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UX - 2 letters that are vital to your website

- Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder at Happy Medium.

As the digital world continues to constantly evolve, I have to adapt to trends that are integral for myself and our clients. One area rising in interest and importance is User Experience (UX), a concept that involves the development, measurement and implementation of a product to best fit the end user. In the digital world, this can apply specifically to websites.

I asked Happy Medium web developer Jonna Buse, to write about what UX is and why it is vital to a website's success. Please enjoy her blog post - A lesson from "UX task #3":

A few years ago, I attended my first formal UX conference. If you have never heard of UX before, you are not alone. UX stands for User eXperience, and at that time, my department had only been using the term (and the processes that accompany it) for a couple of years.

I expected to meet a variety of people at the conference but went in with an assumption that most of them would come from comparable educational backgrounds as me (computer engineering and design studies). Only an hour into a networking happy hour, however, and I had met a former artist, patent lawyer, entrepreneur, behavioral psychologist, industrial designer, writer and astronaut. (Ok, I made that last one up, but that would have been cool.) I hadn’t even made it to a workshop yet and I had learned two valuable lessons: UX is a big field, and do not assume you know about people.

You may be wondering how all of those differing backgrounds at a single conference could fit under one UX industry umbrella. At the time, it seemed like an overwhelming amount of information to learn, but as I became more experienced in the field, I realized that most of the techniques and tools used by UX folks can be categorized into three basic areas: user research, design, and usability. Essentially, finding out who your users are and what they need, creating it and making sure it works.

On a recent Happy Medium website redesign project, we iterated through this whole research/design/usability cycle. We used a card-sort activity and survey to learn how users mentally organized the content on the site and what was important to them. We used that data to influence the visual design and direction of our early prototype. We then planned for the first round of usability testing. The design of the site seemed solid, and I confidently took our prototype down to our local business client and watched users as they performed some basic tasks.

Then “Task #3“ happened. The first user I tested with clicked an area of the site and just stared at the screen, eventually saying, “I think your prototype is broken.” Nope, it wasn’t. This particular interaction was not intuitive for this user, nor as it turned out, any of the subsequent users. Back to the lesson I learned a few years back – you are not the user. Often times usability testing can feel like watching a child put his shoes on backwards, but for a designer or developer, something may seem easy to use, but that is no guarantee that it will be easy for the target audience.

That’s why research and usability testing is so important – to discover and solve problems before they make it out the door. For customers to want to use your service/site/product again, it needs to let them get something done easily and efficiently. Ideally they will have a little fun while they’re at it. Because at the end of the day, that’s what focusing on UX is all about.

Katie Stocking is the Owner/Founder of Happy Medium, a full service interactive advertising agency based in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter - @klstocking

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