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What makes a good user experience?

The average person is online for more than a day every week. That’s 24 hours navigating websites, browsing media, and using the web and mobile apps.

For many people, the number’s even higher. But the point is that today the online world is somewhere we spend a lot of our time.

Like in the offline world, we can’t go everywhere and don’t want to waste our time in dead-end towns and in dealing with crummy services. So we learn to hang out in certain places and steer well clear of others.

Thanks to people like architects, city planners, and interior designs, we have an abundance of choice of such quality experiences in the offline world. Online, however, it’s more like the Wild West, with users having to deal with poorly designed websites, cluttered content, intrusive pop-ups, and autoplay videos.

The fact is there’s a huge divide between what a great online user experience is and what users actually experience on the web. We still see carousels with sliding content, despite only 1 percent of users clicking on them. Over two-thirds of small business websites still don’t use call to action buttons. Even worse, nearly half of online shoppers report leaving a site because they can’t even figure out what a company does.

The trouble is, figuring out what exactly makes a great experience is trickier online than offline. This art, called UX or User Experience design, is so subtle that even web designers struggle to grasp it. Not to mention the field is littered with jargon and opinions about which methods and trends are the best.

Everyone knows exactly what a great user experience feels like when they’re in it. But decoding it is another matter. Here we’re going to shed some light on what it takes to make a great user experience and outline four UX best practices that every serious online business owner should know.

  1. Great UX is emotional

When we look back on our lives, most of us don’t remember the exact details and content of the things we’ve done. We remember how they made us feel.

Advertisers have known this for decades. Common marketing methods such as Pathos, from the Three Powers of Persuasion, are all about eliciting emotion in the audience. You can do this by using a number of techniques, but by far the most effective way is through engaging visuals and coherent narratives.

Generic web design is all but unaware of how visuals and stories affect emotion in their user experience. Too many websites clump together a random collection of graphics, text, and interactive elements, making the user feel confused, disorientated, frustrated, or indifferent.

Great web design that incorporates UX recognises that harnessing emotion is essential to succeed in today’s overcrowded landscape. It bands complimentary components together to offer a well-rounded emotional experience. Maybe it’s a spa that has a calm and sophisticated interface, or a restaurant with a smooth and sleek design, or a consultancy with a firm voice and premium styling.

The important thing about using emotion is that it should work with your brand’s voice and audience. You need to get into the user’s shoes and find out what they want to feel — warm, excited, curious, delighted, surprised — and then know how to bake those together in the right order and make a solid user experience.

  1. Great UX is simple

One of the main reasons why Instagram, Pinterest etc., and visuals like infographics are so popular is because an image conveys much more information than you ever can in words.

It sounds cliché, but it’s a crucial point in our time and attention limited age. People don’t read websites anymore, they scan them. Even highly stimulating videos, webinars, and podcasts are skipped through at one and a half speed.

To catch someone’s attention, then, you’re not going to win by fighting for it. It only takes users a few seconds to evaluate a website. So you need to grab their attention immediately, and the way to do it is through simplicity.

Simplicity is not just creating a minimalistic website that’s sparse on function. It’s making sure the user flow — what you want the user to do and how they’ll get there — is clear on each page. This could be finding information, watching a video, commenting, making a purchase, etc. Such tasks may overlap, but the main one you want them to make should be crystal clear to both you and them.

One way UX does this is by using common design elements from the web that users are already familiar with. For instance, login button in the upper right, links that are clearly links. Where it gets really effective, though, is when it incorporates function with form, combining colour, behaviours, and aesthetics into easy-to-use patterns so users have to think as little as possible to achieve the desired action.

  1. Great UX is user-centered

A typical approach to building a website is to design it so that it informs people about what you want them to know and/or what you want them to do.

This may sound logical, but it’s the opposite of an approach UX designers call user-centred design (UCD). Nobody knows how your website should be designed better than your audience. However, although focus groups can work, there is a better way to extract this information than just by asking them.

Rather than starting directly with the user, UX designers start with their own ideas and that of the business, to then gather user feedback on their work that is both practical and actionable. This demands a broad knowledge of web design and different markets, as well as knowing how to best work with UCD methods such as user personas.

A key element of user-centred design is knowing how to make a website that caters for different types of users. This includes user testing with different demographics along with first time and repeat visitors. Through such testing, up to 85 percent of UX issues can be detected, with each user interacting with your site in a different way and each discovering what they need for a great experience.

  1. Great UX converts

Many online business owners build a website and only later ask how they can optimise it for sales and conversions like email subscribers.

User experience design approaches this the other way around. As the foundation for how users will interact with your online presence — website, mobile site, apps, and any other touchpoints — great UX design ensures that successfully making conversions is built in from the get-go.

That’s not to say you can’t also work with what you’ve got. By making just minor UX tweaks you can nearly double your conversation rates. One such technique is improving the “above the fold” area by split testing.

According to an eye-tracking study by Jakob Nielson, users spend most their time above the fold. As the first thing they see, it acts as the gateway to taking their first action, whether it be scrolling down, signing up, or navigating to other pages of your site.

Harnessing this area can be as simple as knowing how to use recognisable cues for action, such as the video play symbol, arrows, and text, and arranging them in such a way that communicates which is of greatest importance.

Despite its relative simplicity, only around half of companies are currently conducting any user experience testing. This means when users do visit a UX designed site, they really tell the difference.

Creating a great user experience is an ever-evolving process. But it all starts with embedding principles like simplicity and UCD into your site from the very beginning. That’s why, if you want to build a website, it’s important to work with a quality web design team that applies UX to everything they do.

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