The Joy of UXing: The beginner's guide to UX design

The Joy of UXing: The beginner's guide to UX design

Tuesday 1st of September 2015
Written by: Miranda Wee

Creating a good customer experience is a lot like baking a cake - there are key ingredients essential to include and a recipe you need to follow to get the best outcome. Sure, there are out of the box solutions nowadays that can make this process much easier, but quality ingredients combined with a methodical approach will yield a much better experience for the consumer (and a more delicious cake).

Principle one: Know your users (the ingredients)

Users are the key ingredients - there are unique situations that bring these people to your website to complete tasks or find answers; situations you need to understand to bring users the best possible user experience.

You need to know who your users are and why, when and how they are using your site.What are their goals, and what tasks are they trying to complete that your site might only be a part of? It can be easy to forget that your site is often a single part of the user's process and shares space in the mix with your offline business processes. Additionally, the user's larger goals and needs may have nothing to do with your site.

Purpose is often only half the story. Purpose and emotive needs often go hand in hand; picking a venue for a wedding or planning a loved one's funeral come from two very different emotive places, but these users will have similar information requirements and will go through a similar process of research, selection and commitment. The experience that users have on your website, especially in the 'research' and 'selection' phases, could drive them straight to one of your competitors if that experience is a bad one.

It's also important to consider the context or environment of users who will be using your website. Where they are when accessing your site (on the bus, from their computer at home, in a break at work – or as part of their work) and how much time they have (several hours versus two minutes) are essential to understand as these can completely change the design and scope of your site.

To understand user context, environment, behaviour and motivations, user research needs to be conducted and compiled.Personas, journey maps and user requirements are common artefacts that we use to communicate the findings of user research and all serve different purposes in the design and development process.

Principle two: Involve users throughout the project (the recipe)

What about the recipe? Knowing your ingredients (the users) is one thing, but to use that knowledge effectively there are recipes (methodologies) that you can follow to get the most delicious cake (user experience outcome).

As ingredients are used at different points in a recipe, users need be involved at different phases of project development. Whether you're using Agile or traditional project development lifecycle approaches, including users should be a fundamental component throughout project development (and not an afterthought – or only part of the final testing phase). You wouldn't throw all your cake ingredients into the oven without mixing, sifting or measuring!

Key user centred project phases and methodologies:

Research & analysis phase:

  • Research user needs and characteristics to understand their requirements and issues (e.g. via ethnographic studies, interviews, surveys, etc.)
  • Undertake usability testing to identify issues and missing functionality of the current system/application

Design & implementation:

  • Card-sorting sessions to help define menu structures (before the menu has been designed)
  • Conduct participatory wireframe design sessions with users – get feedback on conceptual models and do walkthroughs of the interaction flow
  • Conduct task based testing of prototypes

Testing & evolution phase:

  • Usability test final application with users to identify usability issues to be fixed prior to launch or in next release

Principle three: Taste early taste often

and also – test early test often!

Maybe your cake mix is too salty, or too bland, or would be even better with some Tahitian vanilla beans – chefs continuously taste their batter and adjust it as needed before baking, ensuring they'll get the best possible result. Much like cake tasting, usability testing is an effective way to identify key usability issues found by actual users and gain insight into how to address and/or avoid these issues in a redesign. This can be done throughout project development, whether on low or high fidelity prototypes, wireframes, or beta sites. Even when a site is live, it isn't too late to involve users!

Jakob Nielsen wrote: "A usability test with 5 users will typically uncover 80% of the site-level usability problems plus about half of the page-level usability problems on those pages that users happen to visit during the test." This emphasises why this third stage is so important (but sadly it is too often skipped).

Once your cake is baked, cooled, and frosted (or website is live), your job still isn't over. Like all good chefs, or designers, you must next reflect on what you have made, consider how to improve it, then refine and iterate again. Repeating steps with some different ingredients (users), if possible, can help to identify other usability issues not previously discovered. Continuously testing and refining your product is the best way to ensure that you are always helping users achieve their goals and giving them a good user experience. Just remember what Frank Lloyd Wright said: "Fix it on the drafting board with an eraser or on the construction site with a sledgehammer".

The following diagram provides a snap shot of some of the UX tools and methodologies available at different phases of a project. If you want to learn more about UX, we offer training courses as well as in-house training. Or we are happy to chat to you about how we can help your organisation achieve its user experience goals.

Or cake. We like chatting about cake too.

Usability tip

Go guerrilla

Have a small budget or are you ridiculously short on time? Guerrilla testing can be a great alternative to regular usability testing and is a quick method for collecting user feedback and validating a design. It can be done with anything from paper-based wireframe sketches to fully functioning beta sites, making it easier for you to test throughout your project's development.

To undertake guerrilla testing, go to a local coffee shop or shopping centre and ask people if they have a couple of minutes to help you out. Offering to buy people a coffee can be a great incentive to get participation!

It is important to have just a couple of key tasks to take participants through and to be very clear with participants about what you are asking them to do. Since people are agreeing to help you for little or no incentive, you need to be conscious of their time and make sure not to keep them too long.

Finally, make sure you have a way to record your test sessions so you can capture screen activity, facial expressions, and voice. There are many products available, so find the one that works well for you. And remember – have fun!

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