One of the newer fields in design is known as “user experience,” or shortened simply to “UX.” UX design encompasses much of what we think of as best practices for web design, but focuses specifically on the overall experience of that the user has when navigating through a website (or an app, or a piece of software, etc.). Specifically UX designers try to make the experience of using a website more pleasing to the average user, striking a balance between function and form, between design and usefulness.
Obviously, this field is going to be somewhat subjective, in the same way that much of design and graphic design can sometimes be prone to differences of opinion… but maybe not quite as much as you’d think. UX experts think about these things A LOT, and have some pretty good ideas as to what users are going to like more and less when navigating a site.
Here’s some of their best advice and top UX tips to think about when designing or re-designing your website, and how to approach UX in general.
Create Detailed User Personas
It’s going to be very difficult to design a site with your user’s experience in mind, if you don’t actually know who your user is. Those with business and marketing experience might recognize this line of thinking (over here we call them “buyer personas”), but the basic idea is to really think about who your ideal user is and what some specific details are about that person. For instance, how old are they? What gender? What is their job? What is their schedule like? What do they typically use the internet for?
Creating a few fleshed out user personas and sticking to them is going to help tremendously when trying to determine how your ideal users might think about and interact with your website.
Talk to Real Users
Don’t stop with just user personas. Once your website is launched, continue to get feedback from actual users. After all, the user personas are only approximations. There’s no substitute for the real thing. Actual users will likely reveal things that you never would have thought about when just going off of personas.
Competition and Commonalities
Make sure you do your homework and have an understanding of what your competitors, similar businesses, or even just companies that inspire you, are doing with their design and UX. You can learn a lot of valuable lessons by seeing what is and isn’t working for other companies that are operating in the same space as you, especially if it is a company with similar goals and similar target users.
If you see certain common design practices popping up again and again between websites, ask yourself why? Is it based on fads or trends? Or is it the result of research or trial and error? There’s no shame in taking advantage of the hard work of those who have come before you and learning whatever lessons they are able to teach.
Speed and Basic Functionality
Obviously, you want your website to look great. But don’t let them come at the expense of speed and basic functionality. A two-second delay in page load can result in abandonment rates of up to 87%. Slow speeds can have an even more drastic impact on ecommerce sites, as 51% of online shoppers in the U.S. say that slow speed is the top reason they’d abandon a purchase.
There’s a reason that UX exists as its own field separate from traditional design. This is about the user’s OVERALL experience, not just what they see on the page. Most users are going to place a very high value on a page loading quickly, and whether or not a site does what they are expecting it to do on at least a basic level.
Make sure your website has a consistent look and feel on every single page. That means headings, font choices, font sizes, colors, buttons, photo sizes and styles, illustrations, other design elements, and so on.
If your site doesn’t feel consistent and cohesive, users will feel less comfortable the more they navigate around, and if the situation is particularly egregious, they may even get confused as to whether or not they are still on the webpage they started at.
These tips barely scratch the surface of UX design and best practices, but the biggest thing to keep in mind is that you are designing for your users in the first place. Remember, your website is there for your users more than it is there for you.