What Is User Experience: An Introduction & Why It’s Important

User Experience (UX / UX Design) is simply that: what the user experiences. A “user” is anyone who uses a website, app, product, or service. Though the name may appear self-explanatory, the practice and principles behind the term are far more involved.

It’s a profession that has become more popular with the advancement of technology and user interaction, though the practice has been around far longer. A simpler way to understand the term is to ask, “What do my users (or viewers) experience when using my website?” You’ll find that with UX, asking yourself and your team a lot of questions is a large part of the process. So let’s start with that.

What Questions Should I Ask to Help Develop a Good User Experience?

Note: This can apply to many products and services, but for this article I’ll be referring to websites.

user experience user persona

1. Who are the types of people that may use my website?

Develop a few user personas of people who may be using your site. According to Wikipedia: “A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a hypothesized group of users.” Several aspects that help shape a user persona are: primary user goal, website purpose, age, gender, education, profession, location, use of technology, motivations, needs, etc.

Specifically, many of these aspects may be unknown, so the key to developing a beneficial user persona is to keep them as realistic as possible. You may find it helpful to utilize study groups, questionnaires, or enlisting the advice of co-workers and friends.

User Experience Example Persona:

Persona Busy, Single Mother of Two
Fictional Name Sarah
Job Title Customer Service Representative
Demographics Age 34; single; mother of two; lives in suburbs near a major city
Daily Goals/Tasks Make a quick breakfast in the morning; get kids ready for school; get to work on time; fulfill work duties successfully; pick up kids from the babysitter after work; make dinner; get kids ready for bed
Environment Lives in a quiet neighborhood; moderate commute to the city for work; constantly balancing multiple tasks at once; comfortable using a computer and mobile device; not much time for relaxing
Perceived Needs Take care of her family; get tasks done quickly and efficiently to help reduce stress and frustration
Quote “Leave your sister alone and go do your homework!”
user experience purpose

2. What is the primary purpose of your website for the user?

Determine the primary purpose of your website for your user. Why are they visiting your site? For this example, let’s say it’s to shop for merchandise, particularly clothing for women. Keep in mind, it’s not uncommon for a website to have multiple purposes depending on who is using the site and why. It’s good to consider the needs of your user so you can best design for the purpose of their visit. Is the user seeking customer service, looking up an order status, or just shopping?

user experience goal

3. What can you do to best help your users achieve that goal?

UX Designers need to think in real-world scenarios, so realistic narratives help create guidelines that are good to reference during the design process.

Example Narrative:

Sarah doesn’t have much time for shopping, but she enjoys it. She’s comfortable doing it online and is familiar with a standard web navigation layout. She’s usually busy most of the day, so she likes shopping online to be as simple as possible. Sarah prefers to browse easily and order what she wants quickly.”

Some Suggested Guidelines:

  • Make sure the navigation is simple to use and understand
  • Organize shopping into several categories (e.g. shirts, pants, dresses, shoes, etc.)
  • Keep a nearby view of the shopping cart and “recently viewed items”
  • Make the checkout process intuitive and break it into multiple steps (e.g. shipping information, payment information, review/checkout)
  • Have a “save for later” or “create account” option available
  • Use clear call-to-actions (CTAs) with highlighted buttons and simple words or phrases
  • Make backtracking easily accessible (e.g. return to a previous page, find a previously viewed clothing item, etc.)
  • Establish workflows to map out possible paths for the user to determine how they can reach their goal

These are just a few of the questions a UX Designer may ask themselves to get started developing a good user experience. There is another aspect of the design process that is often confused with User Experience, and that is User Interface (UI / UI Design).

What’s the Difference Between UX and UI?

You may have heard the term UI along with UX, and it’s easy to assume that they are interchangeable. They do work in conjunction, but are actually two different areas of design. Though it’s not uncommon for the UX Designer to also be the UI Designer. The main difference between the two is: UX focuses on the emotional journey, the goals and purpose; UI focuses on the appearance and how the users actually interact with the website or app.

Sometimes the goal of UX and UI isn’t about making things as easy as possible, but knowing when to add friction as well.

What Is UX Friction? Why Add Friction to a User’s Experience?

Friction in UX terms is inhibiting the process for the user to achieve a task. This may seem like a bad idea at first, because adding steps in the process to slow the user down is generally not good. Reducing friction is often the primary objective—in other words, providing the quickest, easiest path to them achieving their goal (less steps or clicks). However, in certain instances, adding steps in the process that the user may not care about or find tedious can be beneficial.

Example Narrative:

Sarah is trying to contact customer service about an order she received. One of the items was delivered in the wrong size.”

Some Suggested Guidelines:

  • Put a “customer service” link in a standard, easily found location (e.g. website footer or contact page)
  • ADD FRICTION: On the customer service page, have a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) without showing the contact information initially. Place the customer service contact information in an FAQ section titled, “Still can’t find the answer to your question?”

This will guide the user down a path that may help them resolve their issue without utilizing company resources. Of course the information can still be found, but Sarah may have likely tried to call the customer service department immediately if the information was readily available.

In this case, a little friction to help guide users can be beneficial, but it’s important to remember that too much friction is bad. Making tasks too difficult for a user leaves them feeling frustrated, annoyed, and likely to abandon your website. As a UX Designer, unnecessary friction is always something to avoid.

Things to Remember About User Experience

User experience design is customer centric, so always consider the user, but don’t assume you are the primary user. When possible, test your site with study groups, your coworkers, or even friends and family. Also determine what is the main purpose of your website, and what stands in the way of someone achieving a single, specific goal. Think about why they are using your site in the first place. Make it as simple as possible for them to successfully reach that goal. And though a little friction is okay when necessary, too much friction should be avoided.

UX design is important because your web visitors should feel neutral about—or at best, enjoy—visiting your website. They should never abandon your website out of frustration or annoyance. If they do, it’s unlikely they’ll return unless they have to. Keep them in mind and that will help keep them happy—and hopefully translating to sales!

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