What is UX and why should you care?

I always try to correct people who talk about designing or improving ‘the UX’. They talk as if a user’s experience can be designed. User experience isn’t just trying to make the interface more usable by looking at the colour or placement of different items. It’s not something that should be sprinkled onto a project if time and budget allows.

UX aims to ask questions and solve problems. It’s the first step towards a user-centred design. It’s researching user needs and testing them. Its aim is to find out what the people who engage with your organisation really need, not what we think (or hope!) they need. Wireframes are one well-known way to get this on the page, but they’re not the product.

UX in 2020

So why should you care? In five years’ time, what advantages will an organisation that invests in UX have over one that doesn’t?

This time five years ago we talked about mobile websites, not responsive design. These were the best phones of 2010. The first iPad was yet to be released. Now my gran has one. It’s really hard to predict what the digital world will look like in 2020. But one way to figure out what the people who use our products and services will want is by doing research.

Organisations who don’t do this- those who try to guess what users need, or just bury their heads in the sand- will struggle, just as those who didn’t adapt to the rise of smartphones and tablets struggled. Here are some examples of organisations who studied what users needed, made changes, and reaped the rewards:

XKCD: University Website cartoon
Every UXer’s favourite comic

What to do

If you’re inspired to make user experience a core part of your organisation’s digital strategy, where do you start?

User experience is more than just a deliverable. For the most successful organisations it’s integrated into their culture. This means that your organisation needs to go far beyond the occasional ‘UX project’ and embed UX into everything it does. Research, iterate and refine what you do online:

  • Pick some key goals- perhaps lots of people are dropping out of your checkout process, or newsletter signups are surprisingly low- and find out what’s going on. You could do this with a survey and/or some user interviews for example.
  • Investigate what tasks users want to complete, and where your digital offering helps or hinders them. Be as unbiased and open to criticism as possible- now isn’t the time to correct someone’s misconceptions!
  • Decide on the change(s) you want to make and track your results.
  • Repeat. Keep repeating it. As in, forever. There’s no completion date, just a process of continuous improvement. Websites are like gardens, and they need to be maintained.

Resources

Smashing Magazine has a huge list aimed at ecommerce, but there’s plenty that applies elsewhere.

GoodUI has over 50 suggestions for improving conversions.

This post originally appeared on the Sift Digital blog. See more from there.