Web design – User Experience


As the technologies within our industry advance, websites and web applications slowly become more and more complex. What was once described as a one-way and static medium has since evolved into a rich and thoroughly interactive experience. Regardless of just how much has changed in terms of the production process for websites, success still hangs on just one thing: how a user views it. People will ask themselves whether they gain any value from the website, whether it’s easy or pleasant to use. These questions automatically run through the minds of users as they interact with a website and it’s the answers to these questions that allow them to form a decision on whether they’ll be a regular user or not.

User experience, or UX as it’s often referred to, is very much about doing everything possible to make your users answer “Yes” to all of these questions. The following guide is going to help you familiarise yourself with web design user experience fully and help you enhance your own. Let’s first begin by taking a look at what user experience actually is. Quite simply, UX is how a person feels when interacting with a system. This could be a website, a web application or even desktop software. Modern contexts describe it as more of a human-computer interaction or HCI. UX designers spend their time evaluating and studying just how users feel about your website by looking at things such as ease of use, perception of value gained from the website, efficiency in performing different tasks etc. UX designers will also take the time to look at the sub-systems and processes within the system itself.

A good example of this would be looking at the checkout process on an e-commerce website. This would allow them to see whether the process of buying products from the website is simple and/or pleasing. They may also study components of the sub-system such as the efficiency of any input fields on a web form for instance. In comparison to a number of other areas within web design, UX is fairly new.

Why is user experience important?

Before clients ever understood the great value of user-centered design, decisions within web design were based on two things and they were simply what we thought was great and what the client wanted to see. The interaction within our websites was based simply on what we believed would work and we therefore designed it ourselves. The focus was on the look and branding and very little thought was given to how people actually using the website would feel about it. Back then, there was most certainly no science behind what happened. The results merely came about because they looked good and were thought to be creative.

This recent decade however has seen a huge transformation of the Internet and websites. Not only has it become far more present but the websites themselves have become far more complex and rich in features. Due to this transformation, they must have a great user experience in order to be effective. On top of this, users are now accessing websites in a number of different ways from different devices, different browsers and even different Internet connections. We’ve also become hugely aware of the importance of accessibility not just for those who might have special requirements needing things such as screen readers but for those who may not have broadband or may use older devices.

During all of these changes, the websites that have stood out from the crowd were always the ones that were pleasant to use and as a result, the driving factor when it comes to building websites today has become about the experience we want our users to have when visiting our websites. It’s now easy to see just why user experience is so important.

What systems benefit from user experience

To say all web systems would benefit from an evaluation and user experience overhaul is easy simply because it’s so difficult to argue against it however we don’t live in a perfect world and there are of course a number of systems that would benefit from UX design more than others. These include:

  • Complex systems –if a website is complex then it will be a lot more involved in terms of planning and design. While the idea of investing in a full UX study for a simple static website may seem a little excessive, multi-faceted websites or even e-commerce websites will really benefit from UX design. This is down to the fact that complex systems often involve a number of user tasks which means an awful lot riding on the fact that they’re perceived as valuable and efficient along with being a joy to navigate. If a good UX isn’t achieved then designers will risk big monetary losses.
  • Start-ups – start-ups and small companies will generally lack the finances needed to hire someone specifically for UX design alone however, this doesn’t mean that you have to neglect the entire concept of user experience. By hiring a company such as Wecan Media, you’ll find yourself privy to a team of experts with knowledge within specific fields, including user experience. If you happen to be a web design company yourself then the possibility of training existing employees to “wear different hats” as it were would be hugely beneficial however you may find it much easier to contract out UX work specifically.
  • Projects with average budgets – smaller companies and even smaller agencies need to keep costs low yet still deliver. In this situation, the focus tends to be more about the build process and less on planning, research and analysis. You may even find that projects with smaller budgets are very driven by the final product and launch but that certainly doesn’t mean it won’t benefit from decent UX. In practice it may not be possible to hire a UX specific employee however, yet again, contracting out some basic UX work may cost a lot less and still offer great benefits.
  • Drawn out projects –simple logic states that by adding a cog to a process, the timeline will extend. Time needs to be allotted for user experience design however UX designers could, in theory, shorten the timelines by taking a number of tasks usually assigned to the web designers and web developers. This would then save not only time by money also.

Things you must know about UX design

As amazing as it is, UX design won’t accomplish everything. It’s not “one size fits all” and therefore won’t work in every situation simply because we’re all different. What may work for one person might have the complete opposite effect for another. The best that can be done is to simply design for very specific experiences and try to promote certain behaviours. Despite this, we still won’t be able to manufacture or predict the actual experience itself. Just as we can’t design an exact user experience, neither can we replicate one on another website. User experiences, despite your best efforts will be different from one website to another. This is also due to the fact that the user experience should be tailored to each and every goal, value and product of the website it’s for.

We must also remember that user experience can’t be measured using traditional metrics either. You won’t be able to assess its effectiveness based solely on statistics and as a result, a lot of assumptions are usually made. We can ask for users to give anecdotal evidence but we can’t install an app that will give us automatic readings about user experience directly. It should also be noted that user experience and usability are very different things indeed. Although they have become synonymous, they’re clearly distinct. UX looks at addressing how a user feels whilst usability looks at user friendliness and efficiency of the interface. Usability is however a big part of UX and will play a major role in creating experiences that are not only effective but pleasant also.

UX tasks and techniques

User experience designers perform a number of different tasks at differing points in the process. Here is just some of what they deliver:

  • Evaluating current system –if the system already exists then the current system that’s already in place can be looked at. Reports of issues and future suggestions in order to fix issues will be based solely on their analysis and research.
  • A/B testing –this could include devising a study in order to compare the effectiveness and quality of the experience of different users interfaces. This can often be done by creating a hypothesis such as “the red button’s more attractive than the blue button” and then proposing or creating a number of different versions of that design. They would then define what a better experience is and then conduct the testing. This would result in “the red button is better as users clicked on it more”.
  • User surveys –this may include interviews with existing and/or possible users of the system. This will no doubt gain better insight into what would be the most effective design for them. You must remember that the user’s experience is completely subjective so the only way to gain valuable insight is to study and interact with them.
  • Wireframes and prototypes – based on findings from their tests, specialists may be able to develop wireframes of various layouts along with higher-fidelity prototypes.

This list isn’t exhaustive; other such deliverables could include user flow, storytelling, design patterns, user profiling and personas along with content inventory and content style guides. For some, just taking a glimpse at what’s actually involved with user experience can really highlight just how much more it is than simply creating a nice feeling for your user. It also highlights just how important user experience is when it comes to helping your website do the job it was intended to do. If you’d like more information on user experience and how we can help at Wecan Media, contact us today.

Source - Garrett, J. 2002, Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web. New Riders Press, USA.

Source - Berry, D. 2000, The user experience - The iceberg analogy of usability. Technical library of the IBM Ease of Use Team.