Understanding the user experience

by / 0 Comments / April 16, 2015

User Experience, Customer Experience, UX Design, Usability. These terms sound similar and important, but slightly confusing. If you were going to make user experience improvements to your restaurant catering or online ordering website, where would you begin?

This post begins a new series about user experience design for catering and online ordering websites. Over the next few posts, we will explore what makes a website easy to use and why small tweaks can make a big difference to a customer’s online interaction with your brand. We will explore how to contribute positively to users’ comprehension of your website’s offerings and how to go to the next level, delighting the user with an awesome all-around multichannel experience.

The user experience defined

Prominent usability expert Jared Spool defines usability by asking the question, “Can the user accomplish their goal?” and user experience by asking the question, “Did the user have as delightful an experience as possible?”

In other words, ‘usability’ measures whether someone is able to successfully work through the tasks they have come to a site to complete and ‘user experience’ describes the way they perceive their encounter.

Why is it important?

Customer Experience (CX), describes the experience a customer has across multiple touch points of your brand, from a bricks and mortar location, to browsing a website on their mobile device, to social media channels, phone conversations with customer service reps, ads, direct mail and beyond. This means that a good User Experience (UX) on your website contributes to a positive overall customer experience of your brand.

When Oracle surveyed more than 1,300 senior executives across 18 countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia Pacific to assess the financial impact of the customer experience, chief marketing officers said that leading the customer experience cross-functionally at all touch points is their top investment over the next 2 years. Further, 93% said that improving their customer experience is one of their top three priorities for the next two years; another 97% stated that CX is critical to their company’s success.

Elements of user experience design to become familiar with

  1. Visual and graphical design elements

The aesthetic look and feel and overall elements of visual communication, including visual feedback a user gets from hovering over something (“Hey, this is clickable!”). This is important because we know people like to ‘skim’ online content and images/graphics help them scan brand messaging more effectively.

Tip: With today’s high res screens, it’s important to make sure the images are excellent quality and optimized for web so that they load quickly!  

  1. Information architecture

The structure, organization and labelling of information for better browsing, navigating and searching. Often, offline organizational schemes and structures need to be reworked and optimized for online consumption. How website visitors browse or move through information on a website is very different from how they flip through a paper menu or glance over a static blackboard.

Tip: Voice and tone can add variety and personality to your website, but be sure to invest the time to understand how your visitors think about and refer to your products and services. Are there simpler ways to organize or describe your offerings for busy people with complex needs?

  1. Interaction design

The layout, task flow and interaction patterns of the user interfaces. We’re often led to believe that ultra creative websites will impress visitors, but when it comes to tasks and user interfaces, best practices are the first place to start, and often best not to deviate from.

Tip: Leave creativity to the visual design and graphical elements, but ensure sure your online interactions are predictable and familiar so they are intuitive to users (“Ok, I understand what this button does.”)  

  1. Content strategy

Optimizing website copy and imagery for brand positioning, communication goals, user behaviour, and ease of workflow.  Is your copy friendly for online users or did you just plunk in your brochure/catalog/flyer copy? Does your copy contain industry language that your average user is not familiar with?

Tip: A common way to measure readability is with the Gunning-Fog index, which is a rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand what they are reading. The lower the number, the more understandable the content will be to your visitors. Try using an online tool to test the readability of your site copy. 

  1. Usability

The ISO 9241 standard defines website usability as the “effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments.” Good usability is essential to a positive user experience but does not alone guarantee it.

There are several well known usability heuristics, or rules-of-thumb, for interface design. These are guidelines that UX professionals, researchers, designers and web developers have found to be best practices for online applications and websites.

Tip: One of the Heuristics refers to ‘consistency and standards’ asking that users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.

  1. Accessibility

Accessibility means the ease of use for people with disabilities.  The concept of accessible design aims to ensure “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers). Many countries are bringing forth legislation around accessibility with the goal to allow  products to be used with ease by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations.

Tip: Try checking your color scheme against 3 different types of colorblindness using an online tool for how the color blind would see your site.

How does one begin to improve a site’s user experience?

UX professionals typically focus on the design and development of user interfaces, but they also think about how content is organized and presented. They think about the interactions that customers have at every stage of their user journey through a website or mobile app. They try to reframe the focus of a website, evaluating it in various, customer-centric ways.

The user experience of an interactive product or a web site is often measured by various methods, including surveys, user observation, and usability test of both qualitative and quantitative varieties.

Vanessa Turke is a user experience professional and information architect with Vancouver, B.C.-based MonkeyMedia Software. In her next UX post, she will explore how to evaluate your website for low-hanging fruit, simple tweaks that can make using it easier and more intuitive for your visitors.

 

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