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.
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.
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.
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.
What else is a website or an app, but a container for copious amounts of information like a library? Left unorganized or badly organized, a website experience for a user can quickly become consumed with simply trying to find what they want instead of accomplishing their intended goal for visiting. Information architecture (IA) design is about creating a structure on a website, app, or other product that helps a user understand where they are in it and where they can find the information they are seeking.
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.