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.
Usability is the measure of how well a person can use a product to achieve an intended goal. In a previous post, I talked about how usability testing should be a key part of any iterative design process, preferably being implemented as early as possible to identify design problems. But usability testing is also an important tool to evaluate existing products before you ever sit down at the drawing board to devise a change or new design.
How do you test something that doesn’t exist? The obvious answer is to build it. But what if it’s difficult, time-consuming, and/or expensive to build? You don’t want to risk wasting resources on an untested idea. A common approach that user experience designers (UX) use in such situations is Wizard of Oz studies.
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.
If you’re familiar with user experience (UX) design, then you understand the benefit of user research. It helps you empathize with users, evaluate usability, and determine the user requirements of a project (Baxter, Courage, & Caine, 2015). But what if I told you user research can have another application that can be just as vital to the outcome of a project as user empathy?
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.
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.
Like architectural blueprints, wireframes depict the structure of a webpage but not the visual design elements of it. You can learn the layout of content blocks on a page, the types of content a page will contain, and some of the basic functionalities of a page from a wireframe.
Designing the bones of a website is the focus of an area of UX design known as information architecture (IA) design. IA design is about creating a structure on a website that helps a user understand where they are in the site and where they can find the information they are seeking. Information architecture is visually represented using a sitemap.
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.
Whatever the business-related goals of your strategy, you need to focus on the user-centered goal of bringing value to your audience through your social media presence. By empathizing with your audience you will build content that will make your brand more relatable and more trustworthy which will ultimately translate into brand awareness, website traffic, customer leads, revenue, brand engagement, loyalty, or success with any other goals you may have. Personas are good tools to help you start building a social media strategy with empathy.
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.
Flowcharts are a common tool used for a variety of purposes in a variety of industries, including engineering, business, and education. UX designers create a type of flowchart called a user flow to depict and communicate the process of user movement. User flows utilize the same symbols as flowcharts in order to represent every route users can take to achieve a specific goal on a site or app. See how I've developed user flows for a proposed Resident app for the city of Milford, Connecticut and how these charts can improve user experience design.
Information architecture (IA) design involves creating an organized structure in a website, app, or product that helps users navigate and understand where to find what they need easily and quickly. Hear about my experience creating a proposed site map for a resident companion app for my hometown and find out how and if designing IA for apps differs from websites.