So you've probably heard the term 'UX designer' before now. In fact, 'UX design' is becoming something of a digital-era buzzword, and many businesses are realising the importance of good user experience for their products and websites.
Perhaps you're even considering hiring a UX designer to look at your website? (if you are, I might be able to help)
Or maybe you've been contacted by a UX designer claiming they can improve your website in a number of ways, but you're not sure what they're actually going to do? Well, I can't speak for everyone, but here's a look at some of the common tasks I employ when I work with my clients.
What is UX design?
At it's core, UX (User eXperience) design is all about understanding, analysing and improving how people interact with products. It's a mix of a range of disciplines, inluding pyschology, pyschometrics, graphic design, copywriting, and more.
Different UX designers have different backgrounds, and certain projects may require different experiences and approaches than others.
When we talk about UX in the context of web design, it typically involves planning and designing content and layouts that make it easy for users (your customers) to find the information they want in order to complete a task. The aim is essentially to prevent or remove confusion and streamline the user's journey towards a goal.
There many ways this can be achieved, and UX designers such as myself devote a lot of time to learning and understanding why people do things a certain way so we can predict it and account for it in future.
But what does a UX designer actually do?
Well, let's look at some practical examples of techniques that a UX designer might employ in the process of improving a website.
Understanding who is using your website and why is the starting point to any UX project. As with a marketing plan, you need to know who your customers are so you can adapt your message to them.
To demonstrate, I'll use a real-life example from a project I'm working on at the moment for a local housing support charity. We are redesigning their website, with the aim being to encourage donations.
I began by looking at research findings for charitible donations from the last 5 years or so. Thanks to some great market research reports from credible organisations, we were able to cross-reference and identify some key points about target donors:
- Millenials between the ages of 24 and 32 are more likely to donate to social and mental health causes such as this.
- Older generations instead prefer to give to hospitals, hospices and religious groups.
- These donors are typically female
- Men do donate, but on average it is a lower amount and less often
- Donors require a concise background on the charity and a clearly defined mission statement.
- They also like to know how a donation is spent, so transparency is key.
From this small amount of information, we are able to deduce some useful facts and define some clear goals:
- We have an age group and gender, making targetted advertising easier
- We should use language and imagery that is relatable to women
- We know the other types of causes and charities to look at for insight into how they encourage donations (or what they are doing wrong)
- We know mobile and tablet will likely be the primary way people view the site due to a younger target audience
- From here we can look at other ways to allow donations via phone (text donations perhaps)
- We know to include a thorough break-down of what the charity does, who runs it, etc
- We know the importance of clearly explaining or demonstrating how donations are spent
Just this small list gives us great great starting point for thinking about the sort of content and functionality we need to include, and gives us jumping-off points for further research.
Knowing who your audience is, why and how they will be using the site, allows you to better tailor the design and content to address their needs.
Analysing User Behaviour
Analytics software, such as Google Analytics, is a great way of seeing how demogrpahics interact (or don't) with your site. By observing behaviours and tracking which pages they visit, and in which order, we can identify issues with a site and give some starting points for identifying what could be the cause of the behaviour.
For example, if the majority of customers are visiting your FAQs page immediately after the homepage, then we could assume the homepage does not feature the information they want.
Using analytics to identify customer flow gives you a great starting point for identifying where issues are occuring on your site. From here you can look closer in order to identify the issues and work towards resolving them.
Understanding how people use a particular website is a primary aim of any UX designer. It's important to remember that you are not the end-user. The best way to know if a design is working or not is to conduct usability testing and actually watch someone use it in the real world.
A usability test typically involves a conducting a practical study and observing a group or individual using a website. You may give them small tasks to achieve such as "make a donation" or "compare these two products" to test the discoverability of a design.
These studies often highlight areas in which the design is confusing or unappealing to users. Perhaps they scroll past important information or simply don't see a link that you thought they would.
It's easy to assume customers will look at everything on your page, but they are not looking at your website in the same way you are. You are looking at it critically, scrutinising everything on the page, where as they may just be scanning the page for a single piece of information, such as a phone number or your opening times.
By conducting usability tests, you not only get to see for yourself how they interact with your website, but also ask them questions about it afterwards.
Once problem areas are identified, a UX designer will start to produce an adaption or redesign of an element, section, or a full page that address these issue. Through A/B testing, we can then compare the results against the original and even repeat the whole process again until your issue is all but removed.
Avoiding bad web trends
I've previously written about UX issues resulting from web design trends, but they're a recurring issue for a lot of my clients, especially those running a stock Wordpress theme.
Whilst many of them have websites that look nice, they are often produced by a designer without an understanding of good user experience. Ultimately they rely on copying trends from other sites, without really understanding or even knowing there are issues caused by using them.
As an example, full-screen hero sliders are common causes of poor UX. They typically take up the full browser window and either rely on the user navigating through the slides, or will auto-cycle through them.
Many sites use them, and if designed properly, sliders and carousels are perfectly usable. But the majority, as in the example, are implemented poorly. Testing has proven that they can absolutely crush discoverability because they actively hide content away and require effort from the customer in order to find it.
Navigation is often hard to see, either very small or just so far away from the content it relates to that it's hard to find it naturally. Sometimes the navigation is hidden completely until the user hovers over it (please don't ever do this without very good reason to).
If I had a penny for every time I've removed a hero slider, I'd probably have quite a few pennies by now.
Improving Information Architecture
Information architecture is really just a fancy name for deciding where content goes and how you link to it.
Should you have a single page that talks about your business, its history and the services you offer, or do you break those sections down into multiple pages? If it's the latter, how and where do we link to the additional pages? Do they need to be in the main site navigation, or will a natural link in the main page somewhere suffice?
A UX designer may need to reorganise content based on your audience and your ideal user journey. The aim is to pre-empt a user's actions and answer questions they may have ahead of time. Efficient content organisation is like all good design. When it's done well, you won't even notice.
Information architecture also extends to working with microcopy, very short instructional text that helps give context to actions. It can be a paragraph of text down to a single word. Text links in a website's navigation are a goo dexample of microcopy.
It doesn't sound like a big deal, but microcopy can make a huge difference to a site's usability.
Let's look at a real example of changing some microcopy that boosted conversion by nearly 50%.
Originally conducted by WhichTestWon (they've changed name a few times since), they A/B tested two landing pages, both exactly the same content and layout, with the exception of the different text labels on the call to action.
The first version reads "See Promotional Video", the second, "Watch Video".
It doesn't seem like much of a change, and it's not. But according to an article by Crazy Egg the first version had nearly twice the conversions of the second at 48%.
All thanks to slightly more engaging and explanatory microcopy.
This is really just a small look at what a UX designer may do to help improve your website, but if you're thinking about hiring one, or are just wondering if a UX designer can help you, hopefully it's proven to be useful.
Techniques used will vary depending on the goal you have in mind. Increasing conversions on a landing page for example, will likely require a different approach to reducing a high bounce rate on your homepage.
Essentially we just make the lives of your customers (the user) easier, so they can do whatever it is they set out to do on your website. We do this through industry insight, testing and research.
Bad user experience, just like bad customer service, can be a deciding factor in whether or not a customer recommends you to a friend. Users are picky, and it's surprisingly easy to drive people away from your site.
UX designers aim to prevent this, or at the very least, reduce the chance of it happening.