If you’ve ever come across a hard-to-use, confusing website or product, you know the frustration and annoyance that comes with a poor user experience. At SiteCrafting and GearLab, our teams strive to provide our clients with web products that meet users’ needs and leave them with a positive, meaningful user experience.
To explore the field of user experience (UX), we talked with GearLab’s Lead UX Researcher Nick Colvin and UX Designer Alex Hughes.
What is User Experience?
UX studies the intersection of people and technology. At its core, UX is human-centered, research-based, and data-driven. UX professionals use gained knowledge about technology and user behavior in order to make technology user-friendly and easy-to-learn. UX is not limited to the digital world; it also applies to non-digital technology such as a cockpit or a street sign.
In addition to focusing on research and advocating for the user, UX values design iteration, utilizes UX literature and fundamental theories, and incorporates a variety of disciplines such as cognitive science, computer science, anthropology, and psychology.
Disciplines and areas within the spectrum of UX include:
- User research
- Usability testing
- User-centered design (UCD), or human-centered design (HCD)
- Statistical analysis
- Information architecture (IA)
- User interface (UI)
Usability testing is a highly important sector of UX. Nick describes this area as the “experimental validation of a design solution to a problem and its effectiveness.” Usability tests consist of target users performing a series of tasks (such as paying a bill online or finding the nearest hospital) while a UX team records user behavior and data. The collection of user feedback informs the team of user patterns and design improvements. Alex points out that “usability testing is helpful to figure out the main, obvious problems of a design.” Testing products with the representative user is necessary in order to understand its usability from a user’s perspective as opposed to the creator’s perspective.
Prototyping focuses on identifying problems early in the design process. Creating prototypes of web products not only saves time, money, and resources, but helps inform future designs as they are tested with users and iterated by designers.
These disciplines and more help make up the field of UX and contribute to a positive user experience.
The UX Process
Throughout the research and design stages, the GearLab team follows UX principles by:
- Approaching projects with multiple research methods to objectively evaluate user experiences and identify design problems
- Ensuring users are representative of the target audience
- Iterating designs by creating sketches, wireframes, and prototypes, moving from low-fidelity to high-fidelity designs
- Incorporating current findings from UX literature and academic research
During the web design and development process, GearLab works together with SiteCrafting to provide a lens for the teams to perceive how users interpret the technology. For example, GearLab partners with:
- The web development team to reconcile the ability and functionality of a proposed design
- The content strategy team to improve the site’s information architecture (IA) by using card sorting and tree testing methods
- The sales team to partner with new clients
- The data science team to gain a better understanding about user behavior based on statistics, analytics, testing results, and other quantitative measurements
Why UX is Important
UX is a vital aspect of the design and development process of any product or system, ensuring that business goals and user goals align and that designs are validated before developing. UX also assures that user input is taken into account throughout the entire process. Incorporating UX into the web design and development process allows users to efficiently utilize all features of a website like purchasing items or signing up for a delivery service.
One misconception of UX is that it’s “value-added.” However, as Nick points out, UX is not an extra step in the process; instead, UX is necessary to create usable products that meet the needs of users.
UX vs UI
Another common misconception? “UX is the same as UI.” While both fields are vital and create a meaningful user experience, UX focuses on the user’s entire experience from beginning to end, encompassing many different areas and disciplines. UI, on the other hand, is part of the UX spectrum, focusing on the interface’s visual design and how users interact with the screen. Alex mentions that “UX is different than UI in that UX can be applied to a variety of things because not everything has an interface.”
This graphic from uxisnotui.com further describes the complexities of UX: