Monday, April 28, 2008

User Experience Design - Why We Should All Be Paying Attention

In the interactive realm, user experience design, commonly referred to as UX design, relates to the practice of creating a website that considers an end user's interaction, intuition, and general acceptance of the end product. UX design relies heavily on established usability principles in order to produce assets that 'make sense' to an end user. Elements such as structure and organization, page layout, content and creative design are all factors in user experience. With good reason, UX design is gaining momentum in the interactive space. It places users at the center of the design process - this is also called participatory design.

If we don't consider how an end user will interact with products we develop, there is a very slim chance that we'll deliver anything of value. Case in point, a website could be jam packed with extremely useful information, but if users of the site cannot locate what they need, we have delivered a poor product. Likewise, if a user is able to navigate a website, but the experience is difficult and ambiguous, we have also delivered a poor product. If executed well, user experience design can help avoid these types of problems.

Integrating a process around UX design represents an investment, typically passed on to the client in the overall cost of a project. Because UX design often relies on user research, the practice may require new experts and new methodologies that are different from projects where UX design is not considered. Here are some tactics that can be employed within UX design, although the list is not limited to these concepts:

- Usability testing
- Heuristic evaluation
- Persona development
- User interviews

Something I've mentioned in numerous entries is that our clients will become savvier as we work with them on more web initiatives. As they assess these initiatives with more critical observation, more weight will be placed on performance metrics, campaign results, and return on investment. Practices of UX design that utilize research will help us justify strategic and tactical decisions, providing clients with a higher level of confidence when recommendations are made.

At this point in the evolution of web development, having an experienced Usability expert on staff is crucial. This expert may come in the form of an Information Designer, a Business Analyst, or even an Interface Designer with a special interest in usability. The point of view these resources bring to production will help strengthen the quality of all end deliverables, educating the other team members along the way.

To learn more about the basics of usability, visit this website.

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