The movement of a user’s eyes around the page (of your web site) doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of a complex set of deeply ingrained instincive responses to visual stimuli that all humans share.
A huge part of any interaction design project involves dealing with user error – what does the system do when people make mistakes, and what can the system do to prevent those mistakes from happening in the first place?
Interface design is all about selecting the right interface elements for the task the user is trying to accomplish and arranging them on the screen in a way that will be readily understood and easily used. Successful interfaces are those in which users immediately notice the important stuff.
One way to evaluate the visual design of your product is to ask: Where does the eye go first? What element of the design initially draws the users’ attention? Are they drawn to something important to your product’s strategic objectives? Or is the first object of their attention a distraction from their goals (or yours)?
If you’re just fine-tuning the visual design of your web site or product, you can usually get away with simply asking people. This approach won’t provide the most accurate results, but most of the time, simply asking questions is perfectly suitable.
So you’ve worked out that the big purple button on your home screen is a problem. Is it the bigness and the purpleness of the button that needs to change? Or is it that the button is in the wrong place of the page? Or that the function the button represents doesn’t do what users expect?
User experience is dictated by the psychology and behavior of the users themselves.
To gain market share against first-movers and industry leaders, competitors often add more and more content and functionality in hopes of drawing in new customers (and maybe stealing a few from the competition). This race to cram more features into products, however, turns out to be only a temporary source of competitive advantage.
Providing a quality user experience is an essential, sustainable competitive advantage. It’s the user experience that forms the customer’s impression of a company’s offerings; it’s user experience that differentiates a company from its competitors; and it is user experience that determines whether your customer will ever come back.
The most common reason for the failure of a Web site is not technology. It’s not user experience either. Web sites most often fail because nobody bothered to answer two very basic questions:
1) What do we want to get out of this product?
2) What do our users want to get out of it?
Content is king. The single most important thing most Web sites can offer to their users is content that those users will find valuable. Users don’t visit websites to experience the joy of navigation. The content that is available to you will play a huge role in shaping your site.
Web sites fundamentally serve one of two purposes (for the company): to make the company money or to save the company money. Sometimes both.
One essential consideration in formulating the objectives for any product is brand identity – a set of conceptual associations or emotional reactions – is importnat because it’s inescapable. In the minds of your users, an impression about your organization is inevitably created by their interactions with your product.
It can be difficult to identify whether a particular user experience problem is best solved through attention to one element instead of another. Can a change in the visuals do the trick, or will the underlying navigation design have to be reworked? Some problems require attention in several areas at once.
The user experience of your site can’t do much by itself to bring new users to your site – you’ll have to rely upon word-of-mouth or your marketing efforts for that. But the user experience has a whole lot of influence on whether those visitors come back.
Effective content is hard work and requires constant maintenance. Approaching content as if you can post it and forget it leads to a site that, over time, does an increasingly poor job of meeting user needs.
You can look to your competitors for inspiration. Anyone else in the same business is almost certainly trying to meet the same user needs and is probably trying to accomplish similar product objectives as well. Has a competitor found a particularly effective feature to meet one of these strategic objectives? How have they addressed the same trade-offs and compromises you face?
A site with news-oriented content will often have chronology as its most prominent organizing principle. A sports news site might be divided into categories such as ‘Baseball’, ‘Tennis’, and ‘Hockey’. Any collection of information has an inherent conceptual structure. The challenge isn’t creating a structure, but creating the right structure for your objectives and the needs of your users.
Over time, the reasons for our decisions fade from memory. The ad-hoc decisions made to address the specific problem in a specific circumstance get all jumbled up with the decisions intended to form the foundation of future design work.
Using an unnecessarily wide variety of fonts – or even using a small number of fonts in inconsistent ways – can contribute to that sense of clutter.