For the average person, UX design exists as a fairly vague and uncertain concept. Unless someone is building an app or website, most would have little reason to think about how UX works or why it matters.
The fact is, effective UX impacts all of us in our everyday lives, and the fact so many can think of it as a fringe or low-priority concern qualifies as a testament to its success. When UX and UI decisions are made properly, you likely won't even notice their impact. They simply allow things to work in a way that doesn’t require any second thought.
From knowing whether to pull on a door handle, to closing a browser menu, UX design incorporates a mix of preferences that help inform and illustrate our interactions with the world – virtual or otherwise. When it works, our experiences are seamless, efficient, and pleasurable. However, when you encounter a design that hasn't adhered to UX best practices, you're left confused, frustrated, and unable to identify a clear message
Using five key measures, UX designers make choices to ensure your brand’s communication efforts are clear and intuitive to all users. Whether you recognize them or not, these decisions impact your every day life.
User patterns dictate decision-making in UX design
As UX designers, our first cue in developing digital experiences is examining existing user patterns. Why is it you rarely have to look for the close button when a modal or menu appears on websites? And why are changes to these expectations through a redesigned app or interface so frustrating for us to navigate? Learned behavior plays a crucial role in how we navigate the world – and the internet is no exception.
Observing how people use and experience existing designs provides an instructive starting point with UX design. Once a designer recognizes the established patterns, then we can begin determining whether there are any problems with the pattern. The end goal, as always, is to find a way to best serve your particular user.
That said, design norms such as left-hand navigation are well established, but not set in stone. If your brand identity is built on disrupting conventions, you could make a case for breaking user patterns with a design. But unless you have a strong justification or a user test that shows how such a break is a good idea, then you should follow what you know.
A hierarchy-driven design approach illustrates important information
When users come to a page on your site, they should immediately gain a sense of what it’s about without having to read all its content. UX designers establish a hierarchy of information by considering which topics should be headings, where they should be placed, and how people read. The most useful information should stand out through properly sized buttons and page colors with enough contrast to be readily visible.
With a well-organized layout that follows visual design principles, you can make long pages of information readily scannable and deliver a positive user experience. Once a design is in place, user testing provides a crucial window into whether it’s meeting expectations. Five-second testing allows users to view your designs and deliver snap judgments about whether they know what a page is about or what action it allows them to perform. If your audience needs longer to make that determination, your design needs improvement.
Accessibility is a natural by-product of good UX design
Defining a hierarchy of information provides the added benefit of aiding with your page’s accessibility. If someone is browsing your site with a screen-reader, headings are critical to their ability to determine what’s important. If you don’t define that well, a user with vision impairment will struggle with their experience.
Designing for accessibility doesn’t have to be exclusively driven toward life-long disabilities. Your potential user could be holding a baby or simply have sprained their hand. Consequently, your UX designer must ensure your site can be navigated by keyboard controls. That way, your entire audience can get the information they need.
Affordances in UX design give objects a voice in your website usability
How many times have you approached a new building and tried pulling a door open only to realize you needed to push instead? On one hand, it’s a minor embarrassment that maybe comes with being distracted. But on the other, what did the door handle look like? Did it offer any clues to how the door functioned?
If not, the designer failed to provide an affordance, which communicates how an object can be used. In UX design, you first have to determine what action you’re trying to encourage on the part of your user. Then, you have to make sure the object communicates that ability in whatever way makes sense.
In the early days of the Internet, designers communicated affordances by allowing objects to resemble their real-world counterparts. Now, as people understand how to navigate digital experiences, we have more flexibility. But there’s only so far you can go. Determining how well the actionable objects in your design conform to existing user patterns is a matter of trial and error. Through first-click testing, you can determine what users would act upon first in your design.
Preference testing anticipates what appeals to your target users
Have you ever noticed the ads for your favorite brands are always immediately appealing? Given how marketing works, we all recognize that’s not a coincidence. But UX designers also play a role in making sure the visuals you see are most meaningful to you.
Before a campaign launches, a UX designer has evaluated the most appealing headline, image, and color usage through A/B testing. Applying user preferences sounds nefarious when it comes to social media, but for designers it’s a matter of testing that your target audience sees what they want. Once that outcome is assured and users then clearly recognize what to do next, you can communicate the message you want – even if the interaction has become so simple it almost escapes notice.