A designer is like an architect that builds a website’s foundation and makes it aesthetically pleasing for users. From the moment of a website concept’s birth, designers must consider user-friendliness and how each little element comes together in the eyes of the consumer. There are dozens of elements that play into the overall feel of a website for the end user, and user experience (UX) is impacted by all the parts—big and small.

Around 88 percent of consumers state they’ve had a bad mobile experience on websites, and 30 percent won’t return to a site after a bad UX experience. Similarly, in a brick-and-mortar store, the user experience impacts the overall impression the customer has of your brand and whether they want to visit your store again. Clearly, user experience has a crucial impact on the success of your site or store, so it’s important to get it right.

The tips in this article will cover the first steps of planning a website and then take you through some more advanced strategies for improving user experience.

illustration of people building the parts of a website
Creating a great user experience is a complex process, but it’s worth the effort. Illustration by OrangeCrush.

1. Do your research

Before you sketch out any ideas for a UX design, study your brand. What are the company’s primary mission and core values? Once you understand this, you’ll better understand your business’s typical customer.

Creating a user-centered design is difficult if you don’t know who you’re designing for. Once you know your target audience in general, dig deeper into internal data and create a buyer persona. Look at what geographic locations visitors come from and other details such as what type of device they use when accessing your site.

Study internal data as well and poll current customers for details about what drives their purchases from your brand. Once you’ve gathered all the data on your typical customer, create buyer personas that represent their features. You may wind up with more than one buyer persona. Filter site changes and user-friendliness through each persona.

Once you have an idea of your buyers, take a look at competitors and their audience. Take notes on what works well and what doesn’t, so you can repeat their successes and learn from their failures. Understanding your buyers allows you to address their pain points and better meet their needs in your website copy and design.

2. Design for user tastes

web screenshot for ux
Designing for a youthful, tech-savvy target group? Make your web design reflect that. Web design by Adam Bagus.

Once you know your target audience, figure out a design that speaks to that demographic or group. Make design and layout choices based on the preferences of the target audience most likely to visit your site.

Let’s say most of your visitors are from Generation Z, a group that boasts about $44 billion in retail market spending. Generation Z prefers a streamlined layout that loads fast and works well on mobile devices. Think about the general preferences of the generation who buys your products, including colors, fonts, shapes, layouts and overall styles.

Keep in mind that the colors chosen for your design must also match the brand’s color palette and work well with surrounding features. The challenge is to reconcile user preferences with your existing brand style. If your brand uses muted colors only, but you want to speak to a younger target group with some brighter colors, you need to find a middle ground that incorporates some of those user preferences without sacrificing your brand style.

At the same time, make sure the contrast between the colors used in your design and the background allow for easy viewing even for those with vision impairments or accessing your site on smaller screens.

Also pay attention to user preferences for navigation and layout. Younger people are more likely to access your site via mobile devices, so placing clickable elements within thumb’s reach and using responsive graphics makes viewing easier on smaller screens. Millennials prefer less cluttered spaces with plenty of white space, so if that’s your target audience, use important elements only on the page.

3. Choose intuitive navigation

web screenshot for ux
Make your navigation intuitive, so people can easily find what they’re looking for. Web design by FuturisticBug.

Users have a sense of where your navigation should go, and if you’re too far outside the norm, they may grow aggravated and bounce away from your site. You have five to 10 seconds to make a first impression on site visitors.

An intuitive layout similar to what most other sites use allows visitors to see where key features are at a glance and makes your site more accessible. People are accustomed to seeing a particular order in a website’s layout and they’ll immediately look to that area for features on your page, such as the home button (or your logo that acts as a home button) in the far left spot in your navigation bar.

Navigation forms the entire architecture of your site. Look at internal analytics and see where visitors head when they land on your website. The top performers likely form categories for your navigation structure. Elements such as content and FAQs go under each main category.

Where you place elements in your navigation bar matters, too. For example, the most critical categories should appear first and less important ones farthest to the right. Since visitors often use the Home button to navigate back to the landing page, it should appear on the farthest left or on top of the nav bar. Place your contact button to the far right, since that’s where most sites put it.

4. Utilize directional signage

web screenshot for ux with directional signage
Use directional signage to guide your visitors through your page. Web design by Mithum.

User experience applies to more than just your website. Any interaction a customer has with your brand plays into their impression of the company as a whole. Directional signage can help to improve the experience your visitors have by leading them to what they’re looking for—be it on a website or in store.

For example, a storefront design should include directional signage to bring in foot traffic. Add a bold arrow pointing the way to a special event at your store.

Similarly, you can improve sections of your website by directing visitors where you’d like them to go, such as to new items or a special offer. Directional signage draws in traffic from the homepage and then moves it through your site in the direction you want.

You can use directional signage online in whatever way makes the most sense for your user journey, such as pointing the way to a CTA or your checkout area. For example, add a red arrow pointing the way from an informative video to the a “Shop Now” button. You can use any type of arrow and even add in words, such as “scroll down” to point people in the right direction.

5. Understand current trends

trendy web screenshot for ux
Show your visitors that you’re up-to-date with the current trends—like this web design that uses the isometric design trend. By Spillo (Luigi Burrelli).

Staying up-to-date on current trends is a vital part of designing a website or store. Knowing what’s trending with your target demographic lets you tap into popular culture.

In addition to staying on top of current web design trends, you can hone in on elements that make your brand stand out, such as shapeshifting logos that engage the user or ghost letters, which involves typography outlined in white but with a transparent interior, so the background shows through. This helps the user remember why they landed on the page to start with and highlights your hero image behind the words.

Consumers expect that you’ll understand their pain points and what they need from a brand. Following pop culture and current trends allows you to see what drives your audience and solve their problems. In addition to browsing social media, read blogs to stay up to date on trends and pain points.

6. Less is more

simple web screenshot for ux
A minimalist web design with lots of white space. Web design by MarkoSimic.

Cut down on the elements on your page or in your store for better user experience. A cluttered website or storefront is difficult for users to navigate. They don’t know where to go first and what elements are essential.

Learn the balance between negative and positive space, so there is enough room to show what’s available. Highlight important products and information by adding even more white space around this. Extra negative space also works in a store where you’d like user attention drawn to a new product. Place it on a large table and leave the aisles around it clear.

For a website, keep your focus on one or two elements—both in terms of design and content. Highlight your strengths as a brand and cut anything that doesn’t match your overall purpose. If you try to be everything to everyone, you’ll aggravate everybody.

7. Plan and test the user journey

wireframe on notebook with pen and phone
Carefully plan your design. A wireframe helps you figure out what the user journey is going to look like. Via PicJumbo.com.

Utilizing a wireframe to sketch out the architecture of a website or layout of a store prevents any major user errors. You’ll immediately see any gaps or elements that overlap.

Carefully planning the design of your online or offline store is key to good user experience. Test each element, running it through the perspective of your buyer persona. Think about the user journey for your page. What is the ideal order a user travels through your site and into your sales funnel.

When you find an element that isn’t working or is questionable, brainstorm ways of fixing that feature. When your website goes live or your store opens, the experience on the user’s end should appear seamless. Test every element before the public interacts with it for the first time.

For an online site:

  • Click on all links to make sure they work and go where they’re intended. Also, consider where users think a link will lead based on what the anchor text is describing, and make sure the link’s content aligns with that.
  • Fill out and submit forms.
  • Check page load speed and make sure all images load properly.
  • Test your site on a variety of screen sizes and device types.

For a physical store:

  • Test point of sale (POS) systems to make sure items ring up correctly and train employees on all the details of the software.
  • Offer a soft open where a limited number of people are invited to visit for special deals and employees can test out systems and practice customer service policies.
  • Watch the overall traffic flow in the store and see if anything needs adjusting in your layout.

The best way to meet user needs is through testing, and you can never test too much.

8. Evaluate usability

woman pointing at laptop screen
Evaluate your design’s usability. Via Rawpixel.com

Another element to look at to improve your website’s UX is usability. It’s vital to evaluate this before going live. Take a look at how usable your site is for everyone, including those with vision impairments or who might need to utilize voice commands. If someone is colorblind, how does your site appear to them? Contrast is key for making your site usable for everyone. There are several ways you can evaluate your site’s usability:

  • Heuristic evaluation: Specialists examine the interface of your site and report back on how well it aligns with government usability recommendations. Heuristics identifies problems in the user interface of your site so you can fix them before they drive visitors away.
  • A/B split testing: If you’re not sure how user-friendly a particular feature is, conduct split testing with two different versions of your page. Change colors, the location of elements and even wording and see which performs best.
  • Questionnaires: Send out surveys to your customers about their experience. What do they like about your site and what do they hate?

Make any final adjustments to your site before taking it live. It’s also important to consistently test your site and make modifications as the makeup of your audience changes or new methods arise.

9. Get regular feedback

web screenshot of online poll
Send out polls to gather feedback. Design by PerfectMail.

Even after your website goes live or your store opens, get feedback from site visitors and thoroughly test all components to make sure the UI and UX work. Conduct polls and ask your customers what they love and hate about your site or your store and make adjustments as needed.

Pay attention to any customer complaints about the usability of your site or store. If someone comes into your store and mentions that it’s difficult to get to the checkout area because of clutter, think through how you can improve this. Pay attention to what customers say, and you’ll consistently enhance your business for their use.

Testing and fixing issues shouldn’t be a one-time job when your site goes live or your store opens, but something you regularly conduct as part of your maintenance tasks.

Harness the power of UX

Focusing on UX is a powerful method of driving customers to your business and retaining them. Consumers want a seamless experience from the moment they step into your store or land on your website. They should know where to go and how to complete the sale without any major stumbling blocks. Look at your business through the eyes of your target audience and design to their preferences.

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