There’s so much talk about the “user experience” these days that it’s easy to shrug off the concept of the UX. After all, if you’re in the business of building websites using modern standards and best practices, then isn’t the ultimate goal already to create a quality user experience?
The answer to that is, “Yes, but…”
Here’s the caveat: this idea that websites should be designed around the user experience is a given. If the on-site experience isn’t a satisfying or even a pleasurable one, users won’t convert. However, there is a difference between abiding by basic web design and development best practices and learning how to focus on UX.
While you might not be able to adopt or master a rigorous UX process right away, here are 5 user experience design strategies you can start using now to become a better web developer.
1. SEPARATE THE UI FROM THE UX
A beautiful interface for your website is important for impressing visitors. Not only that, you want it to be cleanly laid out and to have a clear focus on the content so there’s no confusion as to what parts visitors should pay attention to. But all of these “musts” have to do with the actual graphical interface and not in the underlying nuts and bolts that drive user behavior.
If your goal is to master UX, understand that it requires a different approach than UI design. While the two do ultimately come together to shape the overall experience for visitors, UI design deals in the outward aesthetics of the site while UX design deals in the ease of usability and interactivity with your site.
So, before you adopt any of these further strategies, remind yourself that UX design requires a separate approach; one that’s more analytical in nature.
2. TAP INTO YOUR INNER CUSTOMER SERVICE REP
The one question you should ask yourself if you’re trying to master UX design is: “Do you care about the why?” And the reason for this is simple: because designing for user experience relies on your ability to project the future. Yes, that eye-catching site you want to build is sure to get visitors to notice your business, but does the experience you’ve built on-site support their end goals?
Think about it like this:
- Visitors come to your site with a clear mission (e.g. to shop, to hire a service provider, to learn more about a topic).
- A high-quality design gives off a professional aura that convinces them to look around.
- But maybe the navigational path doesn’t make sense, the instructions to convert are difficult to follow, or there are too many irrelevant steps getting in the way.
- It’s your job to think about those obstacles that can create friction in the prospective customer’s journey. Those missteps could cost your site their business and loyalty.
If you want to be a better developer, consider looking at your job as that of a customer service representative. You should know what your visitors’ goals are before they even get through that door. Additionally, before questions or issues arise, you should have already figured out a solution to them.
UX is about understanding your audience and being empathetic to their plight—both in the problem that’s brought them to your site as well as the problem they might run into during a bad on-site experience.
3. ALWAYS START WITH STRATEGY
Think of UX more like a strategy than a design. Its focus is on breaking down web projects into the most minute of details so it gains a firmer hold on shaping the experience.
For those of you who are natural-born problem solvers, this one will come easy to you. For those of you who aren’t, you’ll need to learn how to prioritize strategy and cold-hard facts over that urge to create something “really cool.”
There are a number of ways UX pros go about collecting these facts in preparation to build out the user experience. These include researching competitors as well as the industry. Once a thorough base is established for what’s been done, work then needs to focus on creating identities for the site’s brand, voice, and end user (known as user personas).
4. INVEST IN THE RIGHT TOOLS
There’s a lot of work that goes into UX design. While no one expects you to adopt all of these strategies (at least not right way), one of the best things you could do for yourself as a web designer or developer is to get yourself more organized and structured in how you approach your work.
UX is all about systematic thinking and strict planning. If you can nail that down now and find the right tools to streamline this new approach, you’ll find that much of the other UX strategies will more easily fall into place later.
Here are some of the tools you’ll find the most helpful:
- Card sorting
- Wireframing and user flow templates
- Prototyping software
- Web analytics
- A/B testing
- Front-end testing
- Usability testing
This again goes back to the idea of approaching your job like a customer service rep. UX pros understand that it’s not enough to study, plan, and test in isolation. Without user feedback, you could just end up spinning your wheels and not gain any traction with your audience.
That’s why it’s important to listen, too. Study the analytics. Send out user surveys. And, above all, be receptive to the feedback you receive. If this is your first time trying to build specifically for usability, your idea of what works may not be exactly on par with what your visitors want or need.