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UX fundamentals: The concepts, process, and proving the value

An overview of the key concepts within UX, the process for effective UX design, and how to prove its value. 

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There’s no denying that companies are starting to pay much more attention to UX and recognizing the impact it can have on long-term business success (we all know that by now, right?) 

If you’ve downloaded this ebook, chances are you’re aware of UX but maybe you just want to know a bit more; maybe you want to know why and how to make a case for investing in UX or convince someone else in your organization that they need to; maybe you’re already a UX Designer and you want to send this to your mom to explain what you do for a living or maybe you just want to brush up on the fundamentals yourself. 

Whatever the reason, this ebook will give you an overview of the key concepts within UX, the process for effective UX design, and how to prove its value. 

Use it as a reference for your own work, pass it on to colleagues or simply just read and enjoy!  

Let’s begin with a brief explanation of what UX is:

User Experience, defined in its simplest form, encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

UX is the totality of end-users’ perceptions as they interact with a product or service. These perceptions include effectiveness, efficiency, emotional satisfaction, and the quality of the relationship with the entity that created the product or service.  – Kuniavsky, 20105

The concepts 

Even though UX is an increasingly expansive discipline, the key concepts remain largely the same. These are the main things that contribute to the User Experience of your site and what you need to think about when implementing a UX strategy. 

Information Architecture Visual Design Functionality Usability Typography User Interface Content Strategy Interaction Design 6 

INTERACTION DESIGN 

Interactions can be categorized as every click, scroll and action taken by the user while on your site and they form an integral part of the User Experience; if a user can’t interact successfully with your site then they’re not going to have a positive experience while doing so. Interaction Design seeks to push the boundaries of mere functionality by creating delight with every interaction and ultimately, a desirable and engaging experience for your user. 

USER INTERFACE 

UI and UX are often confused and (wrongly) used interchangeably. The simplest way to distinguish the two is to say that the User Interface is what the user sees and interacts with, while the User Experience is (as mentioned) the all user-focused aspects of any system but also importantly, related to how the user feels when using that system. 

VISUAL DESIGN 

As humans, we are driven by aesthetics and in the case of UX, visual design contributes substantially to building a positive experience. Your average user probably won’t see all the nuances of interaction design or information architecture that you’ve painstakingly crafted but you can be sure they’ll notice the visuals. By visual design, we mean anything you see on the page; it incorporates everything from images and layout to typography illustrations and even whitespace. First impressions are 94% design-related and judgments on website credibility are 75% based on a website’s overall aesthetics, so if your site isn’t visually pleasing for your users, they’re gonna be put off. 

TYPOGRAPHY 

Choosing fonts and thinking about how text is displayed may not seem like one of the more vital parts of crafting a positive user experience... but it is. If your users have even the slightest bit of difficulty deciphering the information on your site, it will cause a negative impression and impact their overall experience. Creating a consistent and accessible visual language will help the reader understand your content the way you want them to. 

As designers, we’re essentially the tour guides of an experience, and typography is the path our users take. Thoughtful consideration of type allows the audience to connect with what they’re looking at. - Sam Kapila, designer and director of Instruction at The Iron Yard. 

USABILITY 

Usability is the bare minimum of UX, if your audience can’t use your product, they certainly won’t want to use it. When it comes down to it, a system’s usability should be effortless. The less attention the user has to pay to figure out how to use the system, the easier it will be for them to accomplish the task at hand. 

INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE 

Information architecture is an incredibly important part of UX. It’s the creation of a structure for your site; organizing the information in a way that helps users understand where they are as well as what they need to do (or where they need to go) to complete their task. Users need clarity, and IA helps structure and organize your site to achieve this. Without this, your users would be left confused, frustrated, and unlikely to return. 

Usability is essential–a system must first be usable before you can work on making it desirable.

CONTENT 

Having clear, concise, and engaging content on your site is one of the best ways to deliver meaningful information to your users. Content can help to go beyond creating something that’s just informative to building a long-term relationship with your users. Content can be anything from product information, guides, blog posts, podcasts, video, or social media. It’s a great tool for building thought leadership and showing your expertise; it will also contribute to your users’ impression of your brand and in turn, the experience they have while interacting with it. Make sure you have a robust content strategy in place that will contribute positively to the experience your users are looking for. 

FUNCTIONALITY 

This final concept is a simple one: your product/service/website must allow your users to complete their desired action. In other words, it has to work, and it has to work well. If it doesn’t have the desired outcome for your users, they will abandon the process. In fact, 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience. Make sure you have processes in place to keep track of bugs, errors or broken functionality. 

The Process 

Now you know the key concepts that contribute to building a good User Experience, how do you go about actually achieving it? UX processes may vary depending on the industry, team size, and goals but the basic elements below should be visible in all UX work. 

Remember: User Experience is the link between business/product goals and user needs; it facilitates the connection between what your users want to do and what you want your users to do. Bear this in mind when moving through the process. 

1. RESEARCH 

The first step of any UX design process should be to get to know exactly who you’re designing for. There are many methods you can use to find a bit more information about the users of your product/ service; you should always try to use a combination of quantitative and qualitative data from analytics and user feedback software. Putting your user at the center of the design process is the only way to design successfully for them.

By understanding the goals, needs, and wants of your users you will be able to effectively empathize with them and in turn, design effectively for them. One of the best ways to do this is to create personas that serve as a fictional representation of your users. Who are they? What are they trying to accomplish? What are their pain points? What are their motivations? Get as detailed as you like to build a better understanding of who your user is.

This will help you to design with a ‘real’ person in mind rather than for your users in general; it’s easier to empathize with and understand a persona, and greater empathy = greater UX. 

2. DEFINE 

The next step is to define exactly what it is you (or should we say your users) are trying to achieve based on your research and insights. Map the journey that you want your users to take and highlight any potential barriers along the way. Define as many scenarios as possible and consider the implications on the goals of your product or service. Are there any technical restrictions? Is what you plan to do in line with the product/service vision? Define exactly what is needed and corroborate with what is possible.

3. IDEATE 

Now comes the part where you bring together all the information so far to start brainstorming solutions. This could be in the form of storyboards or mood boards to help give a visual reference to the ‘problem’ you’re trying to solve. This is also a great way to show something tangible to stakeholders or other teams involved in the decision-making process before you actually create anything. 

4. PROTOTYPE 

Wireframing/prototyping is the most effective way to give life to what you’ve designed before it reaches the development stage. Draw out the interface on paper with all of the intended functionality, then ask as many people as possible to ‘role-play’ the interactions. This process will highlight any potential hurdles or unexpected user behavior that you may have overlooked. 

5. TEST 

Testing is vital for UX design because there’s an element of the process that relies on intuition and perceived ideas of what the best solution is. The only way to know for sure is to test. It doesn’t have to be a long, laborious process; according to the Nielsen Norman Group, 85% of UX problems can be solved by testing with only 5 users. So ask people within your organization, do remote user testing or even ask some clients to try out the new functionalities before they go live. Whatever the method, just make sure you do it! Test, test, test! 

6. REPEAT 

Depending on the results of your testing, you may have to go back to the ideate stage and come up with some alternative solutions. The UX design process should be iterative. Having to repeat some stages of the process shouldn’t be discouraging, because you’ll ultimately achieve a better-designed end product. 

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