Website design has come a long way since the first web page was designed by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991. Since then, evolution of the web design industry has developed to such an extent that there now exists a set of criteria one can apply at the outset of the design process - User Experience design (UX) - which is geared towards a positive outcome from a user’s perspective and is an integral part of the product design process. Jean Luca Pantalleresco gives us more detail.
What is User Experience?
Simply put, User Experience design (known as ‘UX’) refers to the analytical and technical approach applied when creating a product. It is the process used to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use and pleasure provided by the interaction between the customer and a product. UX is one of the fundamental elements that needs to be taken into consideration when considering the creation of any web product. Importantly, the product needs to be visualised being used not only for the current generation but for many generations to come because the evolution of the product will determine its lifespan and also it’s progressive usability.
Researching and defining the audience
The first step that UX designers should take when trying to create a successful user experience is to thoroughly research and define the intended audience. By first defining the audience, a designer can easily identify if the user, who will be experiencing the product, is actually accustomed to certain types of web interface navigation or requires more assistance when it comes to direction. If the product is aimed at older individuals, the designer needs to focus on a simplified interface and avoid any form of complexity. Focusing on the main functions of the product and highlighting them to the user will be crucial in this exercise because it will help the user easily identify what the product is about and the decision of whether they will find the product useful or not. While researching an audience, designers learn about the user’s thoughts, behaviour and motivations for using the product. Eventually, these traits can be exploited to create a well desired product with a genuine goal. It is essential for designers to put their personal preferences aside and to be objective in order to facilitate the creation of a product that works best for the intended user. Ideally, the research should be done side by side with a sample of users from the intended audience and with the use of feedback related questions. Some designers may try to influence user behaviour in relation to the product which is not an ideal approach to design. The preferred method would be for a designer to get accustomed to user needs through an intuitive process and to facilitate them accordingly by design.
“Design is not only just what it looks and feels, Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs (2003).
Sketching and prototyping
Once the designer establishes what the user expects from a product, it is only then that functionality and usability can follow. Ideally, the designer will create a set of sketches to gather feedback and then proceed to a more dynamic wireframe to further visualise the allocation of space, functionalities, distribution and prioritisation of content. After the designer has gathered enough feedback related to the design, a prototype should be created to properly visualise and increase the exploration of the product. At this stage, another set of tests and feedback related questions are essential and will greatly affect the production cycle. When corrections and amendments have been done, one can then proceed to the next phase.
Thorough testing is a core part of the whole UX design process as the product must ultimately endure critical observation and examination under a larger audience. If the changes that were implemented in the design phase are truly successful, the testing process will be a relatively straight forward process. Additionally, testing users that have no correlation with the product beforehand can help the designer to identify how a completely oblivious user would perceive the product, thus facilitating techniques the designer would need to establish in the process for product design success.
The final step of the UX process is the implementation of the product. This can be done in many different ways and will depend on the capability and budget of the company. If the company requires designers with atypical competencies in the development cycle of the product, then the designers would probably need to go on to fully develop the website themselves. If that is not the case, the designers can easily send their work over to a development team for production. However, before sending the design over to the development team, a set of documentation briefs must be created to clearly define all the functionalities and the basic ideology behind the product so that the developers will be on the same page and clear about how to proceed. This must process must not be overlooked as developers that are not briefed correctly about the product being created may cause unnecessary miscommunication between the product and consumer.
As the web design industry continues to evolve, cooperation and continuous research is the key to learning and improving the processes that are geared towards a positive UX.