Elements of User Experience Design in the Framework of Websites and Applications

What is UX design?
In the days before User Experience design, the greatness of a website or application was largely decided by those who designed and built it and their clients. The fact that there was a user, a human being, interacting with the technology was often neglected.

Springing from the theories of cognitive psychology researcher, Dr. Donald Norman, UX design is now a professional discipline in its own right and, in some web design outfits, you might expect to find a UX designer sitting alongside the regular design team.

User Experience design is NOT synonymous with usability, although usability is a large element that comes under the UX umbrella. It encompasses other user-relevant dimensions, such as HCI (Human Computer Interaction), ergonomics, accessibility and system performance. It overlaps with wider business functions such as marketing and product evaluation. In a nutshell, UX design is all about ensuring that the website or application is not only functional, but a pleasure to use.

Bringing users to life
One of the ways that User Experience designers put the user at the forefront of the design process is by creating a number of user profiles and developing them into ‘personae’: fictitious characters who can be placed in various hypothetical situations; the website (and its sub-systems) can then be fine-tuned with each user’s requirements in mind.

Ensuring accessibility
Not only are there many potential types of user, but those users now have a growing number of ways to interface with a website or application. They may be logging in with a mobile phone or via a dial-up connection; what works well in Chrome may cause frustrations in Explorer. User experience design has to contend with any factor that might affect the user’s relationship with a website or application.

Evaluating user experience
Of course, it’s one thing to create characters and then implement design solutions to suit them, but how can UX designers evaluate the real effect of their interventions? One method is by utilising A/B testing software and analysing the way in which users respond to subtle differences in the user interface. However, since UX is a largely qualitative factor, much of the evaluation process involves interacting with users via surveys and feedback applications.

Is it worth employing a UX designer?
Ultimately, the individual parameters and budget considerations of a design project have to be considered alongside the potential benefits of optimising User Experience design.

Small companies and start-ups might decide to include UX design in the overall responsibilities of the design team or to outsource certain processes. However, employing a dedicated UX designer from the beginning is usually more efficient, since the system can be continually evaluated at every stage.

As a rule of thumb, the more complex and interaction-rich the project, the more important it is that UX design is prioritised. Even in more simple projects careful attention to sub-systems, such as checkout processes, can provide significant benefits to the client. Rather than an additional expense, UX design needs to be considered as a potential investment. 

This article was written by Neil Hocking, an expert in the
Mobile Office Technology
category at www.yoexpert.com

What is a User Journey?

From a website point of view, when a user comes to your website, they are usually there to do something – find information, make a purchase, make a comment. A user journey is what this person undertakes from the moment they arrive at your site to when they leave. Every individual step they take in their entire journey through your website is noted and forms what we call a user journey. The diagram below shows how a user journey can be represented.

So how do I know the steps my user is taking?
Quite often, you don’t! You can track overall user actions and behaviours on your website through the use of analytics software such as google analytics, but it is nigh impossible to pin point an actual individual user journey with this software. In order to create a user journey, you’ll need some scenarios and personae.

What is personae?
Personae is plural of persona. You will need several personas (upto 7) in order to ensure that each type of user visiting your website is covered. Essentially you need to create a persona that represents your archetype (typical) user. As there are likely to be quite a few of these, each will require a persona. For each persona you create, establish a scenario which will then decide on the user journey.

An example
Assuming I have a website that sells business stationary and leather goods for the office. My persona is:-

Joe, a 45 year old businessman. Joe falls in the “middle income” group, has a wife and two kids and is a travelling salesman. He uses the internet often, both at home and on his mobile device and netbook/iPad. He’s a regular user of my website and spends on average £30 per visit.

My scenario is:-
Joe is travelling by air to his next appointment, which is the following day. As he has been travelling for some time now, he has luggage which he needs to check-in. This he does, but unfortunately, when he gets to his destination the luggage has been lost in transit. He gets to his hotel after the stores have closed and is in urgent need of some clothes and a briefcase for his mid-morning sales presentation on the following day. As soon as he checks in to the hotel, he gets on the internet and goes to www.mywebsite.com to find a briefcase that can be delivered in the morning.

My user journey would therefore be something like this, albeit not in a diagram format:-

Home Page -> Products ->Office Leather Goods -> Briefcases -> Product detail page -> Shopping bag -> Account Log in -> Checkout -> Delivery address change -> Checkout -> Payment -> Confirmation

Of course, Joe may well get diverted and do other things on the website, but here the user journey encapsulates all that Joe needed to achieve. This is why you need a scenario for your user journeys as well, as this is where you establish the goal/motivation for that user.

Where User Experience and Information Architecture combine

In the digital world, and in a number of digital agencies today, the term
Information Architecture is being replaced with that of User Experience
consultant or expert. Despite the change in title, the work required to be done is
primarily the same but with one key difference – that being that the site/intranet
/application etc. being developed is designed from the users point of view i.e.
how we expect the user to interact with the product. In traditional IT software
development, the term Information Architect is still commonly used whereas in
digital agencies, and those focusing on the web, User Experience is now much
more common.

However, even a piece of software should be developed with the user in mind.
In fact, I believe this should be the case with any “product” – even a poorly
designed parking meter can have a big impact on a user and their impression of
the company/brand.

In the early days of the internet, it seemed that every company that existed
wanted to have an online presence irrelevant of what their customers/users
wanted. As such, many organisations put up “brochureware” sites that did
nothing more than act as a marketing tool. As the internet has evolved, and
usage increased, customers are demanding that more be made available online –
and companies are responding.

This is where the user experience and architecture of your offering comes into
play. No longer are we pushing static content out to our customers – we are
inviting them to come and interact with us, in an online environment. Come and
do your shopping, come and play games, come and do your banking. By inviting
customers to come to our sites, we’re asking them not only to engage with our
brand but also to experience the brand, and therefore as a business, we need to
ensure this experience meets their expectations and needs – and indeed, that it
meets the expectations of internal stakeholders as a result.

Defining and understanding your customers/users needs, is key in information
architecture. You have to know what information your user needs and when.
This helps in defining the structure (architecture) of the information that you’re
providing to the user. You also need to know the “how” though i.e. how are you
going to provide the information in the best way possible, and this is where you
have to be more focused on the “user experience”.

I suspect that the need to have an informational structure and also present this
to the user in an engaging and usable way, is what has resulted in the terms
Information Architecture and User Experience being used interchangeably,
although they are actually slightly separate functions. Whether you are an IA
or UX by title though, I think its fair to say that you actually need to do both
functions to be sure the product or solution meets the end users needs… but I’d
be interested to hear what others have to say…