What Is UX? The Basics of User Experience Design

Maybe you’re wondering, “What is UX, and why is it such a popular topic right now?”

If you’ve ever felt embarrassed because you pushed on a door when you’re supposed to pull it, you know what it’s like to have a poor user experience (UX) due to an object that is badly designed.

In this article, we’ll describe what UX is, why it’s important, and why designing with UX in mind is vital to creating websites and products people love.

What Is User Experience?

User experience (UX) is any interaction a user has with a product. The goal of UX is to meet the user's needs and create easy, relevant, efficient experiences.

UX is a broad term that can encompass a massive range of interactions, including:

  • Whether the host smiles at you when he greets you in a restaurant
  • The relevance of the suggestions Netflix makes when you log in
  • How easy it is to figure out the dashboard of your rental car
  • Whether your new virtual reality game is easy to learn and play

While there is no single definition, the term “UX” is often associated with websites, apps, hardware, and other technology.

Many digital companies have made positive UX a priority because they know smooth, effortless experiences on websites and apps create happier visitors and customers who are more likely to stick around and return for future visits.

And people who stick around tend to scroll more, click more, share more, and spend more.

Let’s look at a few examples of user interactions.

Positive user experience

A customer buys a pair of shoes online. When the shoes arrive, she realizes they’re uncomfortable and wants to return them to get a refund.

The company made the order returns experience easy by including a pre-printed delivery slip. She simply has to visit their website to process the return and then mail back the shoes. The company’s site even gives her directions to the nearest drop-off location.

Frustrating user experience

A business coach runs a group session on a video conferencing platform and wants to invite one of the attendees into a one-on-one virtual conversation.

He’s heard that the platform includes a way to create a breakout room, but after 10 minutes of fiddling around, he can’t find an obvious or intuitive way to do it. He gives up and sets up a separate time to speak with his client.

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What’s the biggest difference between these two customer experiences?

User-centered design.

The user-centered design process (UCD) is employed to ensure great experiences. UCD focuses on the needs and goals of the user at every stage of design and development.

An e-commerce UX audit can help your team figure out what’s working for your users and what’s not, and make sure the right content and functionality are always in the right place at the right time.

Starting to feel more comfortable answering the question, “What is UX?”

Companies now recognize that focusing on design can give them a measurable business advantage.

The Definition of UX Design

UX design is the process designers use to create useful, intuitive, enjoyable experiences for users.

Picture UX designers as bridge builders who connect companies with users using a combination of market research, strategy, and testing.

Their goal is to understand their users’ most significant pain points, their challenges and limitations, and how the users want to feel when they use a product.

UX designers research customer needs and incorporate feedback in all aspects of product development, from initial planning to the branding process, to produce the best possible experiences.

Naturally, UX training can be complex, but worth the effort.

“The more you watch users carefully and listen to them articulate their intentions, motivations, and thought processes, the more you realize that their individual reactions to web pages are based on so many variables that attempts to describe users in terms of one-dimensional likes and dislikes are futile and counterproductive. Good design, on the other hand, takes this complexity into account.” – Steve Krug, Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

We've also written an article to help you understand the difference between UI and UX.

Why Is UX Important?

Why is it worthwhile to invest in creating a great user experience?

Because the answer to “What is UX?” isn’t just about giving your user a warm and fuzzy feeling when they look at your site or use your product.

Improving the quality of your UX makes your brand shine, so you can attract and retain more users.

Users are looking at your site to assess the value of your brand and whether or not they want to engage with it.

The difference is clear: Companies with hard-to-use, unappealing websites tend to have higher cart abandonment rates and are missing out on opportunities to turn new visitors into loyal users.

Positive UX increases the amount of time users spend on a site or app, how much they trust the company, and whether or not they buy. When they have an easy, fun experience on a site or app, that means more users and higher revenue for the company.

Let’s talk about two examples of UX problems that often go unnoticed or ignored.

1. Slow load times

Almost 70 percent of consumers report that they are less likely to purchase from lagging websites — slow-loading sites lead to less sales.

Despite these potentially detrimental consequences, most marketing teams don’t make this critical UX issue a priority, even though a fast-loading site contributes to visitors having a positive user experience.

Moreover, while site speed isn’t always entirely within a site’s control, how users perceive the experience is — adding load indicators, along with other design considerations, can make the experience of a slow-loading site less disruptive to users.

2. Sites and apps that aren’t optimized for mobile

We’ve all tried to use websites created only for desktop, and we know how frustrating it is. It makes sense that a poor mobile experience creates less engagement with a brand.

UX designers are now responsible for optimizing and streamlining the user experience for all interfaces, including phones, tablets, and wearables. With half of web traffic coming from mobile devices, it’s essential for e-commerce companies to understand mobile UX.

UX certification is becoming increasingly important, because gaps and failures in UX can have a domino effect that translates into legions of upset or annoyed users — and potentially millions of dollars of lost revenue.

UX Design Principles

What are the critical facets of UX design?

Peter Morville, an information architect and designer who has worked at Google and Gopher, created the user experience honeycomb to illustrate the most crucial UX design principles.

To ensure a meaningful user experience, a product must be:

  • Useful: The product needs to solve an existing problem and have a purpose. It must be original and fulfill the needs and wants of the user.

  • Desirable: Is the product or service attractive? Do people want to use it? Does it create a positive experience that makes them excited to return?

  • Findable: Can the user find what they need with a minimum amount of time and effort? If a company creates an app that helps people find more information about the different wines in their local liquor store, is there an easy way to locate a wine in the database (like a UPC label scanner)?

  • Credible: Credibility is key. Your product must deliver what your company promises, and you can’t lie to your customers. If you lose trust, users will take their attention (and their business) elsewhere.

  • Accessible: Is your product or service accessible for all categories of users? UX designers practice inclusive design to ensure products can be understood and used by everyone, regardless of gender, ability, age, size, or technical proficiency.

  • Usable: A great UX makes the user journey intuitive, logical, and smooth. UX designers strive for short learning curves and memorable interfaces that don’t need to be re-learned each time a customer comes back.

  • Valuable: Above all else, your product must deliver value for users, and for the organizations that develop them. Of course, the definition of “value” may vary from user to user — some may focus on credibility over desirability, for instance.

The Value of UX Design

As users, superior UX design makes our lives easier and better every day.

When it’s effortless to begin tracking your heart rate when you’re ready to start your workout, that’s outstanding design in action.

When you can order a baby shower gift for your niece in just two clicks and have it shipped straight to her door, you know a designer has done the hard work to create an excellent experience for you.

As technological change continues to speed up, design-led companies will prosper, while companies that lack a proper UX design process will languish on the vine.

Making UX a core part of a company’s strategy and culture is no longer optional. It’s one of the keys to thriving in a market that gets more competitive every day.

Organizations that put UX at the center of every level of their business will not only create rabidly loyal customers who love their products — they will also deliver significant long-term revenue gains.

So, what is UX design?

It’s the process of delivering a satisfying and meaningful experience for your customers.

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