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User Experience Explained


7. December 2009 18:52

User Experience (UX) is what a user experiences while interacting with your website and encompasses everything from how easy it was to find the site to the journey a user takes through the site.

User experience is understanding and designing a user’s experience from start to finish, not just how the website looks or functions.

The aim is to improve the user journey - ironing out those frustrating fly-out menus, optimising the shopping cart processes and making the website more intuitive by placing information where users expect to find it. 

User experience honeycomb

UX includes, but not limited to:

  • User interface design
  • Information architecture
  • Usability
  • Interaction design

User Focused Process

User Experience is user focused, so the first step is to identify and understand your audience and find ways to communicate with them effectively.  You shouldn’t assume a user is familiar with your product offering or knows all your industry terminology.

Understand what tasks end users will want to perform on your website and create a series of use-cases to identify each task.
While you and your web design company know how to navigate your website, do your users?  The only way to find out for sure is to perform user testing.

User Testing

The best way to evaluate a website’s user experience properly is by assigning tasks to real users and monitoring their progress in achieving the tasks.  Users should ideally be recorded and asked to think out loud while carrying out the assigned tasks so you can understand their thought processes while navigating.

It’s important that the users picked to perform the tasks haven’t been involved with the design or development process.

Information gleaned from user testing is then fed back into the design process in an iterative manor to improve the end user experience.  Iterative design can help optimise sign-ups, maximise return on investment (ROI) and increase sales, so it has real benefits!

Picture used under Creative Commons from A-dit-ya

The Web Development Process


22. August 2009 17:56

From an initial client brief through to site launch the web development process can be divided up into a number of stages.  Here is a quick overview of what is involved in each stage. 

Analysis

The analysis stage involves talking to the client to gather requirements and determining the websites objectives.

The analysis stage will ensure the team understand the client's needs which is vital in ensuring the project delivers a solution that achieves the client's objectives.

Skills and resources required to complete the project will be assessed and a project plan will be put in place to deliver the website in line with the client's requirements.

A cost to deliver the project will be calculated and a proposal sent to the client.

Information Architecture & User Experience Specification

Assuming the client is happy to proceed and a signed proposal and deposit have been received, the specification stage will begin.

This involves defining how the information contained in the website will be presented in the form of a sitemap and set of wire frames diagrams.  These help develop the hierarchy, structure and navigation of the web pages that form the website and how each page will be laid out structurally. 

This stage is important as it will effect how users locate the information on your site they are looking for, a poorly structured site can hinder potential customers, which may mean fewer sales if they can't find what they are looking for quickly enough.

If the website contains interactivity that cannot be captured by a wireframe or sitemap, a functional spec will be written to communicate the intended functionality.

Web Content

Ideally the web copy should be sourced from the client before the web design stage as the content forms a large proportion of the design and the length of the copy on key pages can influence how a page is laid out and designed.

Where possible professionally written web copy is preferred as it will ideally include keywords and phrases to assist the search engine optimisation process.

Once the copy has been written another copywriter should proof-read it for typos, style and inconsistencies.

Web Design

A web designers job will involve taking output from the first three stages of the development process (the client brief, web copy, site map and wireframes) together with any existing corporate branding to produce a design for the website.

Web Development

Following the client approval of the design, the development phase can begin.  This stage will see the design transformed into HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Depending on the requirements of the client, a content management system may be built onto the website to allow the client to make website amends through an easy to use administration panel.

Once complete, a prototype will be deployed to a test website so the client can submit feedback.

Quality Assurance

The QA testing phase aims to ready the website for launch. 

The website will be tested on a number of popular web browsers and versions (Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox, Safari, Chrome), platforms (Apple Mac, PC) and monitor sizes.

The website code will be checked for errors and conformity to W3C guidelines for HTML and CSS.  Web accessibility compliance will also be checked.

The site will be inspected for broken links and missing images, and any forms on the site will be rigorously tested.

Deployment

The deployment of the website will differ depending if the site is new or a redesign of an existing website.  It generally involves migrating databases and website files to a live server, pointing domain name(s), setting up mailboxes and generally ensuring the site is running smoothly.

Deploying a website that is replacing an existing website is more involved as it requires special instructions in-place to ensure users who have bookmarked pages of the old site will be redirected to the most appropriate page on the new website.  This also helps search engines update its index.

Website Promotion

This stage is vital to ensure you get visitors and potential customers arriving at your new website. 

Depending on the most appropriate strategy for your website this can include search engine marketing, search engine optimisation techniques and or traditional offline marketing.

Maintenance and Updating

Most websites will require updating every now and then to keep them current, these may be simple content updates made through a content management system or slight changes to the design/navigation which require technical assistance.

Occasionally a bug or error might be discovered with the website and need correcting.

Determine your Website Objectives


2. August 2009 19:28

In order to build a website that meets your business needs it is important to determine what you want your website to achieve from the outset.  That way the site can be designed to better achieve those goals.

For instance you may wish your website to:

  • Sell your products or services online
  • Build brand awareness of a particular product or service
  • Manage or promote an event
  • Gather market research through surveys etc
  • Generate sales leads for your products or services
  • Provide marketing literature for your products or services
  • Build awareness of your organisation

As you can imagine an ecommerce website would be structured somewhat different to a website promoting an event, but even so it is important that your website objectives are communicated to the web design team, as your objectives may not be immediately clear from your brief.

For example:

If we know a major goal of your site is to generate sales leads.  We will design the site to include "Call to Action" elements to entice the web users (your potential customers) to enquire about your products.

On the other hand if your website is promoting an event, which is taking place in 3 months the search engine marketing plan we would recommend would be completely different to any other type of site and would favour pay-per-click advertising.

Information Architecture: Product Navigation


30. July 2009 19:06

Information Architecture put simply is the planning stage of a website and involves organising and designing the structure or "blueprint" of a site and should be carried out before any design or development takes place.
Here is a good example of the importance of Information Architecture.

Choosing Product Navigation Categories

You must consider the end user when deciding what categorisation to use for website product navigation.

We could categorise a company's products by brand, model number, manufacturer, or by function but which is best?

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What makes the most sense to the customer?
  2. Will a customer who is new to our products/brand be able to find what they're looking for?
  3. Will a user who knows what product they need be able to find it quickly?

Categorise Your Products Carefully

Some websites make the mistake of only categorising products by brand/model or manufacturer and using this as the product navigation on their website.  In this case customers who are not familiar with the company's products will struggle to find what they are looking for. 

For example, the Peugeot UK website categorise their cars by model number, 107, 207, 308, 3008, 407, 4007, 807 etc.  As a potential customer who is not familiar with Peugeot's model numbers I don't know what models to consider if I'm looking for an estate car.  Do I click through every model category to try and find what I'm looking for or give up?