There is movement happening in the design world, one which begs designers to put aside their own aesthetics and create with the user in mind. This movement pushed UX, or user experience, to the forefront of design, especially web design.
Previously, websites were created at the whims of a designer or their client, using personal preferences. But in this collaboration the most essential person is left out, the user.
What is UX Design?
UX can be defined in many ways, but in simplest form it is the understanding of what people do and how designers can make it better for them. The goal is to define the user and meet their measure of success in conjunction with the organization, or client goals.
UX uses time adequately to pinpoint the goals of the website, describe its intended users and decide how to best meet their needs. And it is the sharpest design because it requires the designer and client to make these decisions based on research, before conceptual designs are originated.
The UX Web Design Process
The UX web design process is different than the normal consult, sketch, and design steps for most web designers. Let’s go through the steps.
1. The Consultation
This is the first and possibly most important step of UX design. A consultation is procured with the client to discuss and discover all goals of the website. Are they selling something? Is it meant to draw attention to the organization? To educate? To establish interaction? All websites have, or should have, a purpose. As a UX designer, you must figure out what that purpose is by asking the right questions and extricating the information from the client.
Once the goals of the website are clearly defined between designer and client, research can begin. The research is intended to define the users, (or content consumers), their level of technical proficiency, demographics, and goals.
These users become known as “personas” and define the categories of people who currently use the site (market audience) with those we want to use the site (target audience). A website geared towards farmer’s education does not benefit by a high-tech site since this demographic is not known to be heavy Internet users. Nor would a technical site be simplified on a child’s level. Research is instrumental in making sure the site matches its target audience.
3. Website Sitemap
This step roughly sketches out the map of the site’s information and user flow. How will the user act when they come to the site, what is their intended path? Or the client’s intended path for the user? Where do we want to direct them?
As an user example, Home –> Product info –> Product Choice –> Cart –> Set up account –> Order confirmation.
Laying out a diagram of site pages and the intended user path will present an excellent model of how the site should be designed.
4. User interactions
The next step is to write stories based on how the user will use the site and navigate it according to their personas. These short stories are merely a way for the designer to get inside the head of a user and generate possible decisions. To get inside the head of a user, the UX specialist must ask the questions they will ask and short stories are a perfect way to create likely scenarios.
This step can be interchanged with step 3. Some sites will benefit greater from beginning with user stories and then mapping out the site flow. That is your decision.
Wireframes (or detailed illustrations) are created of the site pages to share with the client before the website design process begins.
The wireframes give you and your client ample opportunity to further take into account the user and their goals by outlining how users will transition between them. These highly comprehensive illustrations resolve size and location of page elements, but the focus is on the site’s layout.
These designs are created through Photoshop, Illustrator, Keynote or any other program you are comfortable with. An excellent website for element pieces is Keynotopia. This site offers pre-made website pieces and allows for animated interaction between them. They cut down on design time and present your work professionally.
6. Test prototypes
This step is not always possible due to time and monetary restraints, but it will teach you oodles about your designs and how users interact with them.
This occurs by gathering users of the determined targeted demographic to test out the site, or do a thorough walk-through of it. From the homepage where would they go? Was it hard to navigate? Is the flow simplified enough for them? Can they find the necessary elements? Is the overall goal of the website met?
Using the test evaluations any necessary changes to the design can be made in confidence.
7. The final step
After all of the previous steps are completely, this is where the actual design of the website begins and where most UX designers exit.
UX designers specialize in Usability Design, Information Architecture, and Software Development. Their input and expertise is generally what lays the foundation of solid design work before a web designer creates the website.
Hopefully this explanation helps to clarify the process of UX design and inspires you as a web designer to begin incorporating these steps into your own work processes. You don’t have to be a UX pro to use these steps for the betterment of your business.