UX (User Experience) isn’t new, but it’s more important than ever. For almost every company, in almost every market, whether you’re launching an app or highly interactive website, UX is a key aspect of providing seamless user experiences. UX, once a niche concern, has officially gone mainstream.

Defined simply, UX is an approach that allows your users to navigate your website or app without confusion and with ease, providing a smooth experience of your brand. It combines elements of design, psychology, research, technology and business to provide the best experience for the user.

The importance of UX shouldn’t be underestimated. Around 30% of people will not return to a site after a bad User Experience and that number will only go up as UX becomes more prevalent. Whether you’re a multinational organisation with an established presence or a startup creating your first website, User Experience must be an important factor in your design process.

The meaning of UX
Illustration by OrangeCrush

There are a myriad of companies who are doing this right—AirBnB, Duolingo, MailChimp, Facebook, and Starbucks, to name a few. Here, we’ll take a look at a few of these examples to help us answer the question: what exactly is UX?

What is UX: a simple definition

UX is a user’s ability to navigate your website, app or devices—and considers the thoughts, feelings and emotions they have during the experience. It’s a human-focused way of designing, led by the question: how will people interact with my website or app? Is it easy to navigate? Can I find what I want? Does it load quickly? Is the language digestible?

The term UX has actually been around since the nineties, coined by a cognitive scientist at Apple, Don Norman. Norman says that the primary goal of great UX is to meet the exact needs of the customer. The Starbucks app does this excellently. It is designed perfectly for user simplicity and personalization, understanding that people are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to their coffee orders, which is why developers included a ‘Recents’ tab so you can repeat your previous order quickly, and avoid the full menu.

UX sits at the sweet spot between technology, people and business. Understanding the end user by building empathy through user research, understanding the business goals by highlighting each feature’s value and use, and understanding technology, to use the best tools to create effective and efficient designs for your end users.

UX idea graph
via IDEO

Why UX matters

In simple terms, UX saves your organization’s time, money and effort at every stage of the design process, and brings long-term value to your business. Although UX is often attributed to websites, it can also apply for apps, or any kind of product or service that evokes a certain experience.

What are the factors that affect user experience? Simply put, UX addresses four key questions:

  • Is it easy to use?
  • Does it have a short learning curve?
  • Is it efficient?
  • Is it user friendly?

Answering these questions can help you discover what is most important for your business. Whatever your reason for looking into UX whether its lower maintenance costs, a great return on investment or a user centric mindset, there’s a range of benefits.

Getting design and UX right is critical to business success, but companies don’t always value its importance and neglect graphic design to focus on business tasks. Regardless of how your company optimizes UX, there’s no doubt that it’s important throughout your designs.

To put it into context, let’s compare two examples of UX in practice, with the language learning platforms Rosetta Stone and Duolingo, who have very different approaches to their new users.

Duolingo’s UX makes it feel like it wants to help you, with effortlessly simple design that breaks a new language down into small steps to make it a lot less intimidating. It’s easy to use, fluid and you can start learning another language in minutes.

Duolingo’s menus
Duolingo’s menus are simple, clear, and friendly. Via Duolingo
Gaming elements within Duolingo
Duolingo also gamifies key elements of its interface, encouraging engagement. Via Duolingo
The splash screen for DuoLingo
DuoLingo’s splash screen is impressively simple. Via Duolingo
Screenshot of Rosetta Stone
In contrast, Rosetta Stone’s interface feels more serious and less engaging. Via Rosetta Stone

On the other side, the more traditional Rosetta Stone was the apex in language learning platforms for a long time, but doesn’t offer as much engagement. It leans to a much more rigid approach and is hidden behind a pay-wall, whereas Duolingo’s base app is free.

Emotional connection is another powerful tool in the UX arsenal, even the most logical and rational people are driven by emotions, it’s what makes us… human. Emotions are used in UX all the time and influence incredibly good design when used correctly. Understanding how to use emotional design in UX is important to stand out.

A great example is MailChimp, the popular email client software, which has no business being as interesting as it is, but because of its colorful design, friendly mascot and casual approach it’s a delight to work with.

Mailchimp
Via Mailchimp

A lot of people tend to think the design is how something looks, the veneer, the exterior, but in fact, it’s equally important that it functions well. Design is also about how it works, not just how it looks. Understanding UX is definitely an important skill to have within your company, so even if you don’t hire a specialist, it’s always good to have someone in your team who has received UX design training who will have the skills, experience, and confidence needed to dive into the tough tasks of this demanding field.

Good UX design can have a range of features, but some of the basic ones that are ever present are:

  • Dependable (does it work how it’s supposed to work?)
  • Conversational (is the tone of voice correct?)
  • Encouraging (is it an improvement on something that already exists?)
  • Personable (is it relatable and easy to use?)
  • Utilitarian (does it do its job quickly and effectively?)
  • Shareable (can you share it easily?)

The difference between UX and UI

UX vs UI are often confused, even by industry professionals and the lines are often blurred. So, what is the difference between User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI)? To oversimplify, UX is how someone feels about your design, their thoughts and feelings whereas UI is how they interact with it, its features and functions.

A lot of people view it as UX vs UI but it’s actually UX & UI. They are related, not opposing. UX is defined as a very human-first way of designing whereas UI is feature-first. UX is a journey whereas UI is the destination for the journey.

UI includes the aesthetics, the look, feel, responsiveness and interactivity of a product. It focuses on anthropometrics, ergonomics and haptics, to define the layout, interactions, transitions, animation, and even single micro-interactions. A recent UX trend you might not even realize is UX and UI centric is dark mode or themes, which are designed both for look and functionality (UX and UI).

The WeGo App in both light and dark modes
Dark mode can improve usability for many apps. Via Wego

UX and UI should both be part of a successful design process as they cater to different needs and wants, so understanding the importance of both is vital to designing the best final product for your users. To contextualize, if something looks amazing but is hard to use, it’s got great UI and bad UX, whereas something that is user friendly but looks awful would be great UX and bad UI.

Applying UX

The implementation of UX by a designer can sometimes be obscured, and not everyone follows UX design principles, so it’s essential to understand the kind of tasks a UX designer conducts. Obviously each designer and company is unique, but let’s look at a few general examples of what tasks a UX designer does.

Conducting user research: this will help the UX designer learn about the users, their goals, needs, motivations and behaviors. Based on research, the designer will create personas to identify key user groups, which will aid the design on the product.

Information architecture (IA): using the research and personas, information architecture is the structure of the design—this comes in the form of navigation, categorizations and hierarchies for information.

Wireframes: these are then created from the above stages and used to get some initial feedback, to create, as the name suggests, a skeleton, or wireframe of the finished product.

Prototyping: if wireframes are the equivalent of blueprints, then prototypes are the 3d models; they will give much more accurate representation of the final product.

Product testing: this helps designers find and fix any potential issues during a user’s interaction with the design, which is usually done in person to help gauge behaviour.

Putting UX into practise and applying it to a website doesn’t have to be a chore, in fact, many website building platforms incorporate a level of UX into their tools, but if you have the budget, hiring a UX expert is always a good idea.

Getting expert help

UX can make or break a business, especially with such competitive and saturated modern markets. It has never been more important to ensure you get this aspect of design right—great UX will help you maximize your potential without alienating potential customers. The world of UX design is vast and complex, but with the right expert’s help you can revolutionize your website, design and business. Smart designers understand the importance of developing winning UX and UI.

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