User experience (UX) is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the overall experience of a person using a product, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use”.
While this can apply to anything, real life or virtual, it has become synonymous with the digital world and how we build websites, apps and online services.
Good UX means your website or app accurately meets the needs of your users and is built in a simple and intuitive way, therefore, making it easy to use.
The only way you can guarantee a good user experience is by talking to your users.
What makes good UX?
Good UX is not a one size fits all thing. Each website or app has a specific set of users with a specific set of goals and, as a result, needs to be unique to these requirements.
To provide a good user experience, bestselling author, Peter Morville, argues you need to consider the seven hexagons of his UX Honeycomb.
If embarking on a website build, this is a great tick list to work through. Your site must be…
- Useful. It must meet users' needs
- Usable. It must be easy to use
- Desirable. It must appeal to your user emotionally
- Findable. It must be navigable, and content should be correctly chunked and labelled
- Accessible. It must work for all users, including those with access requirements
- Credible. It must make us trust your brand
- Valuable. It must support your overall company strategy (i.e. for most businesses it needs to help you make money)
The best way to achieve all the above is by talking to your users.
Otherwise how do you know if your site meets users' needs if you don’t ask them? How would you know it is usable and content is findable if you don’t watch users' behaviours? And how can you discover whether or not your users trust your brand without putting it in front of them?
You don’t and you can’t. But many websites are built in this way.
What makes bad UX?
“Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.”
– Douglas Adams (author of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)
Bad UX is every time you make an assumption about what your users do or want.
How you see the world and expect to use a website will not be the same as everybody else. In other words, “an individual’s perception is their reality, it doesn’t mean it is anyone else’s reality”.
This is why we cannot assume to know what our customers want from our website or how they might navigate around it. We must ask them.
If you are a 30 year-old male UX designer living in London, your reality will be very different from a 60 year-old female living in a village in Yorkshire.
It is not a criticism. Just a fact. So trying to build an online service that genuinely meets the needs of our lovely lady in Yorkshire, without first gaining an understanding of her requirements and motivations, will be very difficult and likely filled with examples of bad UX.
As an organisation, we have been speaking to all sorts of users for nearly 20 years and are still constantly surprised by the insights they give us. Never have we run a usability testing session or UX workshop where the client has left with the same view of things as when they arrived. Our assumptions are constantly challenged by engaging with users and the end results are always much better.
To avoid bad UX, it is important to regularly put ourselves in our users' shoes, speak to our customers and get them to use our digital assets before, during and after development. Without this evidence, you don’t really know what reality is and building a website based on guesswork is never going to end well.
Read more: Agile & UX, Writing content for the web: UX best practices