal to get information? Is there a specific task they need to perform? Are they just shopping around? How old are they? What line of work are they likely to be in? Depending on the answers to these questions, you can start forming an idea of what should be included, and what can definitely be left on the cutting room floor.
But is all that research really necessary? If you want to have a successful website, then it is absolutely necessary. Take just the age factor as an example. Do users in their 50s use the internet in the same way users in their late teens do? No, absolutely not. So if you are trying to create a site for 50 year olds, why would you use the same elements as a site for teens? You would lose far more customers than you would ever gain with a poorly designed website.
Use Those Design Skills!
Now that you have a good idea who you’re designing for and what their goals are, it’s time to use all that knowledge and start on the fun part. Designing. This is where you get to create a tailored user experience that will probably never be noticed. That’s the rub about well designed websites. If it’s great, you just kind of think – wow, that was easy – and then move on. But a bad user experience will stick with you forever.
After a site is designed, you should perform testing. This is a step that sometimes gets skipped or deemed less important. After all, you have a website and that’s what matters right? Yes, to an extent. Even though you did all that research and created a website based on that research, you can never really know how users are going to react to your website until you sit down with an actual user and test your site. Your testing can be as extensive (fully eye-tracking, heat-mapping task based usability testing) or as low key (grabbing people off the street and asking if they like a webpage) as you like. No matter which method you choose, testing will provide valuable insights. A feature you might love may totally confuse and baffle users. A feature you weren’t so sure about, users might totally love.
Now that you have a totally amazing website, it’s time to watch users rave about it, right? Well, not quite. While good UX design is definitely noticed and appreciated, it doesn’t often get commented on – other than by fellow designers. UX designers are sort of the unsung heroes of the web design world; you don’t really notice when they’ve done their job well, but you’ll never forget it if they don’t.