In the last 25 years, business websites have evolved into powerful interactive hubs where users go for far more than brochureware. And as COVID-19 has shown, they are also now the front doors to organizations. Along with social media, they are often the first or only means of interaction people have with a business so, your website's experience better be on point. If it's not, the good news is it's never been easier to learn what it takes to build a good experience for your users. I recently completed a UX research project on ctwoodlands.org, the website for the member-based conservation nonprofit Connecticut Forest and Park Association. Check it out to see one approach for quickly getting the insights and direction you need for a successful redesign.
Redesigning a website is usually about making its experience better. But change doesn’t guarantee better, just different. This is why user experience (UX) designers focus so much on user research. The more you know about user needs, as well as business and other requirements, the more you can eliminate some of that uncertainty about the impact of a new design. However, you will never know for sure how a design choice will perform until it's used with real users in real life. This is a nerve-wracking reality. A UX designer nor most project stakeholders are comfortable taking the risk of just changing something and seeing how it goes. Enter A/B testing.
As the mobile revolution developed over the last decade, designers and programmers suddenly had to worry about supporting an ever-increasing list of devices and screen sizes. At first, the solution seemed to be to design unique experiences for each, but a leading school of thought has become designing one site to rule them all, or responsive web design. This creates a seamless cross-device user experience and future-proofs designs.
Users always have a need for speed. Think about it. Have you ever thought, “I wish this webpage would load slower?” And it’s not just because technological advances have skewed our expectations in favor of the fast lane. We rely on the internet more now than ever to provide basic information and services. But economic inequality or geography means users are accessing these on devices and networks with a wide spectrum of speeds. To build webpages to perform as identically as possible in all conditions is to show care and consideration for all users. One of the biggest impacts you can make on load speed is optimizing your images.
A key component in your website’s feel, and some might argue the most readily noticeable, is color. We all have a favorite and before we can even read, we’re taught names and cultural associations for each. But choosing a color palette for a website that inspires the right emotions and works well with existing branding or content can be a challenge.
You should design your website to evoke the emotions that you want users to have, ones that make them have a positive opinion of your brand or content, and that motivate them to take actions you desire. Mood boards help with that. Mood boards are physical or digital collages of images, icons, typography, colors, patterns, textures, and other design elements that together speak to the intended mood you want to set with your visual design.
Users’ attention spans are short. They make judgments they may not even consciously realize about websites in seconds. Every element of a website’s design works in coordination to sway those judgments negatively or positively. There’s an overwhelming list of elements to consider for web design, but to be helpful I’ve highlighted the following 8 design areas I think are important to offer a good user experience.
Websites are like living creatures. We’re constantly interacting with them, updating them with new content, and making technological and design advances that shape our expectations of them. Knowing when it's time then to redesign a website can be tricky. Learn how I identified what needed updates on my WordPress blog one year after starting it.
There comes a time in every project when an idea transitions from conceptual to actual. In website and app design that time generally comes during the prototyping process. Prototyping can be done in a range of fidelities, or levels of detail, from low to high. Low-fidelity prototypes can be a great tool for quickly iterating design ideas and starting usability testing early in your design process, but the type of experience they offer is quite removed from a product’s endgame. High-fidelity prototyping is when things start to feel and look real.
Good, usable design comes from an iterative process in which you create and revise designs in repetitive cycles, coming closer to the desired result with each cycle. One of the best ways to learn how a design needs to be revised is usability testing. Many development process eliminate this important step or leave until the final product is built for a number of reasons. Learn how I used the Prototyping on Paper app and Zoom to push forward with usability testing of paper prototypes for an app I'm designing despite the social distancing restrictions of COVID-19.
Sometimes when designing technology, you have to forgo technology and get back to basics with good ole pen and paper. With so much tech around us every day it’s pretty easy to just jump straight to software to start designing when the most helpful tools are actually the ones already sitting in our desk drawers. If you’re designing a website, app, or other tech product one of the best tool to use to start deciding what it will look like and how users will interact with is a paper prototype.
There are an endless number of ideation techniques you can try. You should pick one, though, that works best for the kind of ideas you need and the experience and abilities of those who will be participating in your ideation session. My current abilities, being the frazzled mess that they are because of the current pandemic and social distancing, called for a technique that could help me get my perspective and spinning thoughts in order: mind mapping.
To be a UX designer is to understand the holistic picture of an experience while simultaneously paying attention to minute details in the pursuit of identifying and solving problems. Whew! Approaching this subject may seem overwhelming or intimidating at first, but good UX design is an invaluable asset for a product, service, or brand. That’s a tall order. No matter your project, to create a good user experience you must understand some of the key principles of UX design.
For businesses, it’s important to know the points in a user’s journey that they influence or need to consider in order to provide the best user experience possible. Journey maps are a great visual and shareable tool for understanding this important information.
Knowing where to start is the hardest part of any project. In the design thinking process, you spend a lot of time learning to empathize with your users through research, then properly defining the problem that your project needs to help them with. At some point, though, you have to pivot your brain to put all this understanding and definition to use. Luckily, there are ideation techniques that you can employ to add guidance and structure to your efforts, sparking creativity and innovation.
One of the obstacles to good ideation is that people often practice it in a haphazard or chaotic way. Everyone today likes to talk about the value of brainstorming, but they often think of it as unstructured imagination that magically and randomly produces ideas. Effective ideation requires that you stop thinking in terms of these amorphous activities and instead apply a rigorous and purposeful set of rules to your efforts. One technique to help guide you in brainstorming is mash-up ideation.
Being a UX designer is, of course, about designing a solution to a problem that users of a product or service have. It can be really fun and exciting to brainstorm, come up with new ideas, and maybe even change the world. But if you base all your work on the wrong problem, you won’t change anyone’s world with your designs. This is why you use a tool like point of view (POV) statements to add rigor and structure to your problem definition.
You can’t solve a problem you don’t know about. Seems like an obvious concept, right? But too often we don’t follow this advice. We assume we know what the problem is going into a project and just jump straight to coming up with solutions. To find out what users need, you spend the first stage of the design thinking process conducting research - often in the form of interviews, observations, and surveys – in order to empathize and better understand the needs of all users in a product’s ecosystem. Your research findings then inform the second stage of the design thinking process, define, and help you craft your project’s problem statement.
No one website, app, or piece of software can cater to the infinite number of differences its users may have. You simply can't design everything for everybody. You can, though, look for the common denominators in people and solve for those problems. While a website may have a million users, each with a unique experience on the granular level, you may create just 3 or 4 personas into which most of them would relate in some way. You would do this in order to keep your project user-centered, but out of the weeds and focused on attainable goals.
By using empathy, a UX designer can recognize people’s needs and design products, services, or experiences that work for them. The reality show Undercover Boss is an example of how someone can gain empathy for users. I watched an episode featuring the CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop to show just how much user information you can gain in a relatively short amount of time. My empathy maps of the company's CEO and an employee demonstrate how multiple people can have different experiences, even within the same company, and why UX designers must gain insight into every type of user in the ecosystem of a product or service.
Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to understand their feelings, even if you haven’t had the same experiences as them. It's an important part of the design thinking process. In order to gain empathy for users, UX designers conduct extensive user research. Empathy maps are a great visual tool for organizing, communicating, and synthesizing this research into helpful user insights.
When Disney Plus, the company’s streaming service, launched last November, I was intrigued by the possibility of adding some Disney magic to my life again, if only through the TV and movie content I’d loved as a kid. That content has proven as satisfying as I remember, but the Disney Plus experience has left a bad taste in my mouth. Learn how I used a feelings and needs website analyzation of UX and UI elements on Disney Plus and Netflix to find out if Disney's design is the root of my negative opinion.
Feelings are the most powerful force in the decision-making process. In fact, research has found that people with injuries in the area of the brain responsible for emotion are incapable of making decisions. So, if you want to successfully use design thinking—a human-centered approach to problem-solving—then you must understand humans’ biggest motivator: emotion.
Sometimes the best way to learn something new is to just jump in head-first. The Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford—also known as the d.school—offers those interested in learning design thinking an opportunity to do just that with their aptly named Design Thinking Crash Course. Through a video, you and a partner join instructors from the d.school and a room of students for a wild, hands-on ride through the steps of the design thinking process in just under 90 minutes. Your assignment? To redesign the gift-giving process for your partner. I took the crash course challenge and it was one of the most unique, memorable learning experiences of my life.
Design thinking puts the topics of emotion, intuition, and human behavior at the core of the problem-solving process. It has rapidly grown in popularity in recent years and is now used by businesses and organization worldwide to solve some of the most complex problems. For anyone possessing the right mindset, or willing to learn it, design thinking is a valuable skill to have in our future economy where people's experiences will matter more than ever.