User Experience or UX is a term you'll typically hear when talking about the design of websites. However, UX is actually much broader than this and is not exclusive to the design team alone. It goes much deeper, covering factors such as technical constraints and limitations to ensure users can actually use the site.
Inventor of the term user experience, Don Norman, defined it as:
“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services and its products.” – Don Norman, Cognitive Scientist and User Experience Architect
In this blog, we cover:
- What UX design is and why it’s so important
- Our approach to UX
- How UX is considered during each stage of the design process
UX design and UI design
The design of a website has a huge impact on the overall user experience which means that UX and UI go hand-in-hand. When UX is discussed, there’s no doubt that UI will crop up within the conversation too. We often hear the two being used synonymously when, in fact, they’re two different things.
Ken Norton, Partner at Google Ventures, Ex-Product Manager at Google summarises the difference well:
“UX is focused on the user’s journey to solve a problem; UI is focused on how a product’s surface looks and functions.”
When discussing UX and UI, the main difference to keep in mind is that UX design covers the overall feel of the experience while UI design is all about how the product looks and functions.
What is UX design?
We’re talking about UX in relation to websites. However, UX applies to anything that can be experienced. That could be a grabbing a snack from a vending machine or visiting a local shop.
As the user experience refers to the interaction between the user and the product/service, user experience design considers the different parts that shape this experience.
The ultimate purpose of UX design is to create easy, efficient and positive experiences for the user. It’s a UX designer’s responsibility to think about how the experience makes the user feel and how to make it as easy as possible for them to accomplish what they want to do. That could be how easy is it to navigate from the homepage to a certain product page, how simple the sign-up process is, or how straight forward it is to checkout.
Why is UX design so important?
UX design comes back to meeting the user needs. If their online experience with you isn’t positive, users will be frustrated and might not return. If they have a good experience, they’re much more likely to return and use your services again. This is one step to creating loyal customers which means more traffic, more conversions and more sustainable success for your business.
UX is something that we consider during every stage of the design process – from the research through to creating the visual designs. Our processes involve defining the needs of the user and making sure whatever we create ensures they get what they need from your website.
Our approach to UX research
Discovery and research phase
This phase is where it all starts. Discovery and research is the preliminary phase in the UX-design process which involves researching the problem, understanding how it can be solved, and gathering enough evidence to start forming a solution.
Ultimately, we use this phase to collect as much information on the client, their business goals and their users so we can create a solution that meets both needs. The discovery and research phase should result in the following:
- Understanding of users: User research allows us to gain an understanding of who the users are and how they are affected by a particular problem, as well as what they need, desire and value from a solution.
- Understanding of the problems and the opportunities: Through investigative work, we’ll understand how and why the problems occur, what effect it’s having on the user and the organisation. It helps us gain insight into the magnitude of the problem and opportunities for the organisation, product or service.
- Shared vision: The discovery phase also provides an opportunity to get answers from stakeholders to questions such as ‘what do we want to achieve?’, or ‘what does success look like to us?’. This ensures focus on fixing the problems that will have the greatest impact on the outcome and we know what to measure to understand whether the solution is pushing us toward the desired outcome.
Although we discuss each project in great depth with the client’s project manager, there are always different perspectives to be taken into account. This is where stakeholder interviews add real value.
Stakeholder interviews are one-on-one conversations with people who have a direct interest in the success of the project. Within this context, a stakeholder is anyone who can offer useful advice about the product and help to simplify the design process. An invaluable research tool, stakeholder interviews are used to kick-start the design process and focus on extracting information from three main areas:
- User needs: How will the design help the users?
- Business goals: How will the design support business objectives?
- Technical limitations: What technical obstacles need to be overcome?
These interviews will also help you understand user behaviour, distinguish constraints, identify pain points, define goals, improve communication and earn trust and buy-in.
A user interview is a UX research method during which a researcher asks one user questions about a topic of interest with the goal of learning more about it.
Interviews give greater insight into what users think about the site. They can point out what site content is memorable, what people feel is important and what ideas for improvements they may have.
User interviews can be beneficial to a variety of situations including:
- Before you have a design: To inform personas, journey maps, feature ideas and workflow ideas.
- In addition to a field study: To supplement observation with descriptions of tools, processes, bottlenecks and how users perceive them.
- At the end of a usability test: To collect verbal responses related to observed behaviours.
Online user UX surveys
Online user UX surveys are a quick and easy way to gather data on your users and potential users. But it can be equally risky if you don’t design your questions well. The wrong line of questioning will create a survey that will be of no use. Surveys should consist of two types of questions:
- Closed questions: These questions gather quantitative data. They don’t give insight into the context, the motivation or the cause for the response, and they are usually accompanied with a checkbox. The data collected from these questions can easily be visualised.
- Open questions: These questions gather qualitative data about a user’s behaviour or action. They tell us more about what the user thinks about a problem. These questions require a text box to explain the cause and they usually take a lot longer to analyse.
Surveys are an effective way to gather feedback on a live product, exploring a company’s USP, refining a new feature and lowering the risk of a poor solution.
Remote usability review
Remote usability testing is our fallback when we don’t have access to user testing with individual users. It comprises of using the available data sources and setting up tests on site visitors to gain an understanding of how they are behaving, what's working and what's not.
Different tools can be used to test a site with a real user, see what they’re engaging with and analyse a recorded output. One of our most commonly used tools for this is Hotjar.
Also referred to as user testing, usability testing is concerned with the usability of the interface. Participants are asked to perform tasks, usually using one or more specific user interfaces. As each task is completed, the researcher observes the participant’s behaviour and listens for feedback.
Usability testing differs from remote usability reviews as specific tasks can be created so we can watch the user guide themselves through, asking them to comment and provide scores along the way. The goals of usability testing vary, but usually include:
- Identifying problems in the design of the product or service
- Uncovering opportunities to make improvements
- Learning about the target user’s behaviour and preferences
Competitor usability reviews
Competitive usability reviews determine how your site performs in relation to your competitors’. The comparison can be used to rank sites by overall site-usability metrics, or it can be more focused such as comparing features, content, or design elements across sites.
Reviews can take the form of expert reviews where a usability practitioner reviews the designs based on their usability expertise, or competitive usability testing, where users complete a set of tasks using two or more competing sites.
Rather than looking at a competitor’s site to see what you personally think is interesting, an evaluation creates an understanding of what works and what doesn’t from a user’s perspective.
UX strategy phase
Defining the strategy involves a UX workshop that bridges the gap between this phase and the research phase. By filtering through all the information gathered and elaborating upon it, we can identify viable solutions, hidden opportunities, bottlenecks or resource waste as well as gaining clarity on what’s needed in the following visual and interaction phase.
This process aligns both the project and client team on the direction and context of the project in terms of what problems and opportunities we are aiming to solve, who we are designing for and how. A UX workshop is where we start. This opportunity is used to go through the problems the client and users face and end up with solutions and opportunities.
Following the workshop, we take the session outcomes and translate them into an understandable series of outputs that define the scope, functionality, users and approach we’ll take for the project. Examples of workshop activities can include:
- MoSCoW analysis: MoSCoW prioritsation is a popular priorisation technique for managing requirements. The acronym stands for four different categories – must-haves, should-haves, could-haves and will not have at this time.
- Persona groups: Defining persona groups helps us to understand the different types of users that will be using the product, what they are trying to achieve and what challenges they face. This process can also involve the persona M3s – a mindset, mission and methods exercise which, taking the defined user personas, helps the project and client team think like the user.
- User journey mapping: To further understand how our users will be using the site, we map out their journey from discovery to goal based on their primary and secondary goals as defined in the persona. This involves using Hotjar to understand what journeys users are taking and their actions on each page.
- Site map review: Key to any new website or updating an existing website is how the site map is structured. This exercise is particularly useful if the current site map is large or cluttered.
The role of IA in UX design
Information architecture (IA) defines how content will be structured and presented to a user when they’re interacting with the design. Content is a big reason behind why people visit websites. We all know how important it is to produce content that users will find valuable, but what’s equally important is to make sure the content is easy to find.
Site hierarchy and navigation are two of the major components that come into IA. Hierarchy defines the structure of content, while navigation defines how users will move through that content. To create a hierarchy, the IA needs to consider what the user expects to see - based on user research - alongside how the business wants to show the information - based on the project requirements.
Site mapping and content modelling
The structure of the information architecture is defined by the site map. The sitemap essentially means the skeleton of the site and provides a representation of how the user will navigate into the site and what pages will be required.
Content modelling is a list on a page-by-page basis in the site map which dictates the order of content on each page. Considering the site map and content modelling allows us to consider user journeys as we design.
UI design phase
This phase is where all the research and planning come to fruition. Translating the insight collated into a visual solution that solves the client’s problem, enhances usability and improves the user experience, what exactly does this phase involve?
Mood boards help to steer us in the direction of what we’re aiming to achieve. They are a great way of clarifying initial ideas and allow clients to be involved in the process from the very start.
Concept designs explore how the different UI styles discussed in the mood boards can be implemented.
In this process, we typically start with the homepage and one other key site page. These concepts are presented to and discussed with the client to make sure we’re going in the right direction. The decisions we make on the UI in the concept designs will inform the rest of the components and templates.
With concept designs signed off, the remaining components and site templates are designed ready to showcase the whole product to the client. This is often a lengthy process with significant work required to expand the concept across different component types and multiple viewpoints.
Prototyping and interaction design
As we design the overall look, feel and styling of the pages and components, we consider how a user will interact with them and what visual feedback they receive when interacting. This is hugely important in relation to how usable the end website will be. Prototyping also allows us to create a clickable journey to show the user journeys in a visual format.
UX and your website
The design process encompasses the user experience from start to finish. Digital is always evolving and, once your website is launched, the user experience needs to be regularly reviewed. This aim of continuously improving your website is significant to ongoing success.
You may have considered UX in the design but, is it actually working for your users? Is there anything you need to change or improve? Once the research has been completed and analysed, the designs created and the site launched, it’s time to go back and do the research again.
As a web development and design agency, we know that considered UX design is essential to creating memorable website experiences that will make your users return again and again. Our in-house team work alongside our clients and their users to gain a real understanding of what they want and need. Combining their impressive experience and expertise, they’ve translated challenging concepts into immersive visuals. Take a look at the work we’ve done for our clients or contact us to find out more about the way we work.