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User Experience is Not an Option, It’s a Must

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Why a Solid UX is Critical to Helping Build a World-Class Brand

Expectations for the performance, design, and usability of websites and other digital products are far higher than ever before.

But those expectations shouldn’t just be on the user side. Companies must raise the bar when designing and developing digital products to provide customers with the types of experience that not only meet those expectations, but are memorable, differentiating, and help move users seamlessly through their brand interaction.

User experience in and of itself reflects the expectations of today’s website or application users. Consider how you interact with a website. When a user experience is good, the website behaves exactly the way we expect it to. When a user experience is poor, you might find you have a hard time navigating the site, finding what you need or completing a task, which falls below user expectations.

Where to Start When Planning Your UX Strategy

Implementing a solid UX requires an understanding of what type of user experience is going to be best for your website or application and your audience. There are a couple ways you should approach this effort.

1.    Look at past metrics. Understanding what does and doesn’t work for your company provides great insight into what your focus should be in implementing a user experience methodology. How has your audience behaved? What part of your digital product do they spend the most time with? How are they using your website or application? This information will allow you to improve upon the aspects of your digital product your audience already likes, thus creating a user experience truly made for them.

Even if you’re starting from ground zero and have no existing digital product to use as a baseline, you can still assess audience behavior and engagement with your brand and use those insights toward development of your UX.

2.    Follow best practices. When it comes to UX, you’re not doing anything in a silo. There is a large community of UX designers and a wealth of information and tools available. UX designers don’t always have access to metrics or user testing to provide actionable insights, so they rely on the multitude of studies, reports, books and articles and more that detail best practices. Some of these best practices include:

  • Eye-tracking: Page design, layout and designing a navigation system successfully rely on best practices around user eye tracking. This information includes how users’ eyes move across a page to digest information, or how many characters is too many to scan.
  • Button labels: Helping a user move to a new experience on a website or take another type of action relies on effective button labels. UX designers must know what types of labels are most common, and therefore considered the most intuitive or easy to use to navigate.
  • Content quantity: Ever been overwhelmed with content on a web page? Best practices provide guidelines around how much is too much to ensure users never feel overwhelmed and simply leave the site.
  • Calls-to-action: Helping a user move through a website easily is reliant on buttons and symbols that most obviously convey the action a user should take. You never want someone looking for a way to interact with your site, getting confused and leaving.

Creating a good user experience is about knowing your audience, being able to anticipate their needs and providing them with the appropriate tools to take the desired action.

3.    Determine strategic goals. When planning your UX strategy, you should select one or two specific goals to focus on for UX development. These goals could include any of the following:

  • Reducing error rates and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of your website or application when it performs digital tasks
  • Improving or enhancing the overall attitudes of users as they experience your website or application
  • Growing the level of user involvement with your brand through your website or application
  • Increasing the number of new users who are adopting your product or service as a result of your website or application
  • Maintaining your existing users so they continue returning to your website or remain users of your digital product or application over time

Putting the “Experience” into User Experience

User experience is composed of several elements that all must be taken into consideration during the entire planning process, and incorporated into the final product.

Usability: While user experience refers to the ability of a digital product to resonate on an emotional level with a user, usability–not surprisingly–refers to how easy a site is to use. Can a user easily navigate to the information they need without being overwhelmed with options or crowded text? Is the layout and organization user-friendly? Only then can the user experience be successful.

Accessibility: Your site or digital product should be functional on multiple browsers and devices to ensure users can experience what you have to offer, no matter how they choose to get there.

Performance: Users notice right away if website elements load slowly or don’t appear correctly. Be sure your digital product performs each and every time a user accesses it.

Design: The aesthetic design of your website or application is a significant part of the overall user experience. It helps differentiate your brand with eye-catching or innovative features, and helps familiarize your brand by incorporating the visual design elements that define your brand and drive recognition.

Marketing: A solid user experience takes users through the sales funnel with strategic calls to action for valuable content. When you provide the right content at the right time to the right person in the right way, their user experience is more valuable, and your brand becomes more valuable to them.

Human Interaction: A key part of user experience is personalization and familiarity. Brands that implement chat features, use highly-personalized content or make contacting them easy and pain-free are providing the human interaction necessary for a positive user experience.

User Experience is a Team Effort

Users today are savvy, and can immediately identify when a website or application is going to be easy to use or more trouble than it’s worth. Ensuring that your digital product makes a good first impression begins at the initial conceptualization and involves everyone on the team.

Creative directors: As the overseers of the creative work being done, creative directors know the overall goals of the project and ensure what’s being done is meeting those objectives. They must apply their knowledge of design, content and the brand to effectively sign-off on the final product. This role is critical in ensuring the design and content provide a seamless user experience the reflects the brand and messaging.

Information Architects: Sometimes known as a UX designer, this role is responsible for creating a meaningful presentation of information using an organizational structure that results in the best possible experience for the user. IAs or UX designers must be highly knowledgeable about the brand, customer behavior and the competition. They combine this knowledge with the visual identity of the brand and any other elements that would make the overall user experience unique.

Content strategists: Writing for UX requires content strategists to understand how a user would digest the information on a website or interact with an application. Content writers should be aware of best practices, but also be familiar with audience personas and their behavior to understand what content resonates and in what format, as this will differ for every brand. They would ideally work closely with designers to ensure the flow of the final product is intuitive, actionable, and tells a story.

Content teams also should be applying search engine optimizations (SEO) to the content on any website or application to ensure it gets found online. If your product isn’t searchable, your user experience makes far less of an impact.

Visual Designers: The role of a visual designer is to creatively execute the vision of a website or application based on the target audience and overall structure for UX determined by the IAs and UX designers. A designer will focus on the appearance of the product, understanding where different elements should go and how to incorporate imagery within the overall structure.

Developers: The development side of UX requires an understanding of how to implement the features and functionality that will bring the design work and content to life. Developers are creating the functionality on the front- and back-end with which users will interact. It’s critical for that functionality to work, as one of the biggest detriments for a brand is a website with broken links or elements that don’t load properly.

Quality Assurance: While there may not be a dedicated QA individual on staff, it is critical to run any website or application through a quality assurance procedure to ensure everything is working properly. Broken links, 404 pages, content edits and other errors must be caught before the product goes live to ensure superior usability and an overall great user experience.

  • Here are some key elements to consider as a team:
  • What kind of experience do you want users to have?
  • What is the story your brand wants to tell through the user experience?
  • What is the overall message you want users to take away from their experience with your digital product?
  • What tools are important to implement to make the user experience simpler?

UX Benefits Users–and Your Business

Outside of the experience you’re creating for your audience, a successful UX should also translate to ROI for your business. Investing in a seamless experience for your audience will avoid costly problem resolution during design and development, or–even less favorable–following release of the digital product.

It’s important to set forth and track key performance indicators, such as page views, time on page and click-through-rate, to understand how your user experience is impacting ROI.

Without an effective user experience, your digital product is likely to fail. That is the harsh reality in today’s fast-paced, online world. But the good news is, crafting a successful User Experience is a fun, creative way to elevate your audience’s engagement with your brand and, in the process, learn more about who your audience is and what they want.