What is UX anyway?!?

by Brandon Kindred

ui vs ux ketchup bottle meme with old school glass upright bottle as UI and the newer upside down squeezable bottle as UX
User eXperience has become a really popular term that’s regularly tossed around in design and product circles. But as a beginner, it’s not necessarily clear what exactly user experience is. According to Merriam Webster UX is defined as

"The overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use."

That really clears it up right? What does that mean in terms of websites and SaaS products? UX seems ambiguous because it’s a cross section of various areas of expertise. UX impacts everything from design and front end development to market/user research. How you use color matters just as much as the speed that everything loads impact user perception. In the next 5 sections, I’ll give an overview of the various areas that impact user experiences.

white blue and red round paper
Color Theory

Most users will decide in less than half a second if they like the design of your website based on color alone. Needless to say, It’s important that you choose your color palette carefully. Ideally you are using colors with enough contrast to accommodate those with color vision deficiency while using your color in a balanced way that looks amazing in both light and dark mode. If you’re just getting started, that seems like a lot, and it is. It’s worth taking the time to get right though. The only alternative is to suffer a high bounce rate and nobody wants that.

letter wood stamp lot
Typography

It’s a detail that most non-designers don’t think about until they run into a design that uses too many different typefaces. Your users will notice when you use too many typefaces or even when your fonts are used inconsistently. It won’t be something they point to explicitly. In fact, your users are more likely tell you that they perceived your site as less professional or reliable. Make no mistake about it though, the way you use typography and how many typefaces you use has a significant impact on your users psychology.

The reason it matters is because people desire consistent experiences and when we notice inconsistencies in how information is presented we begin to distrust the source. By nature, humans fear the unknown and when something as simple as how fonts are used seems inconsistent, our survival instincts take hold and causes users to have a negative perception. It’s just how people are. We crave predictability in all things. With typography, the goal is to keep it simple and consistent. Don’t over do it with how many typefaces you use and you’ll find that your users think more highly of your brand.

cell phone laying horizontally with a lock on the screen
Security and Interactivity

Once you are done with making everything look good, you still have to make sure it’s usable. Often product teams overlook just how important security and system feedback are to the user. Nothing will destroy trust more than a website that doesn’t use SSL or provide useful system feedback. When errors happen, users want to be informed of what happened and most importantly how to fix it. That doesn’t mean users don’t want to see affirmation that something worked correctly. User’s that press a button and aren’t given some sort of feedback are more likely to assume that your system is buggy, even if everything worked correctly. The last thing you want is for your users to think that your service isn’t delivering the value they expected. Each moment of distrust will be remembered when they think about using your service in the future.

Visuals

The images and videos you use shouldn’t be overlooked. People consume most content through video and memes these days. Well placed videos and images that are styled consistently with your branding are crucial. User’s are more likely to watch a 15 second video instead of reading your content. When your images don’t align with your brand, you are sending your customers mixed messages. People process a ton of details subconsciously, and what most people call a gut feeling is really just your subconscious responding to the smaller stimuli that your conscious mind doesn’t bother with. Unfortunately, gut feelings are generally warning signs that something isn’t right. Make sure you are using imagery and video that sends the right message so that customers feels comfortable buying your service.

photo of earth at night from outer space
Information Architecture

How you structure you html and content makes the difference between a website that is accessible and one that isn’t. Often enough, designers accept an html page that is hacked together as long as it looks the way they want. Unfortunately when you treat the html as a means to an end you also alienate a ton of people that use screen readers. They don’t ever see all the pretty stuff you put together, but they do witness the mess that is your html.

That’s not all there is to information architecture either. How you use margins(hopefully rarely) and how you structure your navigation also matter. For example, If you have more than 2 layers of menu depth, then you’re likely hurting your experience. Based on Hick’s law, which says that complexity increases the difficulty of making a decision, you should strive for a minimalist approach to how your information can be accessed. With too many options, users can become confused and uncertain if they need your product.

Wrapping up

UX encompasses every area of your product. By getting each area mostly right, you’ll find that customers think more highly of your service. In many cases, those same users would be willing to pay extra for a pleasant user experience.