What is User Experience (UX) Design?
An amazing discipline? A buzzword, catch-all, synonym for usability? Or… according to a sassy Medium article… a joke?
For us, UX design is a process that ensures a product (in our case, a website) has been built and tested to satisfy the needs of its users. UX is not just human-computer interaction; it takes into account the measurable (practical and functional use of a product), and immeasurable (how a product makes you feel, what it reminds you of or allows you to do).
If we think about how UX can begin before we start any preliminary research, and continue even after we transfer a website over to a client, our understanding of UX grows into an all-encompassing concept that envelopes everything we do—the term isn’t limited to designers anymore. So how does prioritizing the goals of the end users influence the decisions we make? How do we design, write and build websites that are user-focussed?
What are we already doing?
Building trust and rapport with our clients
To create, build and launch a website is an ongoing process that depends on a back and forth relationship between us and our clients. Our websites should provide users the ability to achieve their goals and meet their needs.
At Kobot, a part of the client’s user experience begins with a partnership that is built on mutual respect for the other’s expertise and involvement. Key meetings are face to face, and clear check-in points are established. As the authors of their content, our clients also share the power to control how they share their expertise.
Planning, creating and building according to our research
The first research and strategy presentation is crucial to shift our focus from the needs of our client to the needs of their users. Our research includes a variety of methods that allow us to gain an understanding of who we need to be designing for, and to guide our decision making throughout the process from design, to content editing and development.
For research, we do the following:
- Conduct stakeholder surveys and interviews
- Pursue secondary (contextual) research
- Create user personas based on our survey findings
- Provide an audience-focused strategy that explains our rationale and process
Next, during project development, we do the following:
- Create sitemap and wireframes that allows for a comprehensive view of every page to ensure no content is missed
- Define and flesh out branding and create assets
- Optimize the development process
- Create content that is consistent in messaging and tone
As we near the end of the build process, we work to transfer the ownership of the website to our clients. In-person training and a thorough manual allow us to collect our knowledge into one place for the client’s use.
What can we do more of?
Kobot is Alberta’s small but mighty digital design agency; we must balance different time and budget considerations in comparison to larger agencies, but there are still things that we could do more of when it comes to UX design.
Practice supreme empathy
For many users, computers are hard to use. We have to practice supreme empathy to our clients, and remember that the development of a website is a new experience to them. Having that supreme empathy in place can remind us that words like “wireframe” are completely meaningless outside our field, and that a lot of what we do are rather abstract constructs if you don’t work with them every day. We need to make sure we are adequately disclosing our process in order to empower our clients to take part in the decision making and allow their expertise to shine.
Beef up our user journeys
Although our consideration of users is something that’s always in the back of our minds, we’ve never literally drawn it out in a formal process. Perhaps formalization could help us refine this process of identifying user priorities, their goals, and issues with navigation.
Create a more refined user testing process
It is always beneficial to test and test again. But it is also a matter of practicality that we can’t be testing forever because of time and budget constraints. There are many tools and exercises we can use before and after the project (like card sorting, tree mapping, a/b testing, heat mapping, etc), but the challenge is to think about the ways we can integrate these naturally into our existing processes.
What is the cost of UX?
We feel that if you’re not willing to put the time into research and planning, the certainty of what we’re doing as a company and in partnership with the client is reduced. Sometimes, if the budget is the issue, preliminary research may be the first place that most people cut because its value may not be as apparent as it should be. But we feel that the less research you have, the less ground you have to stand on.
As well, a barrier we hit sometimes on projects is communicating why we might need to make decisions that place the “user’s” goals ahead of the organization. What we mean by this is communicating why we may choose to distinguish what “has” to be included instead of what “should” be included. For instance, the mission and values statement may be great for an organization and its members to rally around, but may not be useful to a user.
What is the cost of skipping UX?
To invest no time into UX increases the world-ending possibility that you completely miss the mark and you leave users frustrated or confused. No considerations of UX can place more barriers in front of your users, and websites that prevent users to reach their goals in a painless way leave an unprofessional, inconsiderate or unfriendly impression.
So… are we UX-ing yet?
In a broad way, totally! Trying to find a unanimous definition of UX design may be a barrier but it is still present and relevant in our process and industry.
It’s a methodology, it’s a practice, it’s a group of things, it’s a philosophy. It’s like design—it means so many different things to different people. So maybe it’s just better to communicate clearly what you’re doing and make sure you can explain why.