The morning after, she was a mess. Wrinkled dress, cookie crumbs in her hair, and big bags under her eyes. My 2-year-old’s first whiny words after waking: “I wanna go back to the party!” Delighted by the music, dancing, food, and people, she remembered the experience with glee.
Just like a well-thrown party, user experience (UX) combined with terrific content can have an outsize impact on your customers. A great party may have wonderful food, drinks, and music, but the organization of the room, the feel of the space, and even the time of day all impact the experience. In the same way, making informed choices facilitates a smooth experience with content — which is why great UX design is usually invisible — invisible, but critical all the same.
UX encompasses the behaviors, emotions, and attitudes of the people using a product, system, or service.
As a field, UX is the practice of designing your website, mobile app, or other digital project to give your users the best possible experience that matches your business goals. It incorporates disciplines such as content strategy, information architecture, technology, interaction design, and visual design. The common principle in the UX field is empathy for the users — really understanding what they want and need.
Intelligent content begins with wanted, needed content.
UX includes usability, which is often defined as ease of use or learnability. Usability is arguably the most important factor in user experience, and in practice the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, UX has a broader aim to ensure users are satisfied with content, features, and function. It’s possible to have great usability but not great UX because users’ needs and desires aren’t fully met. (The sound system is great, but it’s only playing ’90s pop.)
There are many ways improving UX on a website or mobile app can benefit your brand:
- Influence the sharing of content or information about a brand
- Improve the purchasing process for e-commerce retailers
- Increase conversions of visitors into paying customers
- Decrease costs related to customer support
“Next to good content, good UX is your best ally in winning over new customers and retaining existing ones,” explains Kevin Nichols, co-author of UX for Dummies. “Your user experience is what houses and positions your content to your users by creating a structure, design, and architecture that facilitates the success or failure of the consumer relationship between a brand and its content.”
Bad UX kills great content
In a study by the Nielsen Norman Group, a leader in the field of usability and UX research, participants were asked what they thought about various websites they had used. Working solely from memory, users complained about the slowness of certain sites. Most marketers ignore simple details like this. Have you checked your speed lately on both desktop and mobile? Believe me, sluggish or speedy can become a brand value. Those taglines and messages you spend months agonizing over and perfecting? Poor UX can drown out great content.
For example, when there’s no indication that content is “below the fold” (off the screen) users might not think to scroll. Similarly, hamburger menus (triple-bar icons) can bury content and functionality — out of sight, out of the mind of the user. People might not click an icon if they don’t know what it means. In the case of the hamburger menu, improving the UX can take as little as adding the word menu under the icon.
Navigation gives you the opportunity to reveal content in useful ways, giving users confidence in your brand — or frustrating them. (Don’t even get me started on the problems with carousels, aka sliders.) Great UX influences brand attraction and engenders trust with users because it keeps visitors in the flow, moving from one interesting piece of content to the next without distraction or delay.
Maybe you suspect you don’t have any UX issues because your customer survey responses are positive or the analytics look OK. You know those guests who say, “Thanks for the great party,” then complain on the way home? Poor UX can be hard to spot.
When a colleague ran usability tests for a well-regarded nonprofit, she watched confused users struggle with, and even fail at, tasks she asked them to perform — imagine dozens of fruitless clicks and many disheartening searches. Yet in the exit interviews, she was stunned when users would say, “It’s a great website!” Whether they were trying to please her or not feel like a failure themselves, they were lying; the website had serious room for improvement.
Instead of asking what users think, watch what real people do both in a lab as well as out in the world. For example, it’s hard to predict how a responsive website targeted to on-the-go parents will work when grocery shopping with just one free hand and interrupting kids. Observation also leads to the discovery of solutions to common yet unrecognized problems, keeping you one step ahead of your audience and, hopefully, of your competition.
UX team or UX mindset?
Many larger companies are building out UX departments, but they may not lead to great UX for their customers. Why?
At a recent UX conference, an obviously annoyed designer from a UX department confided in me, “The marketing department gets stuff out the door before our team even gets a chance to look at it!” UX departments are often siloed, meaning UX thinking does not filter through the organization.
UX is a mindset that everyone needs to embrace. Content writers need to understand how people interact with text online. Designers need to understand the conventions to which users are accustomed so they can make informed design decisions. IT professionals need to understand that increasing server speed is directly connected to UX. (Speed is noted by participants in almost any usability test.) The UX mindset should be a top-down practice that will affect your employees’ priorities and eventually benefit customers.
UX resource list
Here are some resources I recommend if you want to learn more about UX:
- Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
- UX for Dummies by Kevin Nichols & Donald Chesnut
- E-newsletter: Alertbox from Nielsen Norman Group
- Course: Foundations of UX from Lynda.com
- Online Resource: usability.gov
- Experts on Twitter
Sign up for the Intelligent Content weekly email newsletter. When you do, every Saturday we’ll send you an email about content strategy and an exclusive letter from Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute.