User experience (UX) is an all-encompassing term describing how people interact with your platform.
When it comes to web design, UX is the difference between an effective website and an average website.
Bad UX will force users to quickly click the ‘back’ button. Good UX will convert users into customers, encourage them to read more, and give them a good overall experience.
Build Upon the Top 7 Pillars of UX
UX isn’t just about your menu design or the size of your font; instead, it’s about multiple factors that make up the user experience.
According to Peter Morville, the seven pillars of the user experience (UX) include all of the following:
Useful: Your website needs to have some unique use for visitors. It needs to fulfill a need.
Usable: Your website must be easy to use.
Desirable: Your content and branding should evoke emotion and appreciation in visitors.
Findable: Visitors should be able to locate content onsite with ease.
Accessible: Content needs to be accessible to people with disabilities (think of people with color blindness, low vision, and similar disabilities that could affect browsing).
Credible: You must establish trust by creating reputable branding and content.
Keep each of these seven pillars in mind when building your website, creating content, and establishing a brand online. These are the foundations of a successful online user experience.
Understand Websites Are Scanned, Not Read
People don’t read a website like they read a novel. They scan the website for information, quickly get the information they need, and leave.
As some communication experts explain, people are “raiders not readers.”
According to Nielsen Norman Group research, 79% of users scan every page they come across on the internet, with only 16% of users reading word by word.
That’s why good UX requires you to make your webpage scannable. You need to highlight keywords, create meaningful subheadings, build bulleted lists, and make smaller paragraphs.
Some of the ways to make your content more scannable include:
- Use the inverted pyramid theory of web content, where you put the conclusion first before building the argument below
- Cut the word count in half
- Use bulleted lists
- Write meaningful sub-headings
- Highlight keywords or crucial points
- Write one idea per paragraph
Assume visitors read web content in an ‘E’ shape, starting with the heading, and then quickly scanning a handful of headings and sentences before reaching the end
Reduce Cognitive Load
Nielsen Norman Group also recommends minimizing cognitive load to maximize usability.
That’s a fancy way of saying “dumb down your content for users.”
Don’t make your users think to understand your content. Give them the information they need. The more mental processing is needed to understand your content, the less readers will understand your content.
Your webpage shouldn’t feel like reading a textbook. Users should be able to quickly understand the purpose of your content.
Some of the best ways to minimize cognitive load include:
Avoid visual clutter. Adding irrelevant images, meaningless typography, and other flowery stuff to your content will slow users down without purpose. When you use visuals in your content, make sure there’s a purpose.
Use similar design principles to other websites. When people visit a website, they expect a certain layout. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If users are confused about where to look, where to click, and how to process your content, they’ll get confused and leave.
Offload tasks. Don’t force users to remember information, make a decision, or read unnecessary text. Replace text with images wherever possible. Give users the answers to their decisions. Re-display previous information your users need to know. All of this will reduce the cognitive load on your users.
When users get confused, they leave. To avoid confusing users, minimize the cognitive load as much as possible.
Create Clear Visual Hierarchy
Good visual hierarchy is crucial for good UX. When your content has good visual hierarchy, users can quickly understand the relationship between information on a page.
You can create good visual hierarchy through:
- Variations in color and contrast
- Variations in scale and size
- Grouping like elements together
- Using common font for headings, paragraphs, and other content on the page
When you establish visual hierarchy correctly, you influence the way users process information on your page. Instead of reading the subheadings before the main headings, users will process your headings, subheadings, and content in the order they’re meant to be read.
Visual hierarchy may seem straightforward. However, many UX designers get visual hierarchy wrong.
Good visual hierarchy brings order to the page, giving users a strong foundation on which they can understand the rest of your content.
Establish Smart Navigation Structure
Navigation is more important than search. If a user cannot find the information they need through your site’s built-in navigation, then they’re unlikely to search for that information. Most will just leave.
Good navigation allows users to quickly and easily find the content they need on your website.
Does your site have a clear navigation structure? Things to watch for include:
Prioritize Consistency: Good websites have consistent menus, subheadings, and UI throughout. Users can quickly determine which page they’re on, how to get to different sections of the site, and how to navigate.
Make Interactive Areas Obvious: As explained by Stephanie Lin of UX Booth, clear navigation structure involves making interactive areas obvious. You should have clear areas of functionality, clear icons, and clear links. Users should be able to easily see which areas of your site they can click on to navigate, discover more information, and move to a different area.
Avoid Deep Navigation: In theory, it might make sense to have five levels of navigation in a menu bar. In practice, however, it rarely makes for good UX. Most UX experts recommend limiting the number of levels. The deeper a hierarchy becomes, the more likely visitors will become disoriented. Flat navigation (where users can access any page on the website with one or two clicks) is ideal.
Clear Level Indicators: Users should be able to quickly see which level they’re on. Whether scrolling through a menu or browsing to secondary pages, users should be able to recognize their level based on front styles, font sizes, and colors.
Avoid Reinventing the Wheel
As creative professionals, it’s easy to overthink things. You might want to avoid copying others, for example. Or, you might want to create your own unique site design.
In theory, this sounds good: you create something unique while flexing your creative muscle.
In practice, fully unique website designs simply confuse most users, encouraging them to click the ‘back’ button and visit a site with a more conventional design.
Avoid reinventing the wheel when designing your website. Most websites use top horizontal or left-side vertical navigation for a reason. You can incorporate your own unique design into the UX, but don’t make it so unique that users struggle to navigate.
Implement Accessibility Best Practices
Accessibility is an often overlooked part of UX. For various reasons, people interact with your website in different ways. Good accessibility makes your website accessible without excluding anyone.
According to Accessibility.digital.gov, good UX involves an inclusive design mentality. That means considering people with:
Vision Disabilities: Blindness, low vision, and color blindness.
Hearing Disabilities: Deafness, low hearing, and tinnitus.
Motor Problems: Hand tremors, physical deformities, and amputations.
Cognitive Disorders: Dementia, dyslexia, fatigue, or lack of focus.
People with disabilities already navigate the internet without issue. Many use assistive technologies, including screen reader tools or screen magnifiers. Good UX requires you to accommodate these technologies to make your website accessible to the maximum possible number of people
It’s easy to say that the best UX practices are changing constantly. However, that’s not entirely true: many of the practices above are as old as the internet.
By combining proven UX practices with modern design, you can create an effective website for any user.