Few years ago, I didn’t even know what a UX was. For anyone who was living under a rock same as me, it stands for User eXperience. Cute. I’da just gone with UE. I mean they went with UI for User Interface because I reckon UN was already taken. And near as I can Google it, UE might get confused with Ultimate Ears or the University of Evansville. So UX it is.
Although I didn’t know it by its proper name, I’d like to think I’ve been at least subconsciously aware of the user experience for a lot of years. I’ll grant you that I don’t know much about all the psychological stuff that goes into making a good UX, but I know what I like.
In that respect, I don’t think I’m that different from most people. Except maybe those who think everything has to go fast and spin and stuff. We’ll never see eye to eye and I’ll likely never be charged with creating a fine UX specifically for them. Although it might be fun trying…
And that brings up another point. It seems a GGO (glaring glimpse of the obvious) that a good UX is largely defined by its audience. What plays well for boomers isn’t worth a rip for Gen Whatevers (The Gens). So, if you’re selling something like Miracle Ears as opposed to Ultimate Ears, then your UX is going to be completely different based largely on your target market.
But what if your audience ranges in age from 8 to 80? Well Timmy, the degree of difficulty then grows exponentially.
The bigger the audience, the bigger the mess
Obviously, companies like The Amazon get that the UX matters. And they cater to at least four generations for every culture and country around the globe. And although I differ with the 30% of my boomer buddies who think that Amazon’s UX is the greatest thing since a pocket on a shirt – and for the very reason they think so – I will cede the floor to them.
Seems most everybody (not just boomers) think Amazon’s UX is great because it’s search driven. Wow. What else could it be? They’re selling literally bezosillions of products. You’d never find anything elsewise. Another GGO. But why don’t I like it Timmy?
Lemme tell you. Seems when I search for something very specific, often including a brand name, I get a lot of results, many without my brand. Mind you, I am generally not brand loyal, but there are times when only a certain brand will do. That’s why I include it Jeff. And I don’t want to sort through the rubble nor know what “Amazon’s Choice” might be. Let’s just accept that I’m the odd one out and move on.
What makes a good UX then? First, I’d like to disagree with what one study claims – that The Gens like a UX that is “visual and intuitive” and that such an interface might discourage those of us who are less technologically adroit. I beg to differ – everyone wants intuitive and if it’s visually appealing, the more the merrier!
There are people with giant brains and advanced degrees who make more in a day than I make in a year who study that very subject, so I’ll largely defer to them. But make no bones – if I disagree, you’ll be the first to know. Just because they’re smart, doesn’t mean they’re always right Timmy.
Keeping the user engaged
So what goes into a good UX? Feels like the more I read, the less I know and we’re going deeper down the rabbit hole. Like so many things in the digital universe, there are differing paths we can take. But in a nutshell, all roads seem to lead to Rome – and Rome is that happy place where simplicity is the rule, and you don’t have to think about how you’re gonna get there. And we want no fields of butterflies to distract those of us who are Labradors.
Perhaps yet another GGO – a good UX depends largely on a good UI. The former appealing to our emotional side while the latter speaks to our logical selves. So for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll accept that maybe I got the cart afore the horse and that our UI is golden. We’ll discuss that in another blog Timmy. I’m a whole lot more comfortable with that piece of the puzzle seein’ as it deals way more in the concrete and far less in the abstract.
And while the UX spans everything in the digital environs as well as our physical world, this discussion will be limited to just websites. Today, I don’t care where The Home Depot is trying to lead me when I walk into one of their stores. Nor for today do I care how an app or program behaves.
Seems the UX is often defined by layers, the number of which depends on whose research and ramblings you choose to believe. But whatever the layers, any UX has to appeal to a user’s emotions and a good experience means serving up the right content at the right moment to keep visitors moving toward an intended goal. And given that we’re dealing more with emotion than logic, this can present a significant challenge.
Simple is the key
We’re all different, but people who study people and their behaviors know that there are commonalities deep within. And that’s the sweet spot when it comes to designing a UX that keeps ‘em coming back. So just how do we create a great UX without having a PhD in psychology and a Masters in All Things Web?
I think it comes down to plain old common sense, Timmy.
You can look at all the charts, infographics and/or whatever compendiums of knowledge you can find, but if you don’t think it through, all that stuff isn’t worth a rip. Of course, this is comin’ from a guy who barely eked out a BA in Communications, so keep that in mind. It’s okay look sideways at me right now. But know that I’ve been pluggin’ away at UXs in one form or another for the better part of 30 years.
Where to begin?
With a recurring theme of course. Nobody likes speedbumps, and while I don’t necessarily agree that people will bail in just two seconds, speed is of the essence. Boomers and The Gens alike won’t wait very long to see what you have to offer. And if they don’t stay, all the effort you’ve put into creating the best UX ever will be 100% for naught. If a video or a slideshow or whatever the latest and greatest is crushes your load times, fall out of love with it. Same with static images – we have the tools to make them less weighty and we need to use those tools.
Of course, intuitive navigation is a big deal too. Last thing we want is people wondering how to get there from here. We can guide our visitors down one of several paths without being draconian about it. I truly believe that a menu with as few layers as necessary leads to a better UX. If you want to know how I really feel about menus, take a peek at my ramblings about them here.
There are other navigational tools we generally employ to help our users find the pot-o-gold they seek. One of the best is the venerable CTA (call-to-action) button strategically placed on pages. CTAs are great ways to create shortcuts for our users, and since they’re pointed directly at a target of our choosing, they work quite well for us too.
Where do we go from here?
And in that same family, we have hyperlinks. They should stand out as something clickable, but not that default awful color that somebody thought made sense. I’ve been known to bail at the mere sight of that blinding blue. That’s one of my breaking points Timmy. But properly styled and rightly aimed, they can play a role in making the UX more pleasant and help everyone reach their goal(s). Be careful not to overuse hyperlinks though. Doing so can knock points off your UX. Less is more.
While we’re on that subject, do everything in your power to ensure you don’t have broken links that lead to the dreaded “404 – Page Not Found” hellhole. 404s will turn a user against you in a heartbeat. I know on large sites things get moved or deleted, but it pays to check your links from time to time. There are tools available to automate this process so it’s not as dreary a task as it might seem at first blush.
Another key piece in the UX is copy. Not just your content, although that’s the biggest piece. The concept of ‘copy’ in this context is every bit of text on your site. From buttons to menus to CTAs to tooltips to error messages and more, it all matters. Another GGO – make your headlines count – not just for users, but for SEO and the bots as well.
I’ve written about content before in (Murphy’s Law of Readability) and as I delved deeper into content issues that enhance the user experience, what I talked about in that piece rings true. Big words bad. Short sentences and paragraphs good. Manageable chunks. And for reasons noted in that piece, I don’t adhere to those rules in these blogs I write. But I would absolutely pay attention were I hammering out general content for other audiences.
Another key to creating a great UX is making sure that your content behaves properly across all the devices people use these days. From mega monitors to the tiniest of phones. While my life doesn’t revolve around my iPhone, more and more I’ve come to accept that most folks do live in a mobile world, and we best accommodate them.
While I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface at this point, this has gone on long enough Timmy. I see you nodding off.
And I’m fairly well convinced if you manage the things outlined above well, you and your UX will be headed in the right direction.