Designers are artists by nature and, as such, may have pretty hard feelings towards anything that restricts their free-flowing creativity. In fact, in such a fast-paced, constantly developing industry such as UX, it’s even more tempting to throw caution to the wind on something innovative, forgetting the time-tested rules that keep us safely on the line between genius and insanity.
How many times have you inwardly (or outwardly) cringed at a gorgeous-looking site with a hideous user experience? We’re going to bet many. And that’s because there is a high-level roadmap to successful web design User Experience that you ignore at your own peril. There are principles that every designer worth his salt should have internalised so that when he or she is in the midst of creation, they do not have to consciously think about them.
Don’t think about these principles as handcuffs to your spontaneous genius. Instead, consider them as safety guides and friendly parameters that can stop you from taking a nasty fall. As Jordan Thompson, Creative Director at KIJO, said, “Good User Experience to me is about building the on the shoulders of giants. By that i mean we discover the right path to take from previous discoveries. We learn from our mistakes and also our successes. Good UX is an iterative process, involving lots of testing – helped by a passionate community which operates at a refreshingly transparent level.”
Read on to discover the 7 key principles of effective UX design.
In order to achieve a clear and coherent hierarchy you must have an overarching idea of not what the website is doing but what is it for. What is its purpose?
There are two types of hierarchy that you will have to consider: the navigation hierarchy and the information hierarchy.
The information hierarchy relates to the organization of content throughout the website or app design. There are generally levels to this, shown by the use of primary and secondary navigation menus that offer important choices to the end user. As a rule, we want our more impactful and relevant content to be closer to the surface of the hierarchy, and not buried in sub menus. The reverse is true for less relevant, less impactful elements.
The second hierarchy to consider is the navigation hierarchy. This is the first step to helping users find the content they need quickly and easily. A clear navigation can not only aid customers but also influence buying decisions by prioritising certain types of content.
Clear and bold call to actions
We touched on this momentarily when talking about navigation hierarchies but it is a point important enough to be worth restating. Clear call to actions are the lifeblood of your website. They take the visitor by the hand and lead them confidently towards some desired action, whether that is a sign up or a sale. Without them your design is like a ship without a rudder. It will float around in circles and then eventually sink.
Both bold design and positioning are imperative when crafting call to actions. Consider that adding prominent CTA buttons to article templates have been shown to increase conversions by 83% in one month in some cases, and that by rephrasing copy to talk in the first person there have been click-through rate increases of up to 90% in the same amount of time. Colours are also important. SAP once found that just by changing their CTAs to orange they experienced a 32.5% uplift in conversions.
It can sometimes be a little depressing to designers when it becomes apparent just how much of an effect simple CTA changes can have on web or app performance. It is a good reminder to make sure we do the basics well so that we can concern ourselves primarily with the more complex (and interesting) elements of creative design.
There was a time when designing for different platforms wasn’t a thing, but that day has long since gone. Nowadays, customers don’t just want but expect a seamless experience at all times. To not deliver is to all but hammer the nails into the coffin of your business.
The rise of mobile and tablets over recent years have made it imperative that all websites are responsive. Also, the widespread use of different browsers (IE, Chrome, Firefox etc.) and the various ways in which they render pages is something else you need to think about. If someone uses Internet Explorer and your site doesn’t work properly on there, guess what? They probably won’t be back. And neither will their cash.
Building platform agnostic web assets should be one of the key priorities of any modern business. Consistent branding and performance of these assets over different devices and platforms is to today’s consumer what excellent customer service was back in the 90s. It reveals something important about your business. That you care. That you are an important player in the market and take the favoured browsing habits of your key audience extremely seriously.
The digital world has made us all very fond of the path of least resistance. Offer it to your customers, in the form of seamless experiences, and they will reward you with a long lifetime value.
Focus on the user
Good website user experience is a strange mix of both logic and intuition. It is important to look at data and follow principles but it also important to look at things from a human perspective. As a person trying to reach out to another person. Which is essentially what we are doing. Just at scale.
Think about what you yourself enjoy from well designed user experiences. Often this comes down to two things: focus and simplicity. No one wants to navigate through complex, ambiguous pages unless they are pursuing a philosophy degree, and you should keep this constantly in mind. Avoid clutter. Avoid the false-consensus bias, where you assume just because you know something everybody else does too. There is no room for the clever in good UX. Only the smart.
If you have the option open your door to the people who will use your site or app and ask them questions. Show them parts of what you are working on and observe how they interact and what their reactions are. Combine this fuzzy, people-focused approach with hard analytics and you have your best chance of building something that lasts. Investing in usability testing throughout all stages of development can help minimise potential wasted time (and money) and stop yourself getting distracted with unproven theories.
As human beings with limited bandwidth we tend to favour that which we are familiar with. Part of this is for convenience’ sake. Part of it is because that which we do not know may be harmful or dangerous to us. You must tap into this reality of human nature if you want your UX process to strike a chord.
Simply put, the more familiar your product feels the more easily people will be able to use and adopt it. Remember that, with a few notable exceptions, innovative ‘world first’ products don’t often win. There is a reason for the old adage “the second mouse gets the cheese”. And that is because people are often not ready or are resistant to change. As a designer, this is great news. You can “stand on the shoulders of giants”, so to speak, and adopt ready-made UX patterns without having to do all of the backbreaking data collection yourself. By not reinventing the wheel and balancing the similar with your individual brand identity you increase your chances of gaining significant traction.
As Alfred Einstein once said, “the definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple”. If one quote could sum up web design it is this one. We must strive to be so complex in our thoughts and execution as to create something simple and easy to use. Of course, it is easier said than done. Look at all the people who have tried and failed to emulate Apple over the years. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Simplicity in all things is the master key to extraordinary user experience design. We should strive for simple navigation, simple visuals and a singular purpose. In this day and age people are busier than ever. Their attention is stretched this way and that for 16 hours every day. There is no time for the complex and cumbersome. We need to get to the point and get there quickly.
What is true for the visuals on your site is also true for the writing. As beautiful as well-crafted prose can be we need our communications to be brief, impactful and full of meaning between the lines. Authenticity is key here. Truthful expression. Keep in mind that less is always more (research the iceberg theory) and you will be on the right track.
The main currency of the modern world is speed. In a time when attention span is limited, people tend to gravitate to where things are completed quickly. How does this work in the context of UX? Again, we come back to this concept of simplicity. Make it easy for your users to navigate to what they want. Don’t try and distract them or force them in a different direction because if you do they likely won’t be back. The brands that can offer speed of decision and a personalised journey are going to win big in the coming years.
In order to rev up the speed of your project there are several things you can do: keep your navigational hierarchy tight, ensure pages remained uncluttered, and display CTAs that clearly point users in the right direction. Then, measure the data and change things as needed. On a more technical note, you can optimise your images and media for fast loads, use a page cache and, perhaps most importantly, choose a high quality web hosting package that keeps your site running efficiently. Don’t be one of the designers who falls at the final hurdle by trying to penny pinch your way to a win.
A note on speed: Did you know that a site that loads in 5 seconds (as opposed to those that load in 19) see 70% longer sessions on average? Consider what would happen if this was the gulf between two competitors. It wouldn’t be pretty for one, that’s for sure. Stay lean and fast and invest properly in your infrastructure.
We can all cobble something together by following a checklist of user experience trends but what you end up with is often disjointed and superficial. A smarter approach is to take a step back, remind yourself what the end goal is, and then use the seven principles above as the foundation upon which you build your masterpiece. You may not always end up with the flashiest or most “out there” designs but you will have designs that work, and that people will pay money for.