Function over form

By Danielle Stone

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User Experience Opinion

Just as an architect needs to understand the purpose of the building they design, a creative agency needs to understand the purpose of the brand, website or piece of communication that they create. Time spent understanding, researching and testing our solution answers the brief will ensure the difference between a mediocre piece of work and something which will be a successful project.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the digital industry where there are so many factors that determine the success of a project. The fast pace of technology, ever changing devices that people use and changing behaviours of users make it a challenging industry to satisfy our customers. At JUMP we love those challenges, the fast pace is exciting as we’re just not sure what will come next, but it also means we approach each project from the ground up, making sure it is fit for purpose, not just something that looks good on a screen or uses the latest trend in design or technology.

This is where User Experience Design comes in, the role of a User Experience (UX) designer is to make sure the website, app or digital product is the best it can be for business and user.

So what is User Experience Design?

There are so many terms, acronyms and jargon words that relate to this discipline that even UX designers themselves argue over who fits into what box. Holding the jargon, this is our interpretation, within the context of a digital project, which we hope will explain what it is, what we do and why it is important.

User experience is:

How a user experiences a website

A good user experience is:

The intended customer having a positive and successful experience which matches the business’ own goals.

Taking that last statement, a UX designer needs to know and engage with that ‘intended customer’ so that they know what a ‘positive and successful experience’ might be for them. Then ultimately they need to put that into the context of the business, understanding what the business themselves are trying to achieve.

There are lots of things that contribute to the user experience, but you need to understand the business and their customers first to be able to craft a good one. That is what User Experience Design is all about: understand the user and the business, use this knowledge to plan, design and support the development of a digital product that succeeds for user and business.

A graphic including text about the different elements to User Experience

So what do UX designers do?

The UX designer’s role is to put the user at the heart of any decision-making throughout the creation of a digital project. This means that potentially every single step of the process concerns them as every decision has an effect on the end product, the design, the content, the technical decisions as it is being built, everything contributes to what that user eventually sees in front of them.

And it's important to note that the UX designer or team doesn't stand alone, they'll need to engage with professionals in their own and their customer's organisations to make sure they have all the knowledge available to draw on when it's needed. Everything from understanding the business strategy to knowing how to learn from website analytics will make up the big picture.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say we’re designing a site for a forest park. We might want to deliver a stunning website full of incredible images and video that shows the beauty of the area. This approach however is going to make the website run really slowly on mobile especially in areas of bad signal. The UX team in this case would understand the business context and the users to the extent that they can help the project team make the right decisions and compromises to deliver the best experience for their users.

Here’s another:

This time we’re looking at an e-commerce site, and let’s say the business owner isn’t happy with the levels of sales they are receiving via the site. The UX team looks at the analytics and sees that users are really engaged with the site and often add things to their basket but most don’t make the final purchase. The UX team would then look at the current checkout process and try it out in its current state with real test subjects who are representative of the target audience. The team would then recommend changes, both design and/or technical, to improve chances of users completing their purchase. Perhaps it’s because the language used is formal and implies a complex registration process, perhaps it’s a huge off-putting form that could be streamlined, perhaps error messages are unclear and confusing. The UX team will affect a change that should ultimately improve sales on the website.

The devil's in the detail

That last example is getting into the fine detail of a design, but its those fine details that can really make the difference. In some of the biggest digital companies like Facebook, and Apple, huge UX teams have been ensuring their success for over 30 years, tweaking testing and changing those minute details to ensure optimum performance for their users.

So how does that translate to your project?

Though companies like apple have employed UX designers since the 1990s, it is really over the last 10 years that it has become a crucial part of a successful digital company’s arsenal. Today the climate is so competitive in the digital world and potential customers have very little patience to sift through to your fantastic product or to your carefully crafted explanation of your services. We need more than ever to deliver a tried and tested, watertight website, app or piece of software that has more than just a fancy design behind it.

The average time taken by a user to decide whether to stay on your site is 5-10 seconds. If they do stay, the average time spent on a site is 2-3 minutes. That’s not a lot of time at all. That’s why every step of the process must be right, the slightest thing can send potential customers to your competitor in a few clicks of their mouse.

It's not just about great usability though, there's room for experimentation and creativity too. If you can delight or surprise users through the choices you make, then you enhance that experience even further. A UX designer's role is to be immersed in the current, and future digital world to give them the knowledge and tools to create that winning experience.

That’s why UX designers look at the whole process to give you the best chance of engaging in the right way with the right people. It’s got to be THE most usable, hassle-free, even, in the right context, brilliant experience possible to get ahead in the digital world.

Anything less leaves your success to chance. It’s a tough business climate that we’re in and businesses want results. We believe that a strong design, development and User Experience team can deliver just that.

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