‘User Experience’ is probably one of the most overused terms in web design. And rightfully so – businesses are learning that in order to “win” at digital you need you provide your users with a good experience.  But what exactly does that mean? I know what’s intuitive to me, can’t I just design that?

What is User Experience?

User Experience describes the quality of interactions people have with technology. It is also a professional field that employs the tools of User-Centered Design (UCD)

UCD is defined by two components:

A process that actively seeks out and accounts for users’ cognitive, emotional & behavioral factors


A philosophy that places the people who will be using what we are creating at the center of attention throughout the project

This is means in order to be doing real UX work, you need to be validating your design work with users. You need to get into their heads, understand how they think and feel, and learn what’s important to them.  Marketing persona work isn’t enough. UX takes all of your customer insights and applies them to a real, functioning product that is useful, usable, and desirable.

Why UX?

Doing right by users isn’t just something nice to do. It can help you with your business goals: 

  • Decrease bounce rates
  • Decrease training and support costs
  • Decrease development time and cost
  • Increase conversions
  • Increase workforce productivity
  • Increase customer loyalty

If you have users that are valuable to you, you should be investing in User Experience. Although estimates can vary, the ROI on a UX investment is between 1:2 – 1:100.

It still sounds like voodoo magic to me

Although the output of UX work may appear artful, we try to make our process as scientific as possible.  We generate hypotheses, test them, and iterate based on feedback collected from users.

Step 1 – Diagnose: During this phase we are trying to understand user needs, business objectives, creative and brand direction and technical capabilities. For UX people, this is where we go into data-gathering mode. We interview users and stakeholders, complete surveys, review analytics and utilize other research techniques.

Step 2 – Prescribe: Once all this user research and assessment has been done, we develop a strategy for attacking the problem. We set guiding principals for the designs, identify and prioritize features, and ultimately make sure business and user goals are aligned with what is technically feasible.

Step 3 – Administer: This is the dirty work of UX – wireframing, prototyping and usability testing. Instead of just jumping into code, much of the value of UX is proving out the hypotheses above so that costly revisions can be avoided and developers aren’t left guessing.

Step 4: Monitor, Iterate and Repeat: Great experiences don’t just happen, they’re made. We must continuously optimize, improve upon usability issues, and incorporate new functionality.

Wow – that’s a lot more work than I thought!

It is, and it isn’t. What’s really a lot of work is creating and maintaining a site that nobody uses or likes. Being thoughtful about your approach, methodically digging into user needs, calling out your hypotheses and validating them with real users can pay dividends. What’s intuitive to you and me isn’t necessary intuitive to anyone else. Making something easy to use takes time, but it’s worth the effort.