User experiences are your everyday experiences—anything from operating a car, to making a pot of coffee, to ordering a pair of shoes online. User experience is the result of your interactions with a product or service, specifically how it’s delivered and its related artifacts according to the design.
User experience umbrellas the following:
- User Research (type of users; their goals and needs)
- Information Architecture (detailed model of a system)
- User Experience Design (perceived use; learning curve on how to use)
- Communication Design (information prepared efficiently and effectively)
- Usability Engineering (human-computer interaction)
- Accessibly (availability to all; including disabled)
- Interaction Design (product- human interaction)
- Visual Design (font type, layout, color scheme)
After attending a user experience presentation by Blue Flavor’s Director of User Experience, Nick Finck, I’m constantly focused on my own user experience; not only with my own internal web development projects but the everyday design of products, web sites and other services. I found Nick’s presentation very interesting so I‘ve taken what I learned from him, completed some more research and compiled my own ten commandments of usability (in no particular order)
1. Know Your Users: The User is Always Right
With the exception of i-d-i-o-t errors, the user is always right. Know your user. Who is your audience? What are their characteristics? What are their goals? What tasks are they trying to accomplish to reach their end goals? Many companies seeking a Web site overhaul don’t focus on the sweet spot, that even balance of their business goals, customer/user goals and technical goals.
2. Usability Testing and Evaluation
Evaluate the client’s existing product and evaluate opportunities for improvement. An effective Web site, allows customers (users) to achieve their goals, has a high conversion rate, meets business objectives, delivers a positive brand image. An efficient Web site provides answers quickly, follows a logical sequence, doesn’t waste resources and requires less time management. A satisfied user achieves their goal, enjoys their experience, tells others, comes back again and embraces the community.
3. Avoid Solutioneering
Promote questions before answers. What is the problem at hand and what solutions can resolve that problem? Blue Flavor’s design guru, Jeff Croft wrote a great blog post about solutioneering so check it out.
4. Form Follows Function
When a function needs to be performed, the design must support that function. It’s plain and simple; think about what is right for your user.
5. Content is King
Write to your audience. Make your content conversational with appropriate user vocabulary. Use headings to highlight important content sections, bullet points to convey information, tables/lists when appropriate, underline links, avoid using italics and use a friendly reasonably sized font, san serif for ease of reading. 79% of users scan the page instead of reading word-for-word.
6. Focus on Innovation, Avoiding Imitation.
Create Web applications that are useful for users, specifically a community for them to interact in. Nick shared a great example regarding innovation, the Nike + Human Race 10K. Nike took their product, Nike+, which tracks and communicates your pace while you run. Nike launched the world’s largest running event, taking place in 25 cities with over 1 million runners participating. The Human Race was more than a branded community event; it was a global sales pitch highlighting the Nike+ product line and driving traffic to Nikeplus.com
Clients will have their business goals in mind but often put their own needs over their users. Practice ADA compliance and think about the context, for example large screen vs. small screen (mobile).
8. Dig Into Information Architecture
IA is 80% of usability. Build an efficient navigational structure with clear navigation, in a logical structure, with easy-to-follow site hierarchy. Make the controls understandable for users and avoide confusion between emblems, banners and buttons. It irks me when I go to click on a button or link and it doesn’t take me anywhere.
9. Improve Interface Designs
Ask yourself, how easy is it for users to accomplish their tasks on first visit? Once users are familiar with your Web site, how quickly can they perform these tasks? When users return after a period of not using the interface, how easily can they reestablish proficiency? How many errors do users make, how severe are the errors, and how easily can they recover?
10. Learn From Failure and Fail Better
In our rush to succeed, rarely do we see the merit in failure. Remind yourself that unaccepted failure is a step toward success. “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.” – Samuel Smiles