User experience (UX) is no longer an optional component of a larger branding initiative — it’s a necessary aspect of business survival. The UX design process is an almost scientific approach to understanding customer behaviors and using that data to create unique, engaging solutions that convert sales and create long-term brand ambassadors.
Intimidated yet? You shouldn’t be. While it’s wise to respect UX and all its complexities, getting started down the path of UX research and design is a beneficial and manageable process if you have realistic goals and expectations.
What Is User Experience?
UX represents every interaction, good or bad, that a user has with a specific solution, service, or website. As these interactions are recorded and analyzed, they can tell a story about a customer’s purchasing or engagement habits and a company’s ability to recognize and respond to them accordingly.
UX is a critical aspect in leading customers on their purchasing journey and helps them connect more closely to a brand. As a UX developer, it’s your job to understand if your products and services are discoverable by your audience, and whether they’re able to interact with branded services and solutions the way you want them to. These solutions should be reliable and valuable to the user. Ensuring positive user engagements shines a positive light on the company and builds sustainable relationships.
Understand the Difference Between UX and UI
When discussing the development and optimization of branded interactions, the terms UX and user interface (UI) are often times used fairly loosely. However, it’s important to note the difference between the two.
UX is used to describe the process of enhancing all aspects of user satisfaction. This process can be achieved at both the psychological and sociological level and can comprise a variety of techniques, depending on the business. Strategic planning, design and execution, content generation, and analytics are all part of creating and sustaining a positive UX.
UI is the creative component to your UX, and refers to the type of interface you use to accomplish your goals. These interface enhancements can include the creation and placement of text fields, drop-down lists, and checkboxes, all designed to help the customer navigate through your solutions successfully.
Both UX and UI are important aspects of your design process that bring the balance of look and feel with responsiveness and interactivity.
Maximize Your Research Value
One of the most critical components of UX is the research stage. This stage is what should drive most of your decision making and will be the springboard for your UX design. However, it’s easy to get lost in all the “needs and wants” of your development process in the early stages. Setting realistic goals from the outset will help you prioritize all your initiatives so you can keep your focus on improving components of your UX that will bring you the best ROI.
When beginning your research, there are several methodical approaches you can take, including attitudinal, behavioral, qualitative, and quantitative. Depending on the needs of your organization, these different methods of research can help you distinguish between what features a user claims they want or need versus what they will actually use. You can also decipher why a user behaves a certain way while using statistics to drive your UX development process. Either way, you should design your research approach to give you the feedback you need to create more relevant and useful products and solutions.
Know Why and When to Use Prototyping
Prototyping is an important part of the design process. Although not always a cost-effective method of getting to a final product release, prototyping can assist in ensuring high standards of quality control before a product is officially released. Prototypes let UX teams explore problems, ideas, and opportunities early in the development process. They also give designers the ability to engage with company stakeholders and other decision-makers, helping to motivate changes and encourage company buy-in.
Every company needs to decide on their own at which stage a prototype is necessary, but there is no rule of thumb in prototyping too early. Prototypes created early in the development stage can help design teams maintain their creativity and innovation because they provide a tangible solution to actively work toward improving. This allows more inspiration during critical design stages and can also ensure the finished product is the best it can be, out of the starting gate.
Get the Most Out of Usability Testing
Usability testing is by far one of the most effective ways to ensure your product is continuously calibrated for your user base. It’s important to be able to receive unbiased feedback with your UX, and usability testing gives you that ability before the official product is released. Being able to see firsthand how a user interacts with your product lets you immediately address issues with performance and incorporate needed improvements in look and feel.
To get the most out of your usability testing, you should take measures ahead of time to get the most use of the data you’ll be collecting. Focus on certain aspects of your design first. Giving users a blank slate to work with hurts your ability to narrow your focus, and can be counterproductive. Instead, create a series of tasks your participants can follow and identify what qualifies as passes or failures. Ensure your test participants apply to your typical user base, and have adequate analytics and reporting in place to make the best use of the data.
Getting started in UX is as simple as putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and recognizing what matters to you when engaging with a brand. By taking these first few steps in UX research and design you’ll be able to get the most out of all your user interactions and create meaningful and long-term customer relationships.