Author: Danielle Cooley, UX specialist (dgcooley.com), and Jason Stone, senior vice president, digital strategy, Engage (www.engagesoftware.com)
Part one of this series discussed how user experience, or “UX,” is more than just a site’s graphic design. It encompasses all aspects of design, functionality and site visitor psychology in order to create a site that makes visitors feel good and accomplish their goals. It also laid out the five layers of building a positive UX: user research, content strategy, information architecture, interaction design and visual design.
Now it’s time to determine how they can help your site provide a good UX. This is most efficiently achieved through a best practice called Design Thinking. Developed by a team at Stanford, the process follows five steps, with the last three (ideate, prototype and test) repeated as many times as your timeline and budget will allow.
- Empathize: The aim for this step is to understand where your end users are coming from – their roles, their environment and their goals. Ethnographic research (contextual inquiries, field studies/“shadowing,” immersion and journaling studies) can help you define these very specific items. Where are users when they are accessing your site? Are they at a quiet office or a place with a lot of noise and distractions? What are they actually trying to do during their visit? Why?
Also, consider journey mapping, which covers the entire experience from start to finish. Here, go through each part of the website and see how those users feel at each point. Empathy mapping involves an even deeper dive, as users describe their thoughts, feelings and frustrations as they browse your site. Surveys are another tool to help empathize with users, but they do not typically provide a great deal of value. Many organizations opt to conduct these user research activities at their annual meetings, which gives them quick access to several different constituents.
- Define. The next step in the Design Thinking process is to define how you will solve the problems unveiled in the empathize stage. Here, it is beneficial to develop personas based on your initial user research. Then, when making a decision about your site’s design and development, always go back to those personas and ask, “How will this person feel about this? What do we need to do to make this user’s life easier?”
- Ideate. This is the brainstorming stage. Try a new technique like “6-3-5 Brainwriting.” With 6-3-5 Brainwriting, six people write down three ideas in five minutes on a piece of paper. They then pass that paper to the next person, who spends another five minutes jotting down ideas triggered by the previous person’s notes. Or, try a Design Studio – a technique in which you gather all the stakeholders together to generate ideas, sketch them out, obtain feedback and repeat as needed. These techniques can be used to generate solutions for everything from page layout to navigation to copy.
- Prototype. Prototyping can take many forms. For websites, it begins with sketching how a site might look and behave. Then, you’ll get into a more detailed, cleaner version of prototyping – wireframing. Tools like Axure, iRise and Balsamiq can later help you create interactive prototypes, which can show whether your individual widgets are working well and best-serving your users.
- Test. Like prototyping, usability testing can take on a number of forms. There is traditional moderated testing, where you bring a user into a lab-like environment and observe his or her ability to complete a series of tasks on various versions of a site (or on prototypes at any stage). Remote moderated sessions (using such tools as Skype or GoToMeeting) are also viable options, as well as unmoderated sessions in which a web application prompts the end user to complete a task and then record video or text-based feedback.
Why Focus on UX?
As you can see, there are many tips, tricks and techniques for providing a great UX. Of course, the methods you embrace depend on the state of your web design project, your timeline and your budget. But, if you take the time to focus on the UX, especially early in the process, you’ll quickly realize the benefits. With a user-centered approach to digital product design development, you can grow memberships, reduce support costs, increase your sales, save development time, increase word-of-mouth marketing, differentiate yourself from your competitors – and most importantly, make your users feel empowered and productive.