UX, or user experience, has gone from unknown to buzzword to an essential part of development in a very short space of time. What exactly is UX though? Essentially, it’s an attempt to understand the role design plays in site usage by applying solid design ideas and analyzing user data at every stage of the user’s journey.
In everyday life, we’re keyed into spotting UX hints in all sorts of situations – from pressing a button to send an elevator to a certain floor, to knowing whether to push or pull a door. Imagine you had no conception of how to use an elevator though – how could you make it clear what the buttons were for? UX performs a similar role and is especially useful for sites offering novel or new services, or even just for trying new ways for users to use what you have to offer.
Many people have experienced badly designed websites, whether it’s an online store whose checkout involves several pages of clicking, or a site that needs an annoying amount of swiping to return to the home page. These can be considered examples of bad UX, but it doesn’t have to be quite so obvious to have a significant impact on your users.
Part of the role of dedicated UX design is to smooth your user path from homepage to action; often, that can be as simple and obvious as making sure the design leading to that desired outcome is simple and fast – after all, many users will simple quit halfway along that pathway if it’s taking too long. Whether it’s impatience, lack of browsing time, or a bad connection, people want gratification as instantly as they can, and much of UX is about trying to achieve that.
Often, developers have a concept of an ideal user in their head when they’re designing sites and services – someone who doesn’t make mistakes on forms or clicks the wrong links, someone who has a firm idea of what they want, or someone who has used many similar sites before and is familiar with the general approach.
UX design tries to make your site work for a much wider variety of users. Consider, for example, how forms might be filled out. If someone makes a mistake, or auto-correct suggests the wrong thing, or perhaps your users aren’t as familiar with your content language as you are, how will that impact their journey towards your desired action? Good UX will make that journey easy for as wide a range of website users as possible – because no matter who they are, they’re all potential customers.
It’s not just about your users’ backgrounds though. UX also tries to make sure that your site will look and work equally well across a wide range of hardware and operating systems. Making your online presence strong on mobile, tablet and desktop hugely enlarges your potential audience, as does ensuring it runs as smoothly on Android as it does on iOS – after all, there’s no value to be had in recommendations if your next potential customer has a far worse experience on your site than your current one.
Ultimately, UX is about ensuring that the user experience is as good as it possibly can be. Beyond branding and layout, great UX gives an overall feel of using the site, and this aspect of user experience can be the difference between appearing professional or not. Giving your users the best possible experience of your service from beginning to end is more important at startup level than any other, so investing in good UX is well worth your time.