What Is UX And Why Do We Need It?
February 5, 2016

UX or ‘User Experience’ is everywhere right now. It’s a big buzzword and not without due cause but what are your client’s expectations of UX? Do they really understand what they are getting and why it’s so important?

First things first, let’s look at a few of the UX definitions floating around…

UX is “the process of enhancing digital interfaces with a core focus on users needs, tasks and behaviours”.

UX is “the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership.”

UX is “is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product.”

All great, top level stuff there and totally bang on ‘technically’, but it doesn’t really tell your clients much about what’s going on or why they should trust in your lead.

User Testing Blog says there’s ‘no commonly accepted definition’ and rightly points out that UX is not simply one exercise, school of thought or process but a hearty combination of principles ranging from information architecture to  interaction design, usability consideration, visual design, and ‘human-computer interaction’. Ok, so it’s no easy job creating an umbrella term to accurately cover what each of those components does but we can look at the general principle of what that happy family wants to achieve and how.

We think Usability.gov comes about as close as it gets to hitting the nail on the head without all that techno babble. They say UX is a “deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations.  It also takes into account the business goals and objectives of the group managing the project.”

And Jessie James Garret, widely considered to be the authority on UX and author of The Elements of User Experience says “User Experience simply refers to the way a product behaves and is used in the real world. A positive user experience is one in which the goals of both the user and the organisation that created the product are met.”
Great, now we’re all on the same page. So User Experience Design in the web design world is about accepting how your particular users (40 to 55 year old, male, professional with expendable income and a passion for home improvements?) are known to behave online and using that to inform your digital strategy.

Naturally this data varies according to demographics, interest groupings, education standards and more but we’re going to go ahead and assume you did your market research and have effectively profiled your target audience, so you’ll know what they do and don’t like, where and how long they hang out online, not to mention have an idea of the websites they already have an appreciation for. After all you wouldn’t dream of crow-barring in some function, colour scheme or navigational element that your target audience will never know how to use, or have reacted badly to elsewhere would you?

Behaviour(s) is one thing but what about the purpose of your website? What are your target audience expecting to find when they get there? A well respected legal firm with a speciality in property law would not score well in UX if they kitted-out their landing page with one of those ‘find the key to get out of the room’ puzzles would they? The theme is in the ballpark and it’s an interesting piece of interactivity; it might even be fun but the predominance of their target users have not come to this site to be entertained…or frustrated. They came expecting to easily locate qualified information on solicitor services and associated fees, as well as contact information to procure those services. So a better strategy would have been to provide action points on the homepage that lead those users deeper into the site where they would be rewarded with the information they expected to find and to satisfy the interactivity fans among you, perhaps a mortgage calculator app (a bit of cross selling with your banking partners perhaps?) built in to the site.

So by incorporating known behaviours with target user expectations of your product and services, and aligning that with your digital strategy is the foundation from which you and your designer agree functional specifications. Every developer and design house is different, but bringing those elements together might involve workshops or steering committees, as well as a team of creatives and a technical discussion with your front and back-end developers to find a way to realise your objectives.

So basically when we engage in UX workshops, discovery exercises, research and ultimately the design process itself, what we are trying to do is harness and implement on your website what we know (or learn) users like, how they conduct themselves online, the way they interact with specific types of content and what kind of navigation is most intuitive to them, on both desktop and mobile.

Why is any of that important? Why do we need UX designers and workshops? Well you wouldn’t invest considerable time, money and effort designing something you didn’t know if anyone would like, or understand how to use would you? By bringing all these streams of information together you are more likely to achieve user satisfaction and high engagement levels and thus so much more likely to hit the conversion rates you so desire. Think of it as visualising your market research in the real world (ok, virtual world but you get what we mean), without pie charts and reams of statistics.

To summarise, blending UX with the actual development process is key to a site that not only looks good but is intuitive and makes the user’s job easy, if not a pleasurable experience. By pleasurable we’re not suggesting your UX designer has failed if people aren’t gasping in wonderment at your fantastic designs and ground-breaking functionality; we mean that they leave a session with a positive experience under their belt and advocacy in their hearts...

...The holy grail of web design.

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