What’s the most important thing your business can do to ensure it always delivers what the customer wants?
Would you optimise your site to target potential customers, or would you prefer to use the influence of social media and peer-recommendation? Maybe you feel using a mixture of the two methods is the best way to maximise exposure and increase conversions? These things are all well and good, but thousands of companies, large and small, have decided that ‘user experience’ determines whether a business is successful: in other words, how do users respond to the information you offer on your website, and does the design of this site give the viewer exactly what they’re looking for?
So, what exactly is ‘user experience design’ and why is it so crucial? Well, imagine you go out for a meal – what is it you’re looking for in a restaurant and what will make you feel satisfied? Is it the price, the ambience or the level of service? It’s actually all of those things and more. How quickly were you served, did you get the table you wanted, were the waiting-on staff courteous and knowledgeable, was the food all it was cracked up to be, did the restaurant pander to your every whim? These are the type of questions people ask, and they are the ones that ultimately determine whether your experience was such a memorable one that you’ll probably repeat it.
Website design and internet marketing are exactly the same.
It’s no longer good enough to cram every bit of information you have at your disposal onto a website in the hope that it will somehow hit the mark, and bring the business conversions you want. Websites are now sophisticated, or at least they should aspire to be so, because it’s a big, bad world and everyone is looking for the same slice of business you’re after. Your website has to stand apart from the rest.
Major companies like Google and Facebook cottoned on to this some time ago and employ an army of ‘user experience’ or UX designers to make sure their websites deliver exactly the type of experience that customers want. These people travel the world and carry out research on volunteer browsers to see how they behave on computers; how they search and identify products and how they respond to the information they’re presented with. Their task is to use this research by looking for patterns of behaviour and transfer that knowledge to the re-designed site so that it answers all the needs the research has identified. According to Andy Budd, managing director of Brighton-based web agency, Clearleft, they are the online equivalent of Norman Foster.
“User experience designers are the digital equivalent of architects. Just as architects are crafting the physical world around you, user experience designers are doing the same with the digital landscape you use every single day.”
So what do UX researchers look for when they carry out their analysis?
They observe user behaviour and test various options to determine which one the user prefers. The purpose of the testing is to understand user’s desires and motivations, and deliver a final product that is not only satisfying, but is also pleasurable to use and engaging. If the company responds to the research and carries out all the modifications that have been recommended, then there’s more of a likelihood that future browsers will stick with the site and go on to develop some form of brand loyalty.
The idea of identifying and clarifying user experience isn’t a new concept in itself: it’s been around since the 1990s and was championed by scientist and researcher, Donald Norman. At that time it was viewed as just one of the factors that determined loyalty to a brand or a product. Now it’s viewed as a distinct concept in its own right. Many companies now believe user experience design is vital to building the complete and perfect product.
The ultimate question that needs to be asked is, is it really that vital? Does every company have to include friendly UX design when creating a website? Well, unsurprisingly it depends who you ask. All the major players use it, but need it apply to the smaller business? According to Andy Budd, the answer is a qualified ‘no’: “I wouldn’t say that good user experience design was vital to the success of every online business any more than I would say that good customer service was vital to every offline business, but it can be a strong competitive advantage, and will continue to grow in importance over time.”