A presumed and underlying aim for any website should be to offer respite from this constant visual din and information surplus.
You want users to want to stay on your site and return regularly because they enjoy interacting with it. You want them to find that it’s easy to use and gets the job done. This is the sole responsibility of user experience (UX).
A positive UX outcome is determined by myriad factors. It begins with in-depth knowledge of who your user is, how they navigate the Internet and why they’d be interested in your corner of it.
Once you have a grasp on your audience, the next important question to answer is what is the purpose of your site?
If it’s commerce, you want the user to be able to admire, choose and buy a product in as few clear steps as possible. If they can’t find the product, they can’t buy it.
If it’s to inform, visual noise must be minimal, images should be meaningful and impactful and text should be pleasant and easy to read.
If it’s an intranet, usability will directly affect employee productivity. Streamlined processes are imperative.
Basic UX guidelines
While keeping a specific audience and purpose in mind, there are overarching guidelines that should always be factored in.
1. As a general rule of thumb, copy should be kept as minimal as possible
- DO write useful copy that supports your website’s purpose.
- DO structure your copy in a way that is scannable. Online readers are scanners. It’s a fact.
- DON’T use long and heavy walls of text – they’re daunting and get ignored.
- DON’T waste words. Text for text’s sake is unprofessional and impractical.
2. Clickable links need to be seen as such
- DO make clickable links/buttons recognisable. People will take as much guidance as you give them. If there’s somewhere you want them to click, make it obvious.
- DO consider borders, colour, size and placement.
- DO code the link to open in its own tab.
- DON’T hide clickable links in heavy text blocks. No one is going to search for them. What they’re going to search for is a friendlier site.
3. Navigation needs to be intuitive and seamless
- DO consider ease of use in terms of your target audience.
- DO ask yourself if people could get lost easily in your site. Test this.
- DON’T sacrifice sensible functioning for wow-factor design. Combining both is first prize but always guide design creativity to support function.
- DON’T make it hard work. Remove as many steps from processes as possible.
4. Keep going back to utility
- DO repeatedly ask whether or not every single page of a site does what its specific users need it to do.
- DO build with competence in mind. People are busy. Efficiency will keep them on your site. The quicker the user can perform tasks, the better.
- DON’T get distracted. As attractive as a site should be, discernment is necessary when it comes to avoiding frills and design surplus.
- DON’T add elements just because they appear on most other sites in a relevant field. Shrewd design trumps excess every time.
5. Be specific: Refine and polish
- DO consider your target market as you refine. Take into account how you want them to relate to your website. How do you want to make them feel?
- DO stay focused. Be strict and limit or reduce unnecessary clutter. Trim the amount of on-screen choices down to a minimum.
- DON’T be extreme. Simplify yes but don’t sacrifice vital information. The site still needs to be useful.
6. Bring in breathing room
- DO build using the law of white space. It prevents a site from being overcrowded and overwhelming.
- DO consider noise. A site should be as quiet as possible while still fulfilling its purpose.
- DON’T add social media buttons and other widgets unless they are relevant.
- DON’T use a website as a dumping ground for all possible information about a company. It’s the working front page of a business for customers, not an archiving system.
- DO build a website experience that is memorable because it’s enjoyable. It’s noisy out there and distinction is impactful.
- DO remember that a website should be the perfect expression of a product or service, functioning in a way that’s optimal for its specific audience.
- DON’T add flare that isn’t relevant or useful in someway. A site must be memorable yes, noisy no.
- DON’T mistake busy for impressive. Busy sites with too much information are overwhelming, distracting and frustrating. If a giant mass of information is necessary, it’s important to present it well and make it available in as few clicks as possible.
UX components to consider
Simplicity is central to design. Simple doesn’t mean there’s less to take into account it means considering every element separately.
Colour is symbolic
It means different things in different industries. It evokes emotional reactions. It’s also a great tool for enhancing calls-to-action. Do your research.
Images used must be of the highest quality
Especially where e-commerce is involved because it’s one of the most considered elements for users when placing an order.
Calculate image dimensions because this affects the speed at which a page will load.
Sliders can be distracting and, depending on the site’s purpose, aren’t always relevant.
That said, used properly, they do well to showcase visuals and multimedia.
Buttons for social sharing are tricky
They can be applicable but do add to the noise of a site and offer a poor experience for mobile users. If they are to be used, intelligent size and positioning are important.
Design for fingers – Responsiveness
Responsiveness is fundamental if you consider that as of 2015, 61% of South Africans access the Internet from a mobile device. Websites are no longer only experienced on desktops and this change needs to be accounted for.
Competing elements are a shortcoming
Most websites could do with scaling back. The placement of each image and piece of text needs to be purposeful and useful. It’s a website, not a scrapbook.
Audience aptitude needs to be taken into account
Expecting too much of your user will result in a disconnect between design and usability.
People can’t use your website if they don’t understand how to.
Long forms are deterrents
Don’t make it difficult and boring for someone to buy a product. Sure, certain information is imperative but don’t have endless fields just because that’s what you see everywhere else. Be discerning.
Ambiguous copy and imagery takes away from pointed messaging
Be conceptual but don’t leave too much open for interpretation. It won’t be received as artsy, it’ll just lack context and be confusing.
Added value sets a site apart
As an example, Medium.com offers readers the function of being able to comment on a single word or sentence in an article. This kind of sensible functionality turns readers into devotees.
The end goal
Ultimately, a site will be a UX success if it’s a rich experience that loads fast, looks phenomenal and works on any device.
Don’t make the mistake of sacrificing refined finishing touches on the grounds that the audience doesn’t know better. Sure, your average user doesn’t know what infinite scrolling is.
That’s not to say it doesn’t greatly improve their experience. People can love a website without knowing why they do.
Remember, viewing a website for the first time is like meeting a stranger. First impressions are made in seconds.
A basic change to your site can directly, positively, effect its purpose (commerce, sign-ups, lead generation, etc.) and improve your revenue. Do what you have to, to convert first-time users into regular visitors.