When we discuss the “user experience,” or UX, as it is commonly known, words such as prototype, pain points, A/B testing, information architecture, wireframes, and site map get thrown around. However, it’s likely that neither you nor your users are familiar with these terms and concepts.
With that in mind, how can we improve our understanding of what constitutes strong UX — ultimately helping your business to reap the benefits of a strong user experience? Let’s start with the basics, doing our best to keep technical terms to a minimum.
Why You Should Care About UX
In short, UX is the experience your user has when interacting with your product, and the bottom line is that ensuring strong UX is crucial to the success of your product and your business. UX helps you improve your business performance by supporting a pleasurable (and painless!) experience with your business or product that attracts customers and inspires their loyalty. This in turn increases your conversions, which increases customer retention, which then increases your market share. And, as a result, you decrease costs — in both time and money — for customer acquisition and support.
Understanding the Centrality of Emotion
So what’s the problem? The problem is that, in many ways, UX is extremely difficult to quantify or measure. Why? Because the by-product of UX is emotion. And emotions are themselves difficult to quantify or measure.
You can measure certain aspects of UX, such as the number of customer service inquiries, or the speed at which users proceed through checkout. You can distribute Net Promoter Score surveys, which use a single industry-standard question (essentially “How likely is it that you would recommend [X] to others?”) to create a mathematical measurement of user satisfaction or loyalty. Though these types of measures can help you measure your product’s usability, they fail to capture your user’s feelings about your product.
Consider, if you will, the experience of falling in love, or becoming friends with someone new. You cannot quantify this experience; yet, you know it when you feel it. These kinds of feelings are inherently intuitive processes that leave immeasurable impressions on us — impressions that are difficult to quantify.
Yet, UX is the true driving force behind your product’s success. That’s why it’s certainly worth your time and effort to delve deeply into your users’ emotions in the effort to explore and perfect your product’s UX.
Don’t believe us? Believe the data: Annually, Forrester Research undertakes a massive study of the customer experience (CX), a category that includes UX but covers the wider scope of all customer interactions with a given brand. Forrester’s 2017 CX IndexTM surveyed more than 120,000 consumers and 300 US brands across 21 industries to assess how brands’ CX impact customer loyalty. According to Forrester Chief Research and Product Officer Cliff Condon, the 2017 study reinforced that “If brands want to break away from the pack and become CX leaders, they must focus on emotion. Best-in-class brands average 17 emotionally positive experiences for every negative experience, while the lowest-performing brands provided only two emotionally positive experiences for each negative one. Emotion is critical to a brand’s bottom line.”
Taking a Historical View: Strong UX Supports Economic Stability
Importantly, studies have historically shown that businesses that lead in CX outperform competitors even during periods of economic recession. For example, Forrester’s research showed that from 2007 to 2012, the top 10 CX leaders outperformed on the S&P with nearly triple the returns — during both recession and recovery periods. In addition, the UK Design Council discovered that, between December 1993 and December 2004, “design-aware companies outperformed the FTSE 100 and FTSE All Share indexes by more than 200 percent.”
This research indicates that, through thick and thin, businesses that focus on UX are strong enough to not only outperform their competitors but also endure economic shifts and chaos. With so much competition and uncertainty in today’s online marketplace, why wouldn’t you want that sort of stability?
In other words: Yes, in this case, focusing strongly on emotions promotes overall stability. Who would have thought?
Defining UX in the Context of Your App
Let’s focus on web and mobile application usability. At face value, application UX is concerned with the size and shape of buttons, the seamlessness of a menu, the layout of product pages, or even how blog content is presented. It also envelops how easily users can find items or pages they may be looking for. For example, how easy is it to find your support page or set up a new user account? How difficult is it to log in or make a purchase? How much trouble is it to get an answer to a question they may have? All of these things live under the umbrella of UX. And, as a result, the term UX ultimately describes how your application functions for the users interacting with it.
Keep in mind, however, that UX is different from UI. UI, or user interface, focuses on the actual aesthetics and visual design of the application. In other words, whereas a UX designer focuses on the function of the application from the inside, a UI designer focuses on the surface level of the application. UI is what your users actually see, as opposed to the UX, or the experience and emotions they have in using your application. However, basic principles of good design should be applied to each.
What Constitutes Good UX Design?
One well-respected take on what makes good design comes from German industrial designer Dieter Rams. Rams believed strongly that “less is more.” Today, many designers find his 10 guiding principles essential for strong design that keeps users in mind. Rams believed in the more readily apparent ideals that design should be innovative, honest, long-lasting, environmentally friendly, and have a beautiful aesthetic, effectively covering five of his principles. It’s Rams’ five remaining principles, however, that are most applicable to creating strong UX. In Rams’ view, good design:
- Makes a product useful.
Disregard anything that can distract your users from achieving their goals.
- Makes a product understandable.
Encourage users to follow their intuition by making your experience self-explanatory.
- Is unobtrusive.
Encourage users’ self-expression by making your application a mere tool.
- Is thorough down to the last detail.
Show respect to users by leaving nothing up to chance.
- Has as little design as possible.
Focus on the essential. Make your experience as simple as possible.
In addition, the masters of our digital universe, Google and Apple, share their design principles publicly: As appropriate, developers and designers use Google’s recently updated Material Design guidelines (unveiled at 2018’s Google I/O) and Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines to shepherd them throughout the development process for Android and iOS applications, respectively.
By following these guiding principles in establishing your application’s UX, you increase your chances of creating a seamless UX for your web and mobile applications. As a result, your product will be more likely to create those crucial “emotionally positive experiences” that are central to helping you attract and retain users.
Questions to Ask While Developing Your App’s Usability
To dig further into your users’ emotional depths, you may also want to ask yourself a few more key questions. (Please note: These are merely suggested questions that may help you better approach UX for web or mobile application development. Since every application and business differs greatly in scope, nature, and objectives, you should feel welcome to alter these questions to best suit your project.)
- Why are your users interacting with your application to begin with? What are their goals?
- How much effort will your users be forced to expend in order to achieve those goals?
- Will their efforts create new habits, or will you build on previously established habits (e.g., the iPhone home button vs. the finger scroll unlock)?
- Are you making any assumptions as to what your users know about your application? In other words, are you sure they will know how to behave or what to do right out of the gate?
- What is it, exactly, that you want your users to do? And are you rewarding good behavior within your application?
- What user mistakes might you be able to prevent?
- Are you being clear and concise, or merely clever?
- Are you providing your users with all of the information they need to know?
- Are you making decisions based on logic or your users’ intuition?
- If your users never read the “fine print,” will they still be able to use your application and achieve their goals?
- How could you make your application even easier to use?
The answers to these questions will help you to better understand your UX, find the blind spots in your own logic, and ultimately ensure pleasurable and painless interactions between your application and its users.
How Do You Find the Right UX Design Firm?
Now that you understand the basics of what UX is and how to achieve it, how do you find the right design firm to help you embed it in your web or mobile applications? As Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jonathan Ive puts it, “The best ideas start as conversations.” In other words, the best way to find a design firm you truly align with is to simply go talk to them. Through a one-on-one conversation, you’ll be able to determine if the company places as high a value on creating memorable, seamless UX as you do.
Given the central importance of UX, it’s important to seek out design firms that demonstrate a deep understanding of human behavior, intuition, and customer needs. After all, if you’re investing in a web or mobile application, you’re probably putting down a significant amount of development dollars upfront. Why not ensure that the product succeeds by engineering the UX for optimal customer retention and loyalty?
Still have questions about what makes good UX, or interested in exploring how Distillery can assist you in developing or improving your mobile or web application’s UX? Let us know!