computer elements and symbols forming UX design

Designing a website for user experience.

UX Design focuses on creating websites with excellent user experience. They may not be the fanciest, most artistic designs, but they do their job. They’re practical. They get their users where they need to go. And we believe there’s a beauty in practical, considerate, user-friendly design that we can all embrace. So, what elements lie at the heart of good UX design?

To start, your users come to your site with a purpose in mind. It follows that everything about your site, from the navigation to the calls-to-action should help your visitors accomplish that purpose. And this also means challenging your own assumptions about who is using your site, and for what purpose. Obviously we all have an ideal user, and often we model that user’s behavior on our own.

But the real user will come to your site with certain known and unknown variables. For instance, we can be reasonably certain they came to your site to make use of your services, or at least to find out more about them. We can assume that our products and our site content is interesting and relevant to them, and if our marketing is reaching the right people it will be. But once they are on our site, we have to think carefully about how our site design influences their behavior. So to start with UX design, let’s look at the home page.

Does your homepage make a good impression?

Your home page is your welcome mat. Essentially, the first thing your home page should tell your visitor is: you’ve come to the right place. If someone lands on your website and they can’t instantly see what you do and why you do it, your home page is letting you down.

Why is this important? Because of your bounce rate. People who think they’ve come to the wrong website leave quickly. And that affects your search rankings. But more importantly, people who bounce are no longer on your site. You can’t talk to them, work with them, draw them in. You’ve missed an opportunity to connect, and those opportunities are precious and valuable and you should not let them slip away.

So start with the message on your home page. You may have a clever, intriguing idea that you hope will pique your visitor’s curiosity. But if it makes your site’s purpose or message seem vague or obscure, you’re just as likely to turn someone away. Similarly, if your homepage is overloaded with information, your users won’t know where to look. They quickly feel overwhelmed and frustrated. So take a look at the density of information on your home page, and pare it down. You don’t need to cram everything in on the front page.

Navigation: can your users find what they’re looking for?

Menu items are one of those semi-mundane things that people sometimes try to make more “interesting” at the expense of utility. And that’s understandable. Navigation menus aren’t exciting, and the more items they have the more they clutter your site and get in the way of the pleasing visuals. But the more your design hides menu navigation from view, the more penned in your visitors will feel as they use your site.

On the other side, menus that are overly full impede user experience almost as much as hidden or austere ones do. If you scroll over a menu item and the dropdown list is 20+ items long, your users will quickly become frustrated by the over-abundance of menu items. Or, if your users have to carefully maneuver their mouse down four or more tiers of navigation, you’re don’t have good UX design.

Almost every website will have their main navigation and a second tier of dropdown items. Many will have a third tier if they really provide a lot of information on their site. By the time you hit the fourth tier, clearly something is wrong with either your content or your site structure, and you should rethink your design.

Calls-to-action: It’s OK to tell your users where to go.

Your Call To Action, or your CTA, is another tricky area. On the one hand, if you make it a giant, flashing red button that says “Click Here,” you’re likely to turn people away by being too spammy. Is that really the button you want me to click on? Or is it an advertisement that will take me away from the site and the thing I came to find?

On the other hand, if you make your CTA too small, or if you hide it to be less intrusive, your visitors may miss it all together. That’s not good for you, but it’s also not good for them. Remember, your visitors are on your site for a reason. They may not want to be bombarded by pop-ups, but they do want to know where to go.

Think of it like a retail store: you may have arrived at the store to buy a specific thing, or you may be window shopping. If the former, you will welcome a helpful sales associate to guide you to the right item. If the latter, you may want to be able to wander around the store for a while. In neither instance will you want someone obnoxiously demanding you buy, and if you come to the point where you’re ready to make a purchase you will want to know where the checkout is. Hiding your CTA is like hiding your checkout counter. You won’t make any sales, and your users will be very frustrated.

Keep your CTAs user-friendly by ensuring they are congruent with your site design, but also easy to spot. That means large buttons in a contrasting color, and text that says specifically what happens when you click the button. “Click Here” is ambiguous. “Download the Ebook” is not.

UX Design is for everyone.

Remember as you’re building your website that you don’t know who could want to access it. Computer literacy and reading comprehension vary widely among online audiences, and sensitivity to this will greatly enhance the experience your users have on your site.

For instance, before you hide you site navigation in a hamburger menu, how much of your audience will know to look for it there? For those of us who spend most of our working lives online it may be second nature. But what about an elderly visitor, or someone who is very young? Or a foreign visitor, or someone from an underdeveloped neighborhood who has poor computer skills. Or a visually impaired person who relies in a screen reader to navigate your site. Potentially, these people could be great customers. But they won’t be if they can’t use your site.

UX design puts function before form every day. That doesn’t mean you can’t make beautiful websites, but it does mean they need to work. And never forget: a design that works is a beautiful thing in itself.

Published 02/28/17 by Laura Lynch