The architecture and planning of your site needs to be carefully constructed and tailored to provide a seamless, intuitive consumer experience that best achieves your business goals. A well-designed, optimized user experience is often the critical ingredient in a successful product, and a poor user experience can certainly contribute to product failure. If your online or mobile product offering is not producing the results you’d hoped for, it could likely stand to benefit from a user experience and usability overhaul.
Typically, the goal of User Experience is to provide a “functional design”, or visual blueprint, of the item in question, as well as outline the navigation and structure of the site content. This “functional design” is conceptualized from the perspective of the user. The target user’s needs, tasks and behaviors are identified, and then the product is architected to ensure those needs are met in the best possible way.
The Business Value
User experience helps make technology products far more successful in terms of both and consumer engagement or satisfaction. User experience also streamlines development operations and significantly reduces the design, development and QA lifecycle in terms of both time and costs. When applied to internal processes or applications, user experience can significantly reduce operating costs and labor in terms of time-spent using a poorly -designed product or following an inefficient internal process.
An optimized online presence can deliver such quantifiable economic results as:
– Attracting New Customers and Increasing Customer Loyalty and Engagement
– Reducing Operating Costs and Increasing ROI and Efficiency
– Providing Superior Customer Service and Communications, and
– Promoting Your Brand and Enhancing Your Brand Image.
User experience deliverables that are created by Usability experts provide many other tangible client benefits, including:
– Translating vague business goals or concepts into a concrete product vision;
– Defining the product in terms of its features, functionality, navigation, structure, and user engagement or interaction;
– Enabling internal teams to gain consensus, agreement and buy-in on the product features and direction early on, before costly design and development takes place;
– Isolating the functional and business decisions from design and development, which helps provide a litmus test to ensure that the right product is being built to solve the right problem;
– Ensuring that industry best practices are being applied, to better ensure the product’s success and consumer adoption; and
– Providing a means for getting user feedback early on through early user testing, to ensure the product will be successful.
For example, in the age of Google, any page on any website has now become the entry point into that site. Users enter and exit websites based on which sites ranked highest in a specific Google search — and those pages that they enter your site from may not be where you wanted or planned for them to enter. The result of the Google era of web browsing is that both SEO and a site’s usability and navigation have become paramount in site optimization for each and every page on the site, and universal navigation components have become more, not less critical. Every dead-end page on your site increases abandonment and is a wasted opportunity for directing users down usage paths that best achieve your business goal.
So Many Names for Related Services
User experience and usability services are relatively new disciplines and still go by a lot of different names in the trade. Sometimes these services are called “interaction design” or “ID”, sometimes “UX” (a shorthand for user experience), sometimes “usability”, sometimes “Information architecture”, sometimes, “computer-human interaction” or CHI, and, occasionally, even the catch-all “user interface design” or “UI design”.
In truth, there are many differences between these words and domains, but these services overlap so much that the terms are often used interchangeably, even by industry professionals. Additionally, sometimes the User Experience function overlaps or is combined with the role of the “content architect”, “applications/ software architect”, the QA tester, the Creative Director, or the graphic designer.
In essence, the User Experience role is the hub at the center of the product development wheel of disciplines. It is the bridge between many different components because its core function is to generate the tangible and feasible applied vision for the product that all the other teams will use. It is an essential component of efficient product development.
1. User Experience and Interaction Design is the first and most strategic step to an optimized user interface design. User Experience conceptualization, planning, and design ensures the site will fulfill your business goals by defining the users and their needs and creating projected personas, usage scenarios and sometimes interaction storyboards.
2. Information Architecture is the nuts and bolts of the engagement. The information architecture wireframes are the most tangible deliverables. For content-rich websites, information architecture deliverables also frequently include the careful planning and definition of the site’s navigation, naming conventions and content organization that is sometimes called “content architecture”.
3. Usability helps to make the site experience as seamless and functional as possible, typically from the visitor’s perspective. The goal is to fulfill the user’s needs as effortlessly as possible, which benefits both the users and the company. Usability is used as an adjective (“usable”) but also refers to a discrete step of “Usability Testing” in which the concept or product is tested by “real users” to see how they react and if they perform as desired or expected.
Each of these three is described in detail in the sections below.
1. User Experience: the Foundation
The overall website consumer experience showcases the site’s business strategy in design form. Proper user experience conceptualization, planning, and design drives business results. Website user experience encompasses the following:
– Competitive Research: Existing website market comparables are researched, reviewed and considered to ensure that key features are included and to help define the value proposition of your site over the competition. The goal is to ensure that your site’s differentiating features will be clearly highlighted in the site’s design and that your consumer experience will be the best in the online marketplace.
– User Research & Personas: The optimal user interface aligns the experience with users’ needs. A great user experience will deliver on a business’s revenue goals and its marketing and demographics strategy through clearly defined metrics. Therefore, user experience design begins by defining the target markets and users, and creating ‘personas’ for those users.
– User Interaction Planning & Design: Target interaction scenarios illustrate the proposed user engagement with the site for the target personas. This site interaction is mapped out step-by-step, from site referral, to site navigation and engagement, to fulfillment, to visitor re-engagement and retention.
2. Information Architecture: the Deliverables
Information architecture is the tangible deliverable of optimized user interface design; it also helps both clients and developers agree on exactly how the new site will function and includes the functional blueprints of the site: typically, in the form of wireframes, sitemaps and a site taxonomy.
– Information Architecture (IA) IA provides the nuts-and-bolts of a website in the form of wireframes or schematics that illustrate the page from a functional, abstract perspective. The wireframes define navigation, each template, content hierarchies, and illustrate all unusual interactions and requirements. Good information architecture documents, along with some specifications, provide sufficient documentation to give implementation teams what they need to create a new website.
– Website Navigation, Taxonomy and Sitemaps: The backbone of a usable site is its architecture and content organization. For deep content sites, the site structure must be carefully considered and tested against users assumptions. · The naming of each grouping is also very important. User testing of proposed naming and site organization is undertaken to ensure that users will be able find what they need. The goal is to have a site that is neither too “broad” (too many top-level options) nor too “deep” (too many drill-down clicks into a specific section). The sitemap is the final deliverable that shows the entire site’s content architecture in an overview, much like a visual Table of Contents. IAs who specialize in this are called “Content Architects”.
3. Usability: the Principles and Processes
Usability powers good user interface design by promoting a user-centered design approach that analyzes the entire experience from the user’s perspective. Usability underlies the entire user interface design and user experience and Information Architecture process. An optimized site is “usable” if it is intuitive, functional, and makes it easy for target users to accomplish their goals with minimal effort. An “unusable” site is hard to navigate, poorly arranged, unreliable, and fosters confusion, frustration and abandonment.
Usability is an umbrella term that includes the following:
– “Usable” Designs: “Usability” is delivered through the user interface design in terms of wireframes, interactions and eventual designs. It is a descriptor of a design that is functional, useful and intuitive.
– Usability Engineering: Usability also encompasses ensuring sites are able to be ‘read’ by those with visual impairments or on different viewing devices. Good usability also requires that sites load quickly and generally promotes XMTL standards of style separation from content, as well as SEO-content optimization to ensure that all products can be found by both internal and external site search.
– Usability Testing & User Concept Testing: Starting in the concept and strategy phase, different site concepts can be tested amongst even a small target audience to gauge level of intuitiveness, user preferences and impact. User card sort testing and many other means can help determine the optimal site structure and language. When this step is conducted before the site is developed, it can significantly reduce build costs and boost eventual adoption. Users’ engagement with an existing website or new site prototypes can also be observed to ensure that consumers are fully understanding the site and doing exactly what was intended.
– User Acceptance Testing: Once an enterprise-level site is ready for launch, User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is often conducted as a formal phase to review the site to ensure it was built as specified from a user experience perspective and that the site will fulfill target business objectives. This is typically a Product Development function, but can be important for a final Usability check as well.