UX has officially become an industry buzzword.
That’s a shame for one main reason. User experience isn’t a trend or anything close to a trend. User-centered design has always been the foundation of all outstanding digital brand experiences, and that’s not going to change or go away any time soon.
Whenever you pay a bill, order a service or product, or find the information you’re looking for on a website or app quickly and pleasurably, that’s because a UX designer has designed that process just for you.
Likewise, whenever you open an app and close it almost immediately because you couldn’t figure out how to get what you wanted in a way that made sense and maybe even infuriated you, the UX hasn’t been thought all the way through.
UX failures are never good, because when it comes to conversions, user experience is usually an all or nothing game, which makes it vitally important to get right from the beginning.
If you’re a CMO, and you’re still not convinced, you can gauge just how important UX will be in the coming years simply be considering two things.
One, by the year 2020, user experience is expected to reign supreme as the most effective way to set your brand apart, outvaluing both price and your products and services themselves.
Second, as user experience outpaces traditional components of the conversion funnel in value, mobile devices are quickly becoming the consumer touchpoints of choice, demanding new approaches to UX that need to remain true to the brand experience without sacrificing design or functionality.
And yet, even if UX is now entrenched in web vernacular and most CMOs are well aware of the value of UX to a competitive brand experience, just what makes UX effective isn’t so black and white.
Is user experience design or function, or something in between? Do you assign UX to a developer or a designer? Or to a UX specialist? Where does content enter the equation?
As with most digital projects these days, a collaborative approach that pools ideas, talents, and skills from front-end designers, back-end developers, data scientists and content creators almost always works best.
But as the head of a marketing team, whoever you end up working with and wherever the conversation surrounding UX moves, you should keep these three UX axes in mind if you want to guarantee a user-centered digital strategy.
When your interface with customers is a website or app, your brand becomes a tool. The purpose of the tool is for users to find exactly what they want. The ease with with they accomplish that objective affects their brand experience profoundly.
Positive user experience will increase conversions, and your ROI with them. Bad user experience, which includes slow page loading times, can drive up your bounce rate—by up to 39%, according to some estimates.
So, when it comes time to design any user-facing interface, from a credit card reader to an Android app, you should make sure you can satisfy three basic usability requirements.
One, users should be able to get the hang of your interface easily, i.e. there should be no learning curve. If we take a website like contently.com as an example, once you enter the site, you’re only two clicks away from hiring Contently to plan your content strategy or from reading their latest blog.
Audience needs are clearly signposted on Contently, so finding what you’re looking for is guaranteed. This may look easy, but it’s actually very good UX design.
Two, navigation through your website or app should be intuitive, i.e. you should get what you expect. If users click on a link to a free pdf on lead generation, they shouldn’t end up on a form asking them to subscribe to a monthly lead generation service.
That’s an automatic bounce and probably a lost customer, from a marketing perspective. From a UX angle, it’s a misalignment of user expectations.
Three, once they use your interface, customers shouldn’t have to learn from scratch the next time. So, again, if I do order a service from Contently once, the next time I go back, I should have the same ordering or check-out experience.
The reason is simple. If I don’t see familiar terrain, I’ll get confused. If I get confused, I’ll be much more hesitant to follow through with my purchase. User confusion is the bugbear of thoughtful UX.
How your website, apps and, in general, all your digital touchpoints display across devices will make or break your user experience.
Whether you’re following adaptive design principles, and your website or app chooses the best fixed layout for a particular desktop or mobile screen, or you design responsively, and your content itself adapts to different screen sizes at any given browser width, your goal as a digital services provider is the same: translating a highly complex digital interface into a readily usable user tool.
The very nature of UX is heading in exciting new directions, many uncharted. How we incorporate data, conversational interfaces and VR technology into tailored user experiences over the coming years, for example, will be reorienting our collective digital experience and our very understanding of interfacing with brands.
But one thing you can count on for the foreseeable future is that you’ll need to cater to a growing mobile audience. This will ultimately mean making hugely important ground-floor design decisions like choosing between designing top-down (responsive) interfaces or mobile-first interfaces.
While the jury may still be out among designers long used to designing responsively on desktops, the argument for bottom-up UX builds is compelling.
If you spend any time thinking about UX, it’s difficult to separate design from function. Do users click on a button because of the shape, color or font (think of a button with a gorgeous animated gradient background and a stunning font to match), or because of the actual words in the CTA?
Just like an intuitive user journey—i.e. one that boosts conversions and cuts down on bounces—can be pleasurable for users, design elements like typography, color choice and layout can definitely influence hard metrics like the time users spend with your brand.
But beyond user engagement, there’s also a technical side to design decisions that impacts UX heavily: page loading times.
Google is taking page loading times seriously these days and load speeds will definitely influence not only your ranking factor, but how much of your website gets indexed. So any competent UX strategy needs to take data optimization seriously.
As with any niche concept appropriated by the mainstream, there will be hardcore UX nerds and purists looking back with nostalgia to the good old days when no one really cared about web design and functionality.
You know, the good old days when you couldn’t book a flight with Ryanair without being tricked into paying for insurance, hover over an episode on Netflix without it autoplaying, or find an ad you just launched on Facebook.
Except those days are still here. They are our everyday UX experiences. Ryanair’s “dark UX” is well known. Netflix’s autoplay feature remains jarring and offensive, and Facebook is, after over a decade of its purely digital existence, still like the inside of your crazy aunt’s purse. Nothing is easy to find and there are twenty ways to get everywhere.
And this, more than anything, is the real reason all digital marketers should be thankful that the UX bandwagon has finally arrived.