- Roberta is on a long flight from San Francisco to Buenos Aires for a business trip. While there’s plenty of in-flight movies, music, and games to choose from, the touch-screen controls are too finicky and she has to try three or four times just to select the damn one she wants.
- Martin and his startup team working on a legal learning app felt they deeply understood their end-users, because all his co-founders went to law school, just like their target audience. During development they decided they could save time and money by cutting down on the extensive focus testing, but now the app is underperforming relative to their initial projections. What happened?
- Vanessa spent a ton of time on a clean and responsive landing page design for her online trading site, but after looking at Google Analytics, she doesn’t understand why nobody is signing up for her newsletter.
"In today’s high-speed, socially connected world, the distinguishing factor between business success and failure often boils down to who has the better UX. "
The good news is that 99% of the time it’s not the users’ fault, as all of these problems can be averted with a little dash of good user experience design practices, making these people’s lives more enjoyable, saving time, and hopefully making sure your company can keep the lights on!
While almost all people would say good UX design is desirable, how exactly can you achieve good UX if you don’t fully understand what it is, how it works, or what’s appropriate to your situation? As an entrepreneur, you might be looking at job descriptions, portfolios, trying to find a solution, but sometimes you see so many terms and names and buzzwords it just makes your head spin - you just want someone who understands your problem to fix it!
To help address these concerns, in this three-part blog series we’re going to take a high-level look at what UX is, explore some of its different components, demystify terminology, and explain both why and when it’s important for your business to leverage UX effectively.
What Is User Experience?
User Experience is the holistic experience of real people interacting with your startup's brand and software, encompassing the design, distribution, organization, and implementation of information and interactions to serve both the emotional needs of real people and an organization’s objectives. It’s a complex and fascinating field that touches a variety of disciplines, processes, and practices, including psychology, art, technology, marketing, business, finance, and more. All practices within the UX spectrum promote clarity and increased levels of positive user emotions (such as engagement and delight), strive to reduce negative friction, and increase the chance of building great products that reach audiences and fulfill business objectives. In today’s high-speed, socially connected world, the distinguishing factor between business success and failure often boils down to who has the better UX.
What Are the Different Types of UX?
- In the first part of this blog, we will explore the concepts, practices, and processes of Usability, User Research, and Content Strategy.
- Part Two will go over Information Architecture, UX Design, and UX Prototyping.
- Finally, in Part Three we’ll cover Visual Design, Interaction Design, and Gamification.
What is Usability?
Let's begin with a definition. Usability is less of a process or phase of UX development than it is a fundamental quality that all UX products should strive to achieve and uphold. It is the measure of the utility and ergonomics of a product (ie - how intuitive or easy it is to use) and reflects the emotional appeal and end-user quality of a UX product.
Nobody wants to deal with cumbersome tools, clunky interfaces, or confusing interactions. A product or service with poor or low usability is more likely to produce user frustration, confusion, or friction, which is when users struggle or are impeded or slowed down from fulfilling a specific goal. Why does this happen? Usually because one or more of the UX practices are overlooked, which, sad to say, can happen quite easily! Developers or entrepreneurs sometimes overlook good UX because they can be strapped for resources. Sometimes they can make inadvertently self-defeating UX design decisions because they’re thinking about what’s most efficient and easiest to implement instead of what's best for their users.
What is User Research?
User research is the process of talking to real people to collect data about the emotional needs and responses of your target users when they might interact with your product or service. Who are your customers and what makes them tick? What kinds of devices do they prefer to use? What are the problems they’re having that you could solve for them, making their lives better? These are just a sampling of questions that go into user research. A common goal of this process is to form a fictional model of a typical end-user, known as a persona. Another goal for User Research is to create a "user journey maps", which outline the emotional phases and actions a fictional persona might go through as they learn about and interact with a brand or product.
Why is User Research Important?
User research should be the foundation of any UX endeavor, for how can you have great user experiences without really understanding your users? Without a firm mental model of who you’re really making a product or service for, how people react to what you’ve created, or how well it meets users’ emotional needs, you’re courting unnecessary risk. Unbiased user testing and research helps ensure that your organization or business doesn’t stray too far from its original purpose and stays focused on providing continuous value that speaks to genuine user wants and needs.
"User research should be the foundation of any UX endeavor, for how can you have great user experiences without really understanding your users?"
When Should I Use or Do User Research?
No matter when you apply User Research, it's important to "get out of the office" and talk to real potential customers who match your target market or demographic. Researchers have a lot of tools they use to achieve their objectives, including interviews, online & offline surveys, card-sorting, analysis tools, and much more. Another common misconception is that the research is expensive to do. This is not the case, as this great article from UXBooth goes into more extensive detail about how to conduct user research without breaking the piggy bank.
"No matter when you apply User Research, it's important to "get out of the office" and talk to real potential customers who match your target market or demographic. "
What is Content Strategy?
I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "Content is King," right? If you haven't maybe you haven't been hanging around with enough marketing people! Content Strategy is another broad category of practice that can be hard to nail down. It’s the practice of looking at categories of data or information, such as text, images, graphics, audio, and video, across different delivery channels, such as blogs, email, social media, and online video sites. After you've categorized what type of content you're using, you initiate a high-level planning and analysis phase to strategize how to produce and use content and channels to best maximize appeal towards a specific target market or end-users.
Examples of content strategy at work include:
- An digital marketing agency might initiate an audit of all the videos on a client's Youtube channel to remove clips that convey an outdated or inappropriate message that is “off-brand.”
- A popular but old blog might need to revamp all the formatting of its articles to support an upcoming initiative to make the site look and feel better on mobile devices, or to be compiled into a format to support publication of all the blog articles as an e-book.
- Another site might need to rework the filenaming conventions and resolution of all its images to optimize loading times on mobile and improve Google search rankings.
Why is Content Strategy Important?
Consider what might happen if you have the wrong type of videos or articles on your site or in your app. While this is an extreme example, imagine if you went to a gardening blog, and found articles about car parts, or worse, the discography of Phil Collins. That might be a bad user experience for some people!
An ill-formed content strategy (or none at all) can hurt the digital presence of a company online or undermine critical business performance metrics like conversion rates or sales (a real concern for e-commerce sites). Because of this, content strategy is one of the parts of the UX spectrum that overlaps the most with marketing and branding, and it’s crucial to deepen the appeal of a product or service to specific end-users. Good content strategy aligns the efforts of marketing and content teams to UX and business objectives, ensuring that you reach and engage end-users, fulfilling both customer and business expectations. This is why it’s important part of UX strategy to evangelize and inform who the end-users are so everyone in the organization, from development to marketing, feels invested and can align their efforts to support highly engaging user experiences.
"Imagine if you went to a gardening blog, and found articles about auto parts, or worse, the discography of Phil Collins. That might be a bad user experience for some people! "
When Should I Use or Do Content Strategy?
If you'd like to learn some more handy pointers about Content Strategy (and why it's simpler than you think), check out this helpful article from the Harvard Business Review.