The term ‘user experience’ (or UX) has become somewhat of a buzzword recently, as businesses start to take a more user-centred approach to the design of their websites and applications.
UX design remains, however, a relatively new industry. It’s also a changeable one that has to constantly evolve – not just with technological changes that need to be considered by teams in general, but also with the rising expectations of consumers who use websites, applications and software.
With this in mind, here are three things you may not know – or often forget – when it comes to UX design.
1. Neglect user research and usability testing at your own risk
Whether it’s gathering feedback on a completely new site, validating a concept, getting pointers on how a website can be improved, or testing a site with representative users before it’s launched – project teams would be unwise to skip research and testing.
If they do, they risk creating something that needs to be altered hugely at a later date if users aren’t happy with it and it doesn’t fit in with their needs and expectations. This could cost a client more money and cause headaches for the project team.
Some teams might feel that carrying out user research or testing prototypes is a costly exercise to begin with, however, and this could explain why it’s a step that is sometimes overlooked.
In other cases, teams can feel that they already know the user and what she needs to achieve, but assumptions are a risky foundation for design.
In fact, there is a whole range of different methods available for understanding users and their context, validating ideas, and testing products.
Simply spending time with people observing how they work, and listening to what they tell you about what they do, is a sure-fire way to develop a clearer understanding of how you need to design something.
Observation and listening like this is not about asking your users to design your website or application for you – it is more about developing clarity, understanding, and even empathy, which will help to guide design decisions throughout a project.
For businesses or organisations with a wider user group, like a supermarket brand, it can often be valuable to learn about general attitudes to a product.
For websites with a bigger target audience, surveys with numerous respondents can be helpful in answering particular questions, and learning about user attitudes.
Surveys are probably one of the hardest user research methods to do well – a misplaced question can alienate your customers – so it is well worth testing and refining your survey questions, before sending them out widely.
Combined with other forms of research and testing, surveys can offer a rich perspective on the websites and applications that you build.
Perhaps one of the most familiar aspects of UX is usability – how effectively and efficiently users can perform particular desired tasks. Inviting representative users to help you test websites and applications can help you discover problems that are likely to trip up users if they are not fixed.
The earlier in the design and development process you can discover these problems, the better. Of course, you must build in time to fix them. Regular testing, starting early in a project, can help you weed out issues that might be much harder to fix later.
2. Sometimes, it’s better to avoid trends
A lot of web designers still follow emerging trends, despite some of them not being right for every website. For example, although controversial, web designers often build “scroll hijacking” into the design of websites, to create a particular narrative.
Not only is adapting the behaviour of the scroll bar of a website frowned upon – scrollbars belong to the web browser, with the intent of providing a uniform experience – but it also fails to provide the best user experience.
In particular, for UX designers working on a website or application with accessibility in mind, hijacking any functionality in this way can be confusing or frustrating for users.
It’s important to remember that there is a balance between following trends and understanding what actually works best for a website’s users. There are multiple controversial topics in the web design world – the so-called “hamburger menu” icon is another popular one.
But in any case, your choices should be informed by understanding what your users need to do, and then helping them achieve that, whether this be online or in applications.
3. There is a balance between digital marketing and UX design
As the design process progresses, it’s not uncommon to have a fall-out over a simple aspect like the colour of a button, or another feature of a website or application.
This isn’t always a fall-out with the client, either – as the prominence of digital marketing increases, so does the strain on how a product is designed, and differing opinions can be tricky to manage.
>See also: Five ways businesses need to rethink UX
For teams thinking about UX design, there are a number of stakeholders to keep in mind when making any decision. Obviously, there are the users and the client to keep happy, but with the rapidly growing popularity of digital marketing campaigns, marketing managers are having an increasing impact on the design process. There is a balance to be found between digital marketing and UX, though.
Involving marketing directors and managers in the beginning stages of a project is a wise move. If they are included in the research process and later usability testing, then they will understand why a designer makes particular decisions.
For example, it’s important that banners and other adverts don’t take over a webpage when designing with UX in mind. Aspects of visual design, such as colours and contrasts, also need to be in line with the rest of the product, so it’s important that two-way communication is developed from the outset between designers and digital marketers.
Sourced from Francis Rowland, UX designer, Sigma