Remember the movie, Manhunter? No. Of course you don’t. Nobody does. It’s the story of an FBI agent who has the uncanny ability to get inside the head of the killer that he is tracking. It’s a trope used through crime movies for decades.
As a UX Designer, it’s my job to get inside the user’s head in order to think and act like them, though it’s not nearly as cool as William Peterson in a Michael Mann film (seriously, check out this movie, it’s awesome). Depending on the app, site, or web app, the user can have varying goals, technical understanding, experiences, and reactions to design. For example, some may understand the meaning of the mobile hamburger menu, and some won’t. It’s up to you to determine, based on your user profiles and your audience what your users are going to recognize and be comfortable with. Will they understand modern UI patterns? Will they have a general knowledge of browsers and mobile, or are they going to bang their keyboard with a rock until it works?
So, long story short…
1: Know your users.
You may be saying, “I don’t have time for user research” or “What’s user research?” or “What? Get off my lawn, punk!”. Through necessity, I have adopted the process of lean user profiles. It’s easy, ask the client a couple of quick questions: who do you see as your typical user? who do you market to? how is the site/app marketed? have you done any previous analytics? You can probably come up with 2 to 3 user profiles from those answers. Determine your users’ goals for visiting the site, where & how they will be using it, and what technical knowledge they may have. They could be active at their desk or outside while walking in daylight, and so on. Remember, you are on the users’ side, not the developers’ or programmers’, not the marketing team, etc. Design as the users’ advocate, and the remaining principles will fall into place.
No matter the user, they will want a quick and clean load. If the user HAS to come to the site (required as part of their job, etc.), then there is some leeway. However, there are statistics stating that 40% of users abandon a site after 3 seconds, so load time is crucial. While much of this will come from development, you can do your part by not creating an insane design. Keep art elements small, images reusable, and test the finished product. I know what you’re thinking, “I just went to awwwards.com and saw fifty sites that took so long to load they needed loading screens.”, or “Gee, I want a Pizza?”
Well, they believe their user will wait out the loading screen. Certain sites are hoping their visitors are there to see what they got, and they have to show it off.
To the second point, Google pizza delivery, if the first hit spins more than 6 seconds I bet you hit the back button and try the next one, right?
Now, this doesn’t mean the site has to have one button and three sentences on it, or be a symmetrical collection of flat boxes. “Simple” means, understanding what your user came here to do, can they easily find how to do that when they arrive? The first part of simple really means obvious, intuitive, or even familiar. There’s a reason design patterns and UI kits exist.
The second part is effort. Are you going to make your visitors hurdle through four pages of blathering copy and fill out a 16 field input form to get what they want? If you take pleasure in torturing your users, or you work for the DMV, possibly, but I’m willing to bet “NO”. Keep the steps for the process they are going through to a minimum, and PLEASE, do not make your mobile users have to type: use your field types, don’t repeat questions (‘confirm your email’, I’m looking at you!) and keep it to minimal fields.
A simple site does what the user expects it to do in a timely, easy, and possibly even fun way. This is one of the biggest challenges of UX design. But you have to take the jumble of copy, requirements, images, and “I saw this site and think it’s cool” suggestions and boil it down to something usable, and maybe even enjoyable, without angrily going for the back button.
I know, many of you are now googling my address so you can egg my house, but looks, even the little things, such as spacing, alignments, shades of colors, matter. Good design can inspire confidence and trust, even create certain feelings and emotions, whereas bad design make a user think less of the site and your company. Are you trying to impart sentimentality, action, relaxed attitude, fun, professionalism? Your design is what will do this.
Something my dad used to say while smacking me in the back of my head, “Good enough isn’t good enough.” If you have to spend time tweaking this and that for certain screen sizes, devices, or browsers, it’s worth it. Have you ever presented a site to a stakeholder to show the herculean achievement in programming you accomplished and the first two things they say is “those two lines of text don’t line up”? It matters, a lot. The “X” part of UX means Experience, and how well your final design translates to the user defines whether or not they had a good one.
If you look at the finished site, as a user, and feel that you have successfully created an environment that you would want to visit, and maybe even spend time in, then you have done your job. It doesn’t always work out this way with timelines, assets, stakeholder changes, compromises and the like, but sometimes it does and that’s great. Whatever the case may be, just always remember to represent the user well because the site is for them. If that means showing examples, bringing up research, or forcing people to watch Manhunter then so be it.
User Experience Designer/Art Director