After working in UX design for many years (do I sound old?), you start to see patterns emerge. Mistakes, misconceptions, assumptions and bad processes employed by design professionals, project managers, developers and clients alike. So if I was to give some tips to someone starting out building a new website I would base these tips around the common mistakes I see being made. This list is not exclusive or ranked in terms of importance but it’s a good basis for starting a new web project.
1. Research is Key
Until you intimately know your users and their goals, motivations, situations and frustrations, you won’t be able to deliver a great and effective user experience. Ultimately, user research is the difference between designing based on guesswork and assumptions, and creating something that solves an actual real user problem. Without research, there is no UX design.
2. Challenge Assumptions
You know your customers but don’t fall into the trap of making design decisions based on your own assumptions that have not been challenged or validated, this brings us back to research being key. You are not your user. Spend a little research time early on in the project rather than risk releasing something that may not meet your users needs. Fixing a problem in development costs 10 times as much as fixing it in design, and 100 times as much if you’re trying to fix the problem in a product that’s already been released.
3. Understand the Difference Between UX and UI Design
UX is how it feels to use your website, UX design is to create the experience. UI design is to design how it looks – colours, shapes, photography. They are closely linked but UI design is part of the UX design process. More about this here.
4. Create your Content First
Form follows function. Your content will shape the design and functionality of your website, don’t start design until you have your content ready.
5. Focus on the first 80% of users
If you aim to create a product that fits the needs of everyone who uses it you will more than likely fail, first you need to focus on the common needs of the first 80% of your users, everyone after that is an edge case and trying to fulfil the needs of edge cases will often have a negative effect on the experience of the first 80%. We call it feature bloat, historically Microsoft Word is a good example of software that has lacked simplicity because it was trying to be all things to all users. This is not to say we ignore the edge cases, we just need to get things right for the majority of users first.
6. Put Mobile First
Too often business owners spend all their time judging websites on a big screen when the majority of their users will be using a smartphone. We always design for mobile-first.
7. Optimise Readability
Less is more – keep content concise, use headings and sub-headings so users can quickly scan your website for the content that is relevant to them. All content and functionality needs to add value and have a clear purpose. Users are time poor with low attention spans so cut down the waffle and get to the point quickly. The days of welcome messages, mission statements and long introductions are long gone. Concise well-structured content makes for a much more efficient, effective and enjoyable user experience.
8. Avoid Relying on a Mobile Burger Navigation
Discoverability is cut by 50% when a websites key navigation elements are hidden behind a burger navigation. Burger menus can be hard to avoid but key calls to action should be front and centre on your mobile website and not just behind a burger menu. Mary has lots more to say on this here.
9. Focus on Performance
You may not link the two but website performance is user experience. Think of the last time a website you visited was too slow to load, you may have closed the tab after a few seconds and moved on. This is where good developers come in, they may not make the best UX designers but a good developer will build a website that is optimised to run fast and ensures the server it’s hosted on is managed to be fast and secure. Your users will thank you and Google will also thank you by taking performance into account when they are ranking your website.
10. Give Users Feedback
Users need to know that your site works, when a user does something like click a button, add a product to the cart or submit a form you need to tell them it worked. Give the user feedback via subtle animations, colour changes and simple text notifications to tell them it worked. Micro-interactions communicate to the user that everything is ok.
11. Create Calls to Action That Set Expectations
A button with the title ‘Click Here’ tells a user nothing about what happens when they click the button. Try and set expectations with button labels like ‘Add to Cart’, ‘Book now’ or ‘Register today’.
12. Test, Test and Test again
After research, testing is the most important aspect of the UX lifecycle. Test, iterate and test everything again from your ideas, prototypes, designs, betas to your live product – the cycle never ends but the road leads to success.
UX design is all about having an open mind, listening to your users and avoiding assumptions in order to gain real user empathy. If we understand exactly how our users feel then we are well placed to come up with a design solution that meets their needs and therefore is a success.