User experience (UX) is a design discipline that’s been around for some time now but has recently been the subject of renewed interest within the design community. While it’s always been a consideration, the mobile revolution has meant that UX has had to be reconsidered when designing for the smaller screen.
Good UX directs the user to a site, ensuring that the experience is as painless as possible, and the buying process for e-commerce sites is flawless. Bad UX can seriously affect traffic and, of course, your bottom line as if your website provides a poor user experience, visitors will quickly leave.
Modern web users are sophisticated. They expect a site to load quickly (especially on mobile devices), navigation to be logical, a search function to be in place, and importantly, users expect to be able to find their way around a site easily through signals that you the designer provides.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at the fundamentals of UX that every web designer and developer should be familiar with.
This is by far one of the most important elements of a site to get right. Users that can’t find their way around a site effectively will soon leave, especially if a search box isn’t provided. Navigation requires that clear direction is given, and it should ideally also use breadcrumbs so that users can quickly get back to a previous page while browsing.
The use of breadcrumbs means that users can quickly return to a previous page.
Floating menus, drop-down menus, and hidden menus can be very nice from an aesthetics point of view, but how they appear to the user is far more important. You don’t see as many Flash intro pages as you used to now, but these should be avoided for numerous reasons.
- A Flash ‘gateway’ page has little to no value for SEO.
- A user has to take an additional step just to enter a site, which discourages them from doing so.
- They’re just plain nasty!
Of course, there are plenty of creative examples of Flash to be found online, but from a UX perspective, they’re pretty much worthless.
The same could be said of floating and drop-down menus. While the latter ensures that the user always has the navigation right in front of them, whatever page they’re on, it can also be highly irritating and unnecessary. When it comes to drop-down menus, these are fine so long as they’re well-constructed and don’t disappear as soon as the user moves the curser.
Site speed is essential to the users of your site, and while it won’t affect SEO too badly, it does still have an impact. With the rise of responsive websites built to display on any device, it’s been found that many sites that use responsive web design have become increasingly slower. This is often due to poor design in which the full desktop content is sent to a mobile device, rather than tactics such as media queries being used to deliver a pared-down version.
When it comes to speed, just a few seconds can seriously affect conversions, and for the most part, that’s why many of us have websites so that we can carry out business.
The length of time that users said they would wait before abandoning a page in a Kissmetrics survey.
In a survey, Kissmetrics found that users have very little patience at all, and the majority would leave a site that hadn’t properly loaded in just 6-10 seconds. This, it was found, means that for just one second’s delay in load time, the conversion rates were reduced by 7%.
Tips for speeding up your site:
- Optimize all images so that file sizes are as small as possible.
- Look at using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) if you have a lot of content.
- If you’re designing a responsive site, look carefully at how the content is delivered to a smaller screen (and displays well).
- Use GZIP compression on web servers.
- If you have a WordPress site, use caching plugins such as WP Super Cache to reduce load times.
Content is The King
OK, so you’re probably sick to death of the phrase ‘content is king’ already, but it does hold true even for UX. For a site to provide a good experience to its users, the content should have some value to them.
It must be:
- Useful – fulfilling the needs of the audience by providing information that’s educational or entertaining, or that solves a problem that the visitor has (or all of the above!).
- Desirable – in the way that it’s branded. A site that uses color and other design elements to create a strong brand will attract visitors as it relays a sense of trust and connects with the emotions of the user.
- Discoverable – we mentioned the importance of navigation above, but it bears repeating. A user that can’t find what they’re looking for on a site will leave, so good navigation must be used, a search box is included and ideally, a FAQ section.
- Accessible – to provide good UX, you have to do so for everyone, including the disabled.
- Credible – content should point to sources to back up and reference information. It should be well laid out and easy to read, using headers and sub-headers, and it should be constructed with excellent spelling and grammar.
It’s important to remember that people read differently on the web; they scan, rather than read in detail as they would print. Information that’s presented in short paragraphs, with plenty of white space and sub-headers, will be taken in quickly and won’t bore the reader. You can also use bullets to break information up, and you should aim for an average readability score. However, the latter will depend on the nature of the site – you’d write differently as a finance business than you would as a parenting blog for example – but even then you should avoid jargon and complex terms as anything that makes the reader stop to make sense of a word means that you’ve potentially lost them.
This post just scratches the surface of good UX but gives you a good starting point on the most important aspects. UX is a complex field, and there are many experts out there who have studied it for more than 15 years. Its recent rise in popularity can only be a good thing as designers have one goal in mind – to create a site that users will love and come back to time and time again.