The Fundamentals of Good UX
There’s a seriously misguided tendency for people to focus more on the ‘design’ in user experience design than the ‘user’. But no matter how well designed your site is, if your user can’t do what they want, when they want, they’ll leave unhappy, and you’ll lose a potential sale.
If you’re involved in any type of online business, you’ve most likely seen the term UX design thrown around. You might even have a decent idea of what it entails. So, as a seasoned UX designer, I took it upon myself to find a clear and concise way to explain the role, and the importance of good user experience design. No amusing metaphors. No jargon. Just the raw truth about what it means to design an experience for real users, and why you and your business need to take it seriously.
So, what exactly is UX design?
At its core, UX Design is a mix of sociology and cognitive science that looks at how people and products interact.
As a scientific process, it’s an analysis of any time a person has an experience with the object of interest. This could be anything from a car, chair, or table, to how someone interacts with your website or app.
User Experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services and its products.
So, what are the goals of a UX Designer? When you boil it down, it’s actually a pretty short list:
- To improve customer satisfaction
- To improve the quality of interaction between a company and its consumer
- To make sure that the product logically flows from one step to the next
If this sounds like a big responsibility, that’s because it is. UX design plays a crucial role in any product development because we all know that when your users are happy, business is good.
Designing for the human experience
When I tell people my job title there’s usually an assumption that I’m somehow solely responsible for everything that a user experiences. The truth is that user experiences are made up of so much more than just one person’s input.
As Mike Monteiro, one of my favorite thinkers, explains it:
I don’t know anything about design. Bullshit. Look around you. You make choices based on design every day… You know bad design when you encounter it. From every chair you’ve sat in that hurt your ass, to every coffee cup that burned your hand, to every time your finger triggered the wrong link on your phone, to every airline booking site that pissed you off. You know bad design. You hate it.
While Mike is talking about design in a more broad sense, his reasoning can just as easily be applied to UX-design (especially the part about the airline booking site).
What it comes down to is that we all just want things that work.
But that’s no easy task. Making things simple and easy is harder than it looks.
Because the user experience of a product is not based solely on its user flow or simplicity you can have an amazing experience that gets ruined by a slow server, a nasty customer service representative, or too many e-mail newsletters.
These are things that the UX Designer most likely doesn’t have any influence on or control of.
However, there are some key roles we play in making sure your experience is as enjoyable and easy as possible.
How do you know if your UX is good? You become a customer.
When I’m hired to improve the conversion and user experience e-commerces, I’m usually given a set of pages that a company wants me to pay extra attention to: homepage, category, and product pages.
While these pages are critical to the customer’s user experience and business performance, there is a lot more to look at when getting a holistic view of the overall product.
“Great user experiences take time to build and maintain, but can be demolished in just a couple of seconds.”
My first step when taking on a new project is to look at it from the customers’ standpoint, finding every experience as they go from discovering your service to receiving the end product.
Here’s what that might look like for an e-commerce site:
I do a Google search for a product and company name. This is the way most users will find your product, not through the homepage and category pages.
- Have I understood where I’ve ended up? Does the site give me a trustworthy experience? Can I easily get back to the previous category listing? What about the homepage?
From that product page I’ll go back to the homepage and then find my way to another product.
Have they recommended other products that might be of interest to me? Is crucial information clearly displayed (size, color, price, delivery time)?
If there’s a chat function, I’ll connect to it and ask some questions, from obvious to complex, and see how they respond.
Do you ship to Sweden? Can you describe the blue color to me?
I’ll then add products to my shopping cart and follow through with the purchase.
- Was the order form easy to fill out? Did I have to register as a user to buy? Did I have to sign up for a newsletter?
I wait for the order confirmation to arrive.
- Did it arrive promptly? Is it easy to understand? Does it have all the necessary information?
I take a close look at the shipping process and all the things users are going to be looking for.
- Do I get an email once my product has shipped? Does it feature a tracking code?
Once the product arrives, I look to see if everything is there including options like ‘added value’ items. Often these are things as small as stickers or can be hand written notes, sweets, and vouchers.
- Did everything arrive as promised? Are the added value items unique with the user in mind?
I contact customer support one more time to ask questions about my product.
- How quick was the response time? Under 24 hours? What was the tone like? Friendly or sour?
You may know your product through and through, but your customer doesn’t.
Seeing the experience through their eyes is one of the most crucial parts of the UX designer’s job.
UX is part of everything in your business
As you can see, the total user experience is so much more than just the three pages that most companies want to focus on.
Even if you don’t have the same chain of interactions as an e-commerce site, there is so much more to your user experience than the interface that your customer sees.
Is your customer support easily accessible and helpful?
Do you give added value in your communication with me?
Are your order confirmations and invoices easy to understand, printer-friendly (people still print!), PDF-friendly and OCR-ready?
What good is having the perfect product page if it doesn’t work on mobile, if the customer support is not friendly, and there’s no clear information sent after purchase?
The user experience consists of everyone at your company, from the marketers, managers, and customer service, to technicians and even other users. The role of a UX-designer is to take all these different inputs and craft the best way to package, position, and communicate them.
Success only comes from paying attention to the entire experience of the user, from beginning to end.
Who’s responsible for your user’s experience?
So, just who’s responsible when your user experience is failing customers?
Your business most likely has a CFO that takes care of financial issues, and a CTO that looks after everything technical, but what about the Chief User Experience Office (CUXO)?
(Disclaimer: I don’t think we should ever use this term, but follow me here…)
Your CFO is in charge of keeping your cash flow positive, even though they’re not the only one that is affecting cash flow, right? I believe we need someone to do the same job for experiences.
Currently, UX designers tend to work in a siloed environment and are given only a few small pages to deal with to ‘fix’ the experience without thought of all the outside aspects that affect your product. A CUXO would act like your CFO—not necessarily responsible for directly fixing all of the issues, but with providing the vision and understanding to guide all the moving parts to ensure a smooth experience.
Bad reviews? The CUXO’s job would be to understand why your customers are unhappy.
Low conversions? Again, what experience is holding the customer back from completing their purchase?
As design of all types becomes more and more of a differentiator for online businesses, your experience is what will set you apart from the competition. Don’t lose out because you’re unwilling to see the power of a good, clean start-to-finish experience.
Remember, UX design succeeds when you don’t even notice it.