Have you ever walked through an airport looking at signs above you, ahead of you, on the walls to either side of you feeling a bit lost while trying to make sense of where you’re headed? Like most things people do, you’re there with a purpose. Maybe you’re looking for a specific gate. Maybe you’re headed to the baggage carousel. Or the nearest airport shop to purchase a bottle of water before boarding your flight. Either way, you rely on the signage around you to orient yourself and find the specific destination you have in mind.
If the signage is good, and you’re able to quickly find what you’re looking for, you feel a sense of satisfaction. Mission accomplished, well done me. Conversely, if the signage is confusing, or worse yet, missing, you may become frustrated, feel like you’re wasting your time, and you may even grow to dislike the airport, telling yourself that it’s been poorly designed.
How intuitive and easy it is to find something impacts the person’s impression of their surrounding. The exact same is true of the web, and the term we use to describe it is the ‘user experience’.
Take the above scenario and ask yourself whether you’ve recently had an unsatisfactory experience on a website. Chances are you couldn’t find what you were looking for, or it took too long to make sense of your options. Sound familiar?
The good news is that unlike your experience at the airport, you can choose to abandon the site and search for another site that will provide you what you’re looking for, but faster. If the new site rewards you with a smooth and satisfactory user experience, you’re more likely to return to it (over the first site) in the future.
The bad news is that if you’re the owner of the first site, you’ve just lost a user. This can be particularly bad news if your website is one that aims to increase your revenue streams (through e-commerce channels) or raise awareness and equity of your brand or initiatives.
In the world of user experience designers, we aim to produce design solutions that are intuitive to the user. The following diagram, a derivation of Peter Morville’s user experience honeycomb diagram, nicely encapsulates what a user experience professional must consider when designing a site’s layout and navigation channels.
As described by its author, the goal is for the site to provide value to the user, or a valuable user experience. In order for the user to assess whether that value has been achieved, the information on the site must 1) be easy to find/access, 2) the user must be attracted to the interface and want to use it (for example, it must appear well designed and look uncluttered), 3) the actual navigation of the site must be easy to use, and 4) the information credible / useful.
Next time you visit a site, ask yourself whether the sites meets all of these criteria. Chances are your willingness to return to the site will directly correlate to whether those elements were positively experienced on the site.
In upcoming, I will introduce a concept called user-cenetered design and will explain why designing for users’ needs and putting them at the center of your design decisions ensures an optimal user experience.Sophie Campagne is the Managing Director of User Experience and Design at Forum One Communications in Washington, DC. She has studied usability and user-centered design for over 10 years in both the commercial and non-profit sectors.