As technology continues to improve, people will spend more and more time with products, systems, and services. This can be very good, too, since technology removes irritation and inconvenience from day-to-day life. But ultimately, systems need to feel like they’re made by humans for humans. In other words, it’s really important to provide a good user experience.
User experience design, or UX design, is a relatively new concept. Think of it like an emotional version of ergonomics.
A user experience is defined on Wikipedia as “a person’s emotions or attitudes about using a product, system, or service. It includes practical, experiential, affective, meaningful, and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use, and efficiency.”
That’s a dense definition, but UX is really important to understand. We know that consumers make decisions based on how products or services make them feel. That means that understanding UX design principles is as crucial to providing good customer experience as customer service was in the twentieth century.
Why should I care about user experience (UX)?
The Objectives of User Experience
To understand UX design, it helps to think about its main objectives. I think that this Medium article by Amy Smith of Muzli does a good job of summarizing the objectives. In it, she lists out:
- “I got what I need”
- “Don’t make me think”
- “I really enjoy using it”
- Habit is second nature
- Make users your promoters
Using her work as a jumping off point, I’d like to add my two cents. I’ll start by rewording each of these five headlines to turn them into objectives.
1. Solve the customers’ problems.
Nobody will use your product or service on a whim. Everybody who is purchasing a product or service is ultimately trying to meet a need, whether tangible or emotional.
In order to provide a good customer experience, you need to understand your audience and what they need. Start by doing marketing research so you can figure out what to provide, how to provide it, and how to make your value known.
2. Eliminate unnecessary choices.
When people use your product or service, it needs to be as intuitive as possible. Make it obvious how it should be used. For example, clever or cute page names on your website will annoy people and turn them away. Straightforward labels get the job done much more effectively.
Eliminating unnecessary choices goes a step beyond this, though. You might think that giving your users more choices would be an unquestionable good, but it’s often not. Every decision requires a little bit of thought. Too many decisions lead to decision fatigue and can actually wind up making them less happy.
How do you fix this? Don’t give people choices that they don’t care about. Apple, for example, provides very few different versions of its phones. They pick the ones people are most interested in and provide those and only those options.
3. Make your products and services enjoyable to use.
Another element of UX is simply making your product or service feel good to use. Often this comes down to understanding your customers’ needs by, in the words of Amy Smith, “[giving them] the right thing at the right time.”
For example, when you use Spotify on a regular basis, the app will periodically recommend music to you based on your preferences. This includes a mix of old music you like and new music you might like. Smartphones that automatically provide traffic information when you’re about to drive to work are also a good example.
4. Encourage habitual use and muscle memory.
This is a corollary to the rule “don’t make me think.” Your product or service needs to be intuitive enough for people to use it without a second thought. That way, it will become a habit and people may even develop muscle memory.
To understand why this is valuable, consider what happens every time Facebook updates their site. Tons of people complain! Why? Their habits were upended.
5. Give customers a reason to refer you to their friends.
Good UX design principles often lead to products or services that are so seamlessly usable that they fade into the background (in a good way). Yet even in accomplishing this, you still want to give users a reason to promote your products or services to others.
This is why so many apps you use will offer freebies if you convince your friends to sign up. All it takes is a little incentive to cheaply acquire new customers without being a pest to your current ones!
How do you know you have provided a good user experience (UX)?
The objectives listed in the previous section will help you to create a good user experience. However, knowing that you’ve actually provided a good user experience requires looking at things in a different way.
Usability.gov outlines six specific criteria that are needed to ensure that a user experience is meaningful and valuable. They are:
Useful: Your content should be original and fulfill a need
Usable: Site must be easy to use
Desirable: Image, identity, brand, and other design elements are used to evoke emotion and appreciation
Findable: Content needs to be navigable and locatable onsite and offsite
Accessible: Content needs to be accessible to people with disabilities
Credible: Users must trust and believe what you tell themUser Experience Basics, Usability.gov
These six criteria are fairly intuitive, but let’s dive into a little more detail with specific examples. You know you have provided a good user experience if…
1. Your product is useful.
All products or services need to meet one or more of your users’ specific goals. Otherwise, they have no reason to purchase your product in the first place. Your product is useful insofar as you correctly identify the user’s need and meet it.
If your customer is a perfectionist buying business software, then your product is useful if it’s up-and-running and glitch-free 99.99% of the time. Alternatively, if your customer is frugal, then your product is useful if it gets the job done and it’s cheap. If your customer is image-conscious, then your product is useful if it makes them look cool.
2. Your product is easy-to-use.
Your product has to be usable or you will not retain customers. Interaction Design has a great example: they say that the first generation of MP3 players were awful. That’s true! In fact, that’s why the iPod wiped most of them off the market – it was easy to use.
3. Your product is desirable.
You don’t necessarily have to provide luxury, but your products need to provide consistent branding and imagery. The need for desirability is obvious with luxury cars, but I’d like to highlight IKEA as a good example of desirability.
Despite their furniture being inexpensive, they have clear values: simplicity, cost-consciousness, and a Scandinavian-style togetherness. This helps their furniture seem nicer than furniture provided by Wayfair, even if they are not really all that different.
4. Your product is easy to find.
Your product or service needs to easily accessible by your customers. For example, books that are not available on Amazon may be fantastic, but their sales will suffer because it’s hard for readers to find them. Think of this as an extension of ease-of-use.
5. Your product is accessible.
According to Interaction Design, 19% of people in the United States have a disability. Accessibility is how you provide user experiences to people with hearing loss, impaired vision, learning impairments, and so on. It’s notoriously difficult to design for, but it’s really important when you’re talking about almost a fifth of the population!
This is why you’ll see many podcasts release transcripts. That way people with hearing impairments, or simply people who are unable to listen to audio at the moment, can enjoy them as well.
6. Your product is credible.
Of all the user experience goals, credibility is, in my opinion, the trickiest one to get right. You have to convince users that you’re telling the truth and that you’re a reliable source of information. Branding helps, as does having testimonials and a public history of user reviews.
If you want to see a good example of product credibility, think of any business you like that you found through online reviews. Small companies with a lot of genuine and positive reviews on third-party websites like Trustpilot are great examples of businesses that provide credible user experiences.
What skills do you need to ensure a good user experience?
The principles and goals of UX design are easy to comprehend, but executing them well requires a lot of skill. In particular, Usability.gov highlights ten specific skillsets that companies need to implement good UX design. Below, I’ll go over each one in detail.
1. Project management
In order to create a product or service with a great user experience, all the individual tasks that go into making it need to be done well. According to a study conducted by PwC, only 2.5% of companies complete their projects 100% successfully. The other 97.5% failed to either meet their original targets, ran into delays, or went over-budget.
Project management, therefore, is a basic backbone skill that a company needs to succeed. For professional businesses, project management is like hygiene to restaurants.
2. User research
Creating great products or services requires you to fully understand what your customers want and need. That’s why we’ve made several posts on marketing research, including:
- A Crash Course in Market Research for Your Small Business
- 23 Excellent Questions to Ask Your Customers
- 15 Ways to Use Market Research to Grow Your Business
- 14 Cheap Ways to Do Market Research for Your Business
3. Usability evaluation
In addition to being able to research your users’ needs, you need to be able to understand how they interact with your product or service. This is called usability evaluation and you can use it to see if customers are achieving their goals.
4. Information architecture
Much of UX design hinges upon taking complicated systems and breaking them down to be easy to use. One way you do this is by smartly creating an information architecture that helps teach users what they need to know when they need to know it. You can learn more here.
5. User interface design
This means being able to lay out elements on a digital interface (computer screen, app, etc.) that help users understand and accomplish what they need to do. That means:
- Creating a consistent experience.
- Laying out pages in a way that makes sense.
- Using color and texture to direct attention.
- And more
6. Interaction design
To quote Usability.gov directly, “interaction design focuses on creating engaging interfaces with well thought out behaviors. Understanding how users and technology communicate with each other is fundamental to this field. With this understanding, you can anticipate how someone might interact with the system, fix problems early, as well as invent new ways of doing things. “
7. Visual design
Creating good user experiences also requires a command of visual design elements. This includes understanding how to use lines, shapes, colors, textures, and typography to create pleasing and usable designs.
Visual design requires you to think holistically too. That means understanding of how elements fit together and how users perceive a whole design versus its parts. You can learn more about visual design principles here.
8. Content strategy
To properly serve your users’ needs, you may need a steady drip of fresh content, perhaps in the form of emails, blog articles, or social media. In order to properly do this, you need to understand content strategy. That means answering questions such as:
- What do you want users to get out of your content?
- How do you plan to create that content?
- When do you plan to publish the content?
- How do you plan to maintain your content?
We touched on this earlier, but accessibility is how you make products or services that people with disabilities can use. That means working around vision, hearing, or learning impairments among other things.
10. Web analytics
When reviewing the success of your web-based services, you need to be able to collect and analyze website data. That means becoming familiar with tools such as Google Analytics.
Providing a good user experience comes down to understanding what your customers want and need, and making products or services that help them accomplish their goals. As simple as this may sound, it requires understanding nuanced principles and a diverse set of skills.
By laying out the foundations of UX design plainly and clearly, we hope to help you make products and services that your customers will love using. With time, your small business can become more valuable to customers by becoming more useful, usable, desirable, findable, accessible, and credible.