User Experience Design: A Little Goes A Long Way

Put Yourself In the User's Place

User Experience Design, sometimes seen as “UX” or “UXD” is the art of creating a dynamic and pleasurable experience for users when they engage with a product. In this case, we are going to discuss UX as it pertains to websites. What we are offering is a cursory overview of what is really an emerging field. UX design can be quite complex, drawing on various skill sets and often left to the minds of professionals dedicated to the field.

When we set out to build our new website, the user experience was deeply interwoven into our strategy. Like many organizations we followed a four phase strategy: Discovery; Structural Design: Visual Design; Construction (or Engineering).

Discovery:

The initial phase of the process, this is when you put yourself in the mind of the user and examine what their habits are, their expectations, their needs. For us, this phase was divided into two main tasks: to ascertain what our users needed from us and to identify where we could improve. During this phase you may spend time surveying users who visit your site, or conduct other research that may shed light on your particular audience’s behavior.

Structural Design:

The discovery phase should have left you with a few goals to work toward while building your site. In the structural phase, you want to plan a site map that is easy to navigate, allows users to get to pertinent information and tools within a click or two, and presents your website concisely. Unless you work in a content heavy field, you might consider a website that does all it needs to in less than 10 pages. For us, we knew we needed to discuss about our service areas and products, present a portfolio and client testimonials and provide tools for engagement. Sorting how to present that quickly probably took longer than you think. During this phase, test the site out a bit. Odds are, if you feel navigating the site is cumbersome, then your prospective clients has already given up on it. A bad website experience can be lethal.

Visual Design:

Discovery helped you determine a sitemap,, which you built in the structural phase. Now it’s time to consider and produce design elements that hold the user’s attention and direct their interest. This is the aesthetic phase of your project, where you consider color, photographs, graphics, icons, buttons, etc.

For us, this phase meant decided on whether we should use buttons or text links. What those buttons would like. Should we have icons to signify certain services or products? Would icons also represent actions, or the possibility to interact with us? Ultimate we chose buttons instead of simple text links. We chose icons and spent a bit of time deciding on those exact icons. Even down to the how our social icons would appear - and where.
As humans we are often guided by visual queues and it’s important to acknowledge that when building a website.

Construction/Engineering:

Now, with your decisions informed by the user’s needs (and possibly feedback) it’s time to put everything into place. This is the phase where you build your site page by page, link by link.
Content Management Systems (CMS) these days allow web managers to get by with little or no knowledge of HTML, or any other programming language. If you’re not tech savy, we recommend finding a CMS program with a powerful toolkit that will allow you flexibility of design and to embed applications for engagement.

One of the greatest new features on our website is a “Contact” tool, which is powered by a web application. It allows users to communicate with us directly through the website, share files, pay on their account and schedule appointments with us. The tool presents itself as a button on the bottom right of every page on our website. We can’t get enough of it.

UX Design is a more intricate art than what we’ve just described, but we believe a little of it can go a long way in making your website successful. If you’re getting ready to launch a website, or your business site is in sore need of a makeover, let us know. We can help.

For a more elaborate breakdown of these phases, check out this diagram by Todd R. Warfel, a User Experience Architect.