The job of UX designers is to make users more efficient, in turn increasing their happiness and, by extension, your success. But being in control of that balance between the goals of users and your business is hard. We asked Michael Heilemann, director of interface at Squarespace, and Aarron Walter, director of user experience at MailChimp, to share their UX knowledge.
User experience is not interface design. Not even close. It doesn’t happen in Photoshop, nor is it the last step of building a product. If you’re occupied with a user-focused strategy, analysis, user studies, and the psychological aspects of design, that’s what we consider user experience design. There are multiple methods to help you with this.
- Device Knowledge: What are the strengths and weaknesses of a specific device and how does that influence your product? A touch device works consistently different than a desktop.
- Writing Personas: What would your typical user look like? How do they relate to the product?
- Design Patterns: What is the commonly accepted way to check out on e-commerce websites?
"Our goal is to make software that's functional, reliable, and usable so people can get their work done," says Aarron Walter. "But we think designing software that's just usable is like a chef creating food that's just edible. People are attracted to more than just the practical. We want the things we interact with to appeal to our emotions."
User experience is definitely something you feel. Interestingly enough, it’s not just based on opinions but also supported by psychology and the knowledge of how humans interact and behave. Engagement and frustration play a role in digital interfaces. How something looks and how clever interfaces are directly reflects how we feel about a product.
"We carefully consider the emotional state of our customers at different points in their workflow so we can deliver functionality and fun at just the right times," Walter says.
Doing a great job at user experience means you have a multi-disciplinary engagement. You can do eye tracking to understand your users better and improve your product to suit users better. In the majority, user experience operates from different perspectives:
- Psychology: What is the user’s motivation? For example, did you know that power users are only a couple of percentage for the whole user base of your product? In other words, you don’t design with power users primarily in mind.
- Usability: Why is the user confused? The designed navigation is part of usability. For example, you think about what kind of information hierarchy would be more efficient for a website: flat or deep?
- Design: Why doesn’t the user trust us? Contrast and color are important and have a connotation to people. It's necessary to think about the design before executing it.
- Copywriting: What would tell the user more, "Save" or "Continue"? Clarity is king and being specific often translates to a higher conversion rate. People actually do read copy, and writing should be considered as a part of the design process.
- Analytics: What does our bounce rate on this page tells us?
Walter believes in the power of analytics, but emphasizes to pay attention: "Some things lend themselves well to measurement: time to task completion, login completion rate, and total support tickets on an issue are examples of UX metrics you can track. But you can't put a number on all of the things that matter. How do you measure how many smiles a piece of copy generates, or the beauty of a UI? You don't, but that doesn't make it less valuable."
Generally, stepping away from your screen for a minute and carefully thinking about your product in terms of conversion, usability, copy, and design helps you get a clear understand of what you’re providing for clients.
Now, the goal of UX is to improve those aspects specifically. What’s the reason behind some analytics failing? What confuses users? How can we improve the usability of our website?
Improving the call to action of your website begins with thinking about UX. The moment you align the user goals with your business goals you’re on the correct path to improve the success of your product.
"Listen to your customers," says Michael Heilemann. That’s the only thing that matters. We all keep an ear to the ground, […], and we often use user feedback to figure out the gaps and rough spots. And then we iterate again."
In the end, it’s all about the user and their experience, which you learn to comprehend and improve. It’s not a process without challenges.
"Nobody gets everything right out of the gate. If you're listening to your users and refining to meet their needs, you're headed in the right direction," Walter says.
Yes, UX is vital to great products, software, and systems. But remember though, great experiences require exceptional product development to support them. A designer still needs to craft pixels before you have a functioning interface.
User experience isn’t just a novelty anymore. The field is maturing and analytics prove the added value of hiring user experience designers.
"UX isn't something you implement; it's an ethos," Walter says.
[Image: Flickr user Heidi Elliott]