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Five reasons why user experience thinking is essential

User Experience (UX) analysis and design is a rapidly growing field for good reason. Websites, apps and services are placing a lot of focus on UX to differentiate themselves from competitors.

To get a quick taste of how design can be informed by clever UX analysis and thinking, just compare MWEB’s ADSL options and sign-up page, with that of Telkom’s product offering page.

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Even (especially, perhaps) if you are not well-versed in web development and design, it is probably clear that the experience you will have when assessing product options and signing up as a customer will be superior on the MWEB website.

Here then are five important UX mantras and ways of thinking to get you on the right track:

1. It almost goes without saying, but your users are everything
Back in the bad old days, websites were often designed with the primary goal of organising the content on them, or enabling a certain function to be performed. This might not sound like a bad idea (and in many cases it wasn’t), but it can result in horribly dry and unusable sites that everyone hates and never visits again. Of course the raison d’etre for any website is the presentation of content or the enabling of some function, but the guiding principle in the design of the site should be the enhancement of user experience. If people don’t enjoy spending time on your site, then it matters not one bit what content you have or function you perform, because no one is coming to your party anyway.

2. Testing, testing, testing
The field of UX encompasses both the art of skilful design and the science of rigorous user-testing. You can spend a lifetime conjuring up hypotheses about what design patterns will enhance user experience, but the ultimate truth is that you can only know what works well on your site by testing. UX professionals come armed with a suite of techniques to test your users’ experiences and extract statistically significant data to guide website improvements. In the hands of a creative UX practitioner, these techniques can be applied to any area of the online world to yield valuable nuggets of information about the way in which people interact with, and want to interact with the web.

3. User Experience is psychology…psychology is our lives…our lives are online
Web applications and services are becoming more and more deeply intertwined with our day-to-day lives. Socialising, travel, banking, communication, entertainment: These are areas in which the web now plays an immense and seemingly integral role for many of us. What used to be a collection of static web pages with some information is now a living, dynamic being that we interact with daily. To truly understand how to optimise these interactions, it is now essential that we understand the psychology involved, and at its heart is what UX theory, analysis and design is all about.

4. UX is the web that binds the web
Or at least it should be. There are business people with business goals: revenue, profits, growth. There are developers with technical goals: manipulate data, streamline processes. There are marketing people with evangelical goals: attracting traffic, converting traffic into customers. There are designers with aesthetic goals: layouts, typefaces, colour schemes. All these different goals, and all these different languages, often amount to a recipe for disaster. UX can be a harmonising force in the entire process of the development of a web business/site; from the understanding of how to reach users and convince them to return, to the testing and optimisation of hard-coded functionality for increased usability. From the analysis of how colour and font choices affect business goals, to the decision science involved in users’ choices of which of your application versions to pay for. UX is the thing that brings them all, and in the interwebs binds them.

5. Cross Pollination: Drawing on knowledge from other fields
The analysis and optimisation of UX on websites as a field is relatively new, but UX thinking and knowledge has a long history in industrial/product design and desktop software development. As websites and services become more interactive and dynamic, it is important to draw on UX knowledge deriving from desktop software design. Good UX designers are knowledgeable about the kinds of interaction patterns (drop down menus, drag and drop functionality, data representation methods) that have proven to be good solutions to certain problems in software design. Users are accustomed to these patterns, and adapting them to the web can be incredibly useful.

In a similar way, theoretical knowledge related to the design and usability of physical objects is as simple but as groundbreaking as scissors, lemon squeezers and chairs are in our lives. Whether you are cutting out a newspaper article or copying and pasting one from a website, your brain is still a human brain, and UX design is about making it happy.

Some final thoughts
Ultimately the decisions ordinary people make as to what websites and applications they use and return to will be heavily influenced by the user experiences they have. The more you understand the way the human mind works, the more seamless the experience, the happier someone will be to continue using the site or service, and the more time and money they will spend in the process.

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