What is User Experience Design?
You’d think that user experience would be easy to define. It isn’t. As the User Testing Blog recently notes, there’s no single definition that covers all that user experience or UX, is. If you’re approaching a design firm like UX 4Sight, you may be wondering just what goes on behind the curtain. Here’s a bit about our approach to user experience design and why you should be thinking about it if you’re not already.
Broadly speaking, your “user” is anyone for whom your online presence — your desktop or mobile website, apps, social media presence, and the like — is a touch point. The “experience” is just that: how they experience these online presences. How long do they spend and how do they interact (if at all) while they’re there?
UX is more than graphic design, though it’s that too. It’s not just about your product, even though that still matters. Instead, it’s about the overall feel of your brand from interacting with it. Is your ecosystem one that users would get lost in (in a good way) or one that makes them throw up their hands in frustration? Good UX reinforces positive associations with your brand and your product, while bad UX — like any other kind of bad experience — can lead to a visceral dislike of something, even if that dislike isn’t warranted. It’s important not to let your UX undermine everything else you’ve worked so hard to get right!
There’s an art to good UX, since it starts with things that are both useful and easy to use. However, this isn’t some kind of mysticism at work. There’s science behind it as well, because UX is also about how someone feels during and after they’ve interacted with your site and your products. It encompasses creativity, design, behavioral psychology, and more.
To confuse things just a bit further, there’s also a blurred line between UX and UI (also known as User Interface). The latter is all of the different things with which a customer can potentially interact, including text, photos, buttons, menus, fly-outs, and more.
Think of them as fraternal twins, or as two sides of the same coin. If you’re thinking of UX, UI isn’t far behind. They’re inseparable in a sense, since your user experience strategy will guide your user interface.
So how do they differ? If we boil them down to their barest essentials, we could think of UI as the physiology of the site, while UX covers its psychology. The user interface is comprised of code, design elements, and the like, while the user experience is the sum total of user behavior based on that interface.
As with so much else in the design process, it helps if these elements are in communication with each other rather than in tension. It’s also vital that designers and site owners alike view a website not as a fixed asset, but as something more organic. It’s capable of growing and evolving, and indeed must do so as understanding of user needs and behavior — to say nothing of external forces, like SEO algorithm updates — come into play.
Speaking of SEO updates, they’re another very good reason to pay close attention to your UX design. It used to be that you could simply tag your images, stuff your copy and your headers with keywords, and watch your ranking improve while you slept. Those days are far behind us and to keep up now you’ll have to step up your game considerably.
That’s because the metrics used for SEO have evolved to a point where an SEO “pro” from the early days wouldn’t even recognize what the field has become. Sure, some fundamentals remain. But with the advent of semantic search and with much more weight given to user intent, bounce rates, time on site, and the like, it’s clear that your UI and UX play a much larger role now than ever before.
Now the point is to structure your UI and UX in such a way that they complement your SEO rather than inadvertently cancelling out each other.
There’s one experience nearly every one of us has had: you meet someone for the first time and take an instant liking to them, or dislike them, for reasons you can’t quite pinpoint. Sometimes you’ll take time later to reflect on that first encounter and something finally clicks. You realize that a self-deprecating joke, a personality quirk, or an offhand remark cemented (or sabotaged) the relationship just as it was getting started.
User experience is like that, too, but with a difference: the average site visitor won’t take the time to mull over that initial impression. They’ll either like what they see and come back or they’ll find a competitor who seems like a more natural fit.
As with so much else in life, a little empathy goes a long way. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. How can you make their lives easier? The fewer obstacles you inadvertently place between them and what they need, the greater the chance you’ll get what you want. Quick load times, mobile-friendly sites, clean navigation, and forms that are easy to fill out are all great first steps.
What’s your next step? Each website is different, so each will require different tweaks and fixes for a truly optimal user experience. As a business owner it’s likely you don’t have time to do a deep dive into UI and UX so it’s important to consult with a professional. When we’re designing for UX, our team is leveraging all our experience across multiple disciplines, all in the service of helping you ensure that first impression is one that turns casual visitors into repeat customers. It’s no exaggeration to say that seconds count.
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Abdul is our founder and CEO. He’s helped over 40 Fortune 500 companies make informed user-centered design decisions through evidence-based user research and UX best practices. As an Adjunct Professor, Abdul has taught in DePaul University’s graduate UX programs and for nine other universities.