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You’re Not Just Building a Website – Think About the User Experience

By: Michael Olson

For anyone thinking about creating a website, understanding how to appreciate, prioritize and leverage the power of user experience is important. Essentially, the user experience describes how easy it is for someone to navigate and utilize a website. The idea encompasses a range of topics including ease of use, accessibility and the logical and intuitive flow from one page to the next.

To get a real-world sense of what a great user experience looks like (and feels like), think about the iconic example of Apple. One of the great strengths of Apple products is the outstanding user experience. For such complicated pieces of technology, they are remarkably easy and enjoyable to use. Apple’s famously minimalist instruction “manuals” are a testament to the intuitive interface and ease of use of its products.

Get Your Error Messages Early

One of the most valuable benefits of a consistent focus on user experience is how it highlights errors earlier in the development process. Not only does this prevent a clunky site from going live, but the costs associated with making those changes decreases dramatically. Almost every website starts with a series of flow charts outlining the Web tree and detailing how users will navigate from page to page.

The actual mechanics of testing user experience may differ. In some cases, users can explore preliminary or “beta” versions of the finished product. In other cases, proprietary tools can help you set up a “wireframe” page schematic so you can test a conceptual version of your finished site.

Regardless of the testing mechanism, the goal is the same: to eliminate navigational awkwardness and conceptual dead ends.

Measure Twice, Click Once

It may seem a little odd to point out that user experience—something that seems subjective—can actually be measured in an objective manner. But the reality is that measurement is an essential part of evaluating your user experience. The key is to find the right metric.

For example, if you want people to register for something through your site, the obvious metric is the number of people who have successfully done so. But, what constitutes success is different for every company and every website.

The list of criteria you can use to measure how effectively your site is working is long. It includes everything from the number of subscribers, unique visitors, returning visitors and pageviews per visit to the length of time each visitor spends on the site, and on to more sophisticated tracking like product page conversions, basket abandonment and funnel analyses.

You Can’t Spell “Aesthetic” Without t-e-c-h

Innovator Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” His point is often people don’t think of the most creative, useful solution right away. I know that while designing a site that meets a client’s goals is obviously the objective, professional graphic designers and experienced Web developers understand that aesthetic preferences are just one piece of the puzzle. We know great Web design has to go hand in hand with smooth and seamless functionality.

Even the most spectacular Web design will fall flat if it doesn’t work from an experiential standpoint—in much the same way that a beautifully written sentence or artful turn of phrase won’t really resonate if it doesn’t serve a narrative or move the story forward. Designers, developers and content producers should all make user experience top of mind, which is why business owners and decision-makers looking to create a website for their brand should also be focused on the same priority.