As a digital agency, it’s often difficult to describe the depth and breadth of services we offer whilst being specific about what areas we can add value to a digital project. In simple terms, we design, develop, market and create content for digital products and services but in reality, it’s much more than that as we place a huge emphasis on user experience – there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach or ‘off the shelf’ solutions in our studio. Everything we create is bespoke and tailored to the requirements of our client’s users, so we’ve written this article to emphasise the importance of user experience design and what it might mean for your digital project.
What is user experience design (UXD)?
User experience design is the process of understanding behaviours and motivations of users to create a solution where interactions are meaningful and relevant. A UXD process should have a positive impact on usability, accessibility and satisfaction of using a digital product or service.
The term ‘user experience design’ was coined by Don Norman (Apple) in 1993… “I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction and the manual.”
Contrary to its name, user experience design isn’t just a process that begins and ends with designers. It should be embedded into process from the very first strategy meeting and run the whole lifecycle of a project.
What is the difference between user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design?
These two terms are often used interchangeably but are invariably different.
A user interface is the visual part of a digital product or service that the user interacts with. This is an important but not the sole component of designing a positive user experience – there is little point in your creation looking beautiful if users don’t know how to use it.
User experience is about much more than what the user sees, it’s about the experience they take away from interacting with your digital product or service – the information you’re provided with, the speed in which you receive it, the anticipation of what you’ll want to do next etc. etc.
What does a user experience design process look like?
There’s no doubt that a user experience design process works best if you engage with users themselves. Co-creation plays a huge part in the projects that we work on and we’re privileged to have worked with a number of enthusiastic, knowledgeable and participatory user groups along the way.
Designing in a user-centred way is inherently iterative to accommodate ongoing user engagement and measurement of effectiveness.
At a top level we work around a four-stage cyclical process:
The discovery phase is a combination of collating information that you already have along with research into what you don’t currently know. Typically, this includes:
- Understanding user needs
- Identification of project objectives and KPIs
- Exploration of the appropriate technology for the project
To facilitate this, co-creation sessions with all the appropriate stakeholders are useful to get to build up a picture of how user, organisational and technological considerations can be managed and what dependencies they each have.
The output of these sessions can be varied but often include user personas, user stories and probably a whole list of questions that will still need answering along the way.
The subjects explored as part of this phase help to understand the user’s motivation to want to use the digital product or service and form the initial design brief which becomes the litmus paper by which a positive user experience can be tested against.
Using all the knowledge gained at discovery phase, a UX designer can get to work – creating something that will answer the user needs identified. Depending on the project and what stage it is at, the output of this phase may take many different forms:
- Sketching – of a concept, a proposed user journey or user interface
- Wireframing – a basic model of how information or a process might be structured
- Design – how the visual element of the user experience might look
- Prototyping – an interactive visual representation of how the digital product or service will look and work but one that isn’t ‘programmed’ behind the scenes
Different user groups will interact in different ways to different things. Some cannot see past the skeletal structure of wireframes and some may have difficulty understanding that a prototype isn’t the final ‘working’ solution. Make sure you identify the specific needs of your user groups and deliver the creations they are most likely to engage with.
You can use both quantitative and qualitative measures to evaluate the effectiveness of your user experience but it’s important to understand what these metrics might look like up front to help you design an appropriate evaluation.
The type of measurement or evaluation you undertake will again depend on the stage of development that you’re at. For anything at design stage, you won’t have the analytical model in place to obtain data on interactions but you can obtain more qualitative feedback on user interface interaction.
Ideally, a combination of both qualitative and quantitative evaluation will deliver the most useful results and this data can be obtained in a number of ways.
- Moderated user testing – observing users interacting with the site and conversing about their experience so that you are more readily able to identify opportunities or problems along their journey
- Remote user testing – devise a test plan for users to carry out remotely and an appropriate mechanism for them to feedback
- Surveys or questionnaires
- A/B testing – presenting similar users at the same time with different options and establishing which one delivers the most conversions
- Surveys or questionnaires (can provide quantitative information as well as qualitative)
- User behaviour analytics – exploring how people are interacting with your digital offer… where people go, what they click on, what features they use, where they come from and which pages they choose to leave on.
- Eye-tracking testing – using specialist technology to determine which elements are distracting, findable, or discoverable
The most widely used way of measuring quantitative information for a digital experience is the use of an analytics package such as Google Analytics. The basic implementation of this could have you exploring data for hours but reach a little further under the bonnet and there’s a whole host of specific metrics that can be automated and brought into personalised dashboards for review – watch out for our next blog post on this very subject coming soon! This quantitative information from packages like Google Analytics is great at informing data-driven decisions but it doesn’t really delve deeply enough into the ‘why?’. For this reason, ongoing user engagement is critical for the delivery of useful insights to work alongside the data informing future development.
It’s only worth spending time collecting data and evaluating its significance if there’s going to be an action plan as a result of your findings.
This might take the form of incremental updates to test what delivers results or a wholesale review of a process or user journey which can then be trialled either instead of or alongside the existing journey. Either way, having identified the measurable metrics and evaluation process in previous phases, you will be well placed to measure effectiveness when you adapt.
And when changes are made, each iteration can go through a six-point check:
- Is it meaningful?
- Is it aesthetically pleasing?
- Is it useable?
- Is it accessible?
- Is it reliable?
- Is it functional (useful)?
On an ongoing basis, it’s always good to ask, ‘what don’t we know?’ or ‘what would we like to know?’. By answering these questions, gaps are more easily identified, and you can move back to the discovery phase to carry out more research before making any fundamental decisions about user experience.
Why is user experience design so important?
Users, customers, prospects – they’re all demanding creatures! And with social media sparking a culture of accountability, brands are more so than ever likely to be called out publicly for poor user experience.
But damage limitation shouldn’t be the only reason for embracing the principles of user experience design.
By embedding a culture of user experience improvement into your organisation and continuously striving to answer the needs of your users, you can experience a wealth of benefits…
According to a study done by Forrester, investing in UX can help organisations to realise lower customer acquisition costs, lower support costs, increased customer retention and increased market share but what does this mean in practice?
- It can get people talking… referral marketing is one of the best (and often most cost effective) forms of marketing. If the experience of interacting with your brand, website or app leads to a referral, there is already an inherited trust and therefore a much higher chance of conversion
- It can add to a website or app’s ‘stickiness’… enticing people to spend longer exploring and wanting to come back for more.
- It can encourage users to transact with you… focusing on user experience can help to guide users through a particular process, giving them the right information at the right time to encourage them to make an engagement or purchasing decision.
- It helps with search engine rankings… websites that do a better job of meeting the needs of its users have a better chance of ranking higher in the results
But most importantly, user experience design increases your chances of user satisfaction – good user experience is the cornerstone of your brand and it’s what will make people want to come back for more.