Before the "drawing board"
What would it take to develop your dream house? Well, you would probably start with a blueprint, then build a strong foundation and finally fill it with great amenities. Dream house built! Well, not quite… How do you decide on the specifics for each of the aforementioned stages?
- How do you know in the blueprint, that the bedroom should go down the hall from the living room?
- Should you use a shallow or deep foundation?
- And for the amenities, is a compact fridge better than a side-by-side?
This same line of questioning can be applied to your dream website. Just replace the blueprint with a sitemap and the foundation for wireframes. There needs to be a starting point of discovery, that informs and guides the whole process. This is where User Experience (UX) comes in and why at Syntixi, we make it one of the first stages in the web design process.
The right solution, for the right user
The objective of user UX for web design is to make the website as intuitive and "frictionless" as possible. The website can't just look cool, it must feel effortless to use. (And therefore cool.) The point of each page must be clear and should inevitably lead the visiter to some greater final action. This might be to contact a business for a quote; to learn more about a specific service; or to buy a product. Each process should happen in as few clicks as possible and feel fluid. UX research can dictate what sort of "flow" would enable such a smooth experience and which features might be built into the site, to help with that.
An easy to use site is great, but who is it built for to be easy to use? A graphic designer and an accountant might visit the same website from two very different perspectives. Building a website can not just be full of great features, it must also be the right features for a specific group of people. Generally that group of people will be the customers or clients of the business. With user experience research, a designer will go directly to those people and find out what they do and don't like about browsing a website. If the owner requests a link from the homepage to a blog, while through UX it is obvious the customers only care about the product—then in many cases that would suggest that the products should be of greater importance than the blog.
This sort of research has many different facets and at Syntixi we love leveraging as much of it as we can so that our sites are not just beautiful to look at, but also to use. Below is an example from a recent client ExCon, and how we leveraged user experience research for their website.
The website can't just look cool, it must feel effortless to use.
ExCon User Experience Research Case Study
We re-branded and redesigned the ExCon competition website for the Las Vegas Metro Police Department's Explorer program, as part of a larger website refresh. Metro Explorers train Las Vegas's next generation of police cadets, and instill in them hard work and discipline. Once a year, Metro Explorers host a national competition for Explorer posts around the country. This competition provides most of the annual revenue for Metro Explorers, so the brand and website needed to be bold, professional and durable.
Beyond the fact that the ExCon site needed a major design upgrade, none of us at Syntixi knew very much about ExCon and what would speak to their attendee competitors. So we started our UX research by interviewing those that would know the most: our clients.
Step 1 — Client Interviews
Over the course of a few meetings, we absorbed everything we could from the Excon team from their mission, to the event itself, how they wanted to promote it, who might show up, who might buy tickets, what the ExCon team needed from a functionality standpoint, and much more. These questions gave us a solid foundation of what the website might need in terms of functionality, who the users are and what their culture is like.
Step 2 — Personas
With a better understanding from our clients on who they see their users being, we created three persona's. A persona is "character study" of a group of users, that include their goals, tendencies and personalities. A persona allows us to design to targeted group of people, instead of trying to design for every man and his dog.
Our persona's included:
- Explorer Competitor (Primary Persona)
(This is the Explorer who would be competing in the event.)
- ExCon Admin Member
(He/She would handle registration and payment that would be collected through the site.)
- Explorer Advisor
(This is the team lead of an Explorer post who would be using the registration form on the site.)
Having these personas proved tremendously helpful in keeping the design focused and accountable throughout the process. When adding a feature or making a layout, we could always go back to our persona's and ask "would this benefit them?".
Step 3 — User Interviews
Based on our interviews with the client, we were able make some pretty good assumptions as to what these persona's are like and what they might want. But in the end, they would just be assumptions. To truly create an accurate persona and a user centric site, we needed to talk to the users themselves and find out what they wanted.
We set up interviews with a number of users that represented our predetermined categories, and a few others (since we are also doing the larger Explorer site that had different needs). During these interviews we had the interviewee navigate through the site while we audio/screen recorded their movements, for later reference. It is amazing how asking the right sorts of questions and removing our own "expertise" from the equation allowed the users to show us valuable pain points in the current site. Sometimes without them even realizing it.
One particular pain point involved the participants difficulty in clicking on the old ExCon sites navigation. During our own run-through this was not flagged, as we already recognized the "click area" for the navigation. For participants on the other hand, this wasn't as evident, and caused brief frustration that showed up repeatedly in the screen recordings. As a consequence, in the redesigned ExCon website, we made sure to include larger navigation and CTA buttons, so that customers had a smooth and carefree experience.
Informing the process
UX showed us what the user needed for the ExCon website. We consider ourselves to be extremely passionate designers and have a sharp eye for what makes a great site. But as all accomplished web designers understand, the users of the website know best. Our goal is to let them educate us on what their needs are. Then we use that information to inform the rest of the web design process.
The perfect mix occurs when a user's pain points are resolved, while simultaneously supporting the business goals of the client. When that happens, your website goes from "pretty" to "indispensible", "easy to use" and "genius" design.