What is UX, and why does it matter? (UXUI)
The chances are, you’ve been frustrated by bad — or lack of — User Experience (UX) design before. Whether it’s a terribly designed elevator control panel, or a missing sign on a door handle, bad UX is tedious and avoidable. Equally, we’ve all experienced poor User Interface (UI) design: a hard-to-navigate website, lack of text hierarchy, or just a downright ugly display. When it comes to website and app design, poor UX/UI consideration will also frustrate, but it could also cost your business potential customers.
What is UX?
There are many varying definitions of UX, but one of the pre-eminent organisations in the field, the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) describes it as ‘an approach to product development that incorporates direct user feedback throughout the development cycle (human-centered design) in order to reduce costs and create products and tools that meet user needs and have a high level of usability (are easy to use).’
Peter Morville, founder of Semantic Studios and pioneer in the disciplines of Information Architecture and UX, has been advising industry-leading brands since 1994. Considered by many as the founding father of Information Architecture, Morville created the User Experience Honeycomb to explain the various facets of UX design, and help clients find the sweet spot within the scope of good user experience.
What is UI?
UI design is the cousin of UX design - how navigable, sleek and aesthetically pleasing a digital product is to use. Colman Walsh, CEO of The UX Design Institute, compares the relationship between UX/UI to the process of building a hotel. The hotel architect - in charge of the structure, functionality and macro-design of the hotel - is the UX designer, while the interior designer is akin to a UI designer, creating a certain feel and influencing how the customer navigates the space. UX/UI are two different things, but they have a sort of symbiotic relationship with each other.
What is involved in UX design?
There is a huge amount that goes into UX design, and it requires a wide skill-set. Whilst there is no standardised list for every design job (projects and their requirements are extremely varied), these are the elements that typically feature in a comprehensive UX design process.
User flows and journey mapping help UX designers understand how a user will navigate any given experience, and will reveal any errors or frustrations experienced as they move through the flow. Sam, Full Stack Developer with a focus on the UX process here at Gravitywell talks about the process of making websites and apps feel intuitive to the user in this excellent article.
This is usually the analytical metric applied to evaluate the performance of any given UX design. Performance improvements are typically measured by user-tracking tools such as Google Analytics or Segment. Quantitative research is often not actually carried out by UX designers, but they will usually take value from the information.
Testing the website or app with ‘real users’ is an invaluable stage of the UX design process, as it ultimately helps produce better software products. The aim is to answer questions like:
- What do users expect to be able to do?
- Can they easily get what they want from the product?
- Are our assumptions about users correct?
In this article, Gravitywell’s Creative Director, Simon explains that ‘without this process we’re operating on a set of assumptions that may not be correct. Sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees. Just because we know a great deal about our industry, it doesn't mean we know everything about how our users will behave within an app. User Testing gives us a chance to test the assumptions and then re-test potential improvements. The result should be a better product before it launches for the first time, risking alienating users right from the start.’
Wireframing is a quick and easy process for communicating an idea, usually nothing more than rough sketches of the layout of each screen. These can be done using software tools, but a pen and paper will usually suffice. Prototyping is the next stage along from wireframes, and a clickable version allows UX designers to see the different journeys a user might make through the flow. Developing a ‘clickable’ prototype brings the previously rough sketches to life, making it easier to spot problems or areas for improvement.
Gravitywell’s Lead Designer, Matt gives a succinct summary of the wireframe process in this video:
Tip: Sam swears by the UX Project Checklist. Created by designer Andrea Soverini whilst working on product development at Moonpig, the checklist helps bring order to what can otherwise become a very chaotic process.
Why does UX matter?
If you have any kind of digital presence — perhaps you’re a business trying to attract customers to your website or mobile app — then UX matters. There have been a number of studies looking at the benefits of UX, and the results points towards investing time and budget into the discipline. Some of these include:
- A survey carried out by Google that showed mobile users are 5 times more likely to abandon a task on a website if it isn’t optimised for their device.
- Adobe, who revealed that 39% of users will stop engaging with a website if images take too long to load, or don’t load at all.
- The Gomez report which found that 88% of users are less likely to return to a website after a bad experience.
Essentially, your website or app is the shopfront that a potential customer has chosen to walk through. It is probably their first point of contact with your business, so it’s crucial that you can offer them the product or service they came for, as well as a seamless experience. If not, you risk losing that customer forever.
The design decisions you make can also impact Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), with Google indicating that UX is one of the factors considered in search ranking.
The importance of UX design shouldn’t be underestimated. Typically, the best software products are shining examples of UX done well, and investing in this area can save businesses considerable amounts of time and resources.
If you would like to chat about your project or learn more about the Gravitywell process, get in touch.