Danny Bluestone, MD at Cyber-Duck, explains how to ensure your website provides the best user experience possible
The benefits of user-centred design can’t be understated. Designing a website with customers’ experiences as a priority increases engagement, conversions and loyalty. As more brands emphasise user experience (or UX), adopting this approach is imperative to staying competitive.
Whether you’re launching a new website or improving an existing one, here are five simple steps that project-owners and web agencies can take to ensure a great user experience. And if you’d like to delve deeper and get more info on some of the terms mentioned here, tools like the UX Companion app provide a handy glossary of user experience definitions, principles and resources.
1. Gather requirements effectively
Many companies know what they want from their website but fail to clearly communicate their requirements. Being able to gather and present this information effectively is a vital step toward building a successful website.
The project should begin with a written brief, which can vary in length and detail and is typically written by the person commissioning the website. The goal is to give the agency a single document to which they can respond with their own proposal that recognises the requirements and specifies their timelines, resources and budgets.
The brief should stick to high-level objectives, clarifying any technology necessities and describing what ‘success’ looks like. It should outline key deliverables, list important user goals, specify branding and marketing dependencies as well as detailing any smartphone, tablet or device accessibility requirements.
Ideally, the requirements should be a maximum of a few pages as it’s the agency’s job to put these prerequisites into a proposal listing features, scope, budgets and their approach.
2. Participate in stakeholder interviews
After the requirements are agreed, it’s important for the web agency to meet and interview key stakeholders. This helps them articulate the vision and ‘sanity-check’ the brief, understand the business model, as well as highlight risk areas and manage expectations.
The client should ensure key influencers are available from across the organisation, to answer questions and give input on their vision of the project. This is best done one-on-one with someone from the agency. Be generous with your time as the feedback from this stage is highly valuable to the website as a whole. It’s also recommended to hold collaborative workshops to brainstorm and challenge conventions with multiple stakeholders in a room.
Interviews and workshops help the production team meet key stakeholders, understand objectives and provide feedback they might have about their expectations. The interviews and workshops also clarify elements of the brief while allowing the agency’s UX team to agree on key performance indicators (KPIs) for the website. In fact, it’s important for the stakeholders and agency to have regular workshops, meetings and presentations throughout the production lifecycle to keep things iterative, open and to challenge assumptions.
3. Create user personas
It’s incredibly useful to then create three or four archetypical user personas. This helps the designers verify and visualise use cases, create flows of control and user journeys. The personas should cover how different visitors arrive at the website, what they want to do there and what they may be thinking at each point.
For example, one user could learn about an online shop from a print ad and want to find out if they can buy the products anywhere offline. Another visitor might arrive at the website through a Twitter link, want to check out the international shipping policy and place an order.
Personas should be selected carefully, based on customer research and data. They should act as stereotypical users, merging various qualities from several types of customers or visitors, and based on hard evidence of what people do on the current website.
Each persona should get a ‘persona sheet’ that includes a name and photo. These model users will then be assigned attributes such as a mental model (including previous expectations and experiences), socioeconomic status, technological capabilities and even nationality, as these all influence their actions and mindset. The persona sheet should focus on the user’s motivations for visiting the website and any concerns they might have about it. Remember, it is critical to validate assumptions made on the persona sheets by talking to real users who match these attributes.
4. Implement a site map
A site map should be created at an early stage of the project. This captures the high-level information architecture and underlying taxonomy of the website. That is, which screens should be included and where they will be found.
Card sorting is a quick, interactive and inexpensive way of creating site maps. It requires collaboration between the agency’s UX designers and the client’s internal teams to prioritise content, define the hierarchy of information and understand the thought processes behind these choices.
Conducting these card sorting exercises also helps to streamline the content definition process. Involve and trust the input of the content experts at this stage, as they can advise on key content topics for the landing pages based on their own data and research. Once the site map is signed off, the design team will use it as a basis for the rest of the project.
5. Test for usability
Done properly, user-centred design leads to a website that meets both stakeholder requirements and user goals. Testing only immediately prior to launch is a common mistake that leaves assumptions unchecked throughout production. It is best to conduct usability testing frequently.
Usability testing should always be done with users from the target audience, including current visitors and others in their demographics (refer to the persona sheets for guidance). If the website’s interface isn’t ready for testing, prototypes can be used. This process sanity-checks and challenges the features and content, leading to continual improvement as a result of the feedback. Proper usability testing also reveals any mistakes – for instance, incorrect assumptions about the personas – while they can still be corrected.
Adding these five steps when approaching a website project is a great way to increase usability. The result is a finished product that not only does what stakeholders require, but also what users really need. Of course, user experience is a broad field and there is a lot more that you can do, so if you’d like to research the area more, download the free app UX Companionto see a wide range of user experience (UX) definitions, principles and resources.