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Blog Post

Take 5: User Experience Matters

by Cheryl Little
July 7, 2015

In 2014, the total number of websites in the world reached over 1 billion. That’s a LOT of competition, elevating the importance of providing an effortless web experience to the now, often sophisticated, visitor. The visitor experience - aka the ‘user experience’ - can be successfully developed using a wide variety of tools and methods. Have you ever heard the saying “If you build it, they will come?" When talking about a great user experience, if you build it, they will return. Here are five basic guidelines I’ve found helpful in the website design and development process that will encourage frequent return visits.

1. Choose Your Mission

Everybody needs a goal, right? Websites do too. Your website goal can be in the form of a mission statement or a clear, concise goal statement. The statement should be ‘actionable’ and ‘measurable.’ A frequently used method for setting a website goal is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound. However the format, your website’s goal provides a navigational compass that will help steer you toward the best solution when complex decisions arise. This is your “bottom line.” With your goal statement in place, you can answer the question: “does making this _______ decision help accomplish the goal?”

2. Organize and Prioritize

The ‘user experience’ should be closely aligned with the content strategy of your website. The hierarchy of content informs the structure and placement of important elements, guiding the audience through an effortless, engaging experience. If you want the visitor to find a clear path to the information they’re seeking (and who doesn’t?), organizing the content on your website is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Content organization is a well documented subject with many helpful methods available. One popular method, referred to as the LATCH principle, was originally presented in 1989 by Richard Saul Wurman in his book Information Anxiety. "The organization of information...can only be organized by LATCH: Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, or Hierarchy."

3. Consistency is Key

Consistency will help your website stand apart by providing the visitor a polished, effortless experience. Consistency in the content, design, elements, and interactions of those elements help to ensure a logical path to the information.

  • Content: Your website’s content should feel like it’s written by the same person – it should share the same tone and mood. Often this can be a challenge when multiple contributing editors are involved in the writing process. If done successfully, this will make the experience more unified throughout the site. The amount of content should also be carefully considered. Even though we’re no longer talking about 'saving trees,' it still takes time to read those extra words. Add an image or subtitle where appropriate to help break up extra-long copy.
  • Design: Design consistency can be accomplished with the use of a grid system for the layout, and a style guide for elements like colors, fonts, graphic treatments and components. 
  • Elements: The main elements of your website should be in the same place throughout your site. Period. The placement of the main navigation, footer and sidebar should appear in the same place or your visitors will probably get frustrated and leave. Consistency means ensuring a logical path. Moving primary elements to different places is ‘highly illogical,’ as Spock would say.
  • Interactions: The behavior - or interaction - of the website elements should also be consistent. What happens when a button is clicked or a photo enlarges? Whatever the pattern of behavior, it should be consistent.

4. Accessibility for Usability

Did you know that approximately 15% of the world’s population live with a disability? That’s an estimated 1 billion people who can’t visit or navigate your website if you’ve not considered accessibility in the user experience. Many references and tools are available that provide techniques and criteria for successful accessibility compliance, including those provided by W3
Here are a few guiding accessibility principles to keep in mind:

  • Perceivable: Information should not be provided through text alone. Images should include ‘alt text.’ Audio or videos should provide an alternate text-based format. Colors should be analyzed to ensure the contrast is high enough for readability.
  • Operable: Visitors should be able to navigate by using a mouse, keyboard, voice recognition, switches, or any other input device. No functionality should rely on the use of the mouse alone, such as custom Javascript components which can present difficulty for the visually impaired. Buttons, links and clickable targets should be large and easy to read. Avoid content that flashes – it may cause seizures.
  • Understandable: Clear content and a logical interface provides ease of use and understanding. Consistent (there’s that word again) elements inform the user. Use clear language, and when including unfamiliar terms, define them. Avoid large blocks of text. Spell out requirements ahead of time. (Have you ever filled out a form, hit ‘submit' and got an error message because you missed entering a field that was required?)
  • Robust: Make sure your website works on a wide variety of devices, browsers and assistive technologies. Basing the design approach on standards provided by W3C ensures compatibility. Use semantic HTML, CSS for styles, and Javascript for behavior. And including a search bar always helps! 

5. Know Thy User

The target audience of your website may be one or many. To attract those audiences, you must understand the challenges, needs and expectations they’ll have when visiting your website. By creating a User Persona for each audience type, you can document their journey as they would access specific information. User Personas also help when organizing the content. Various resources and templates are available, which can be very helpful when creating User Personas. Check out our free User Persona e-book

Performing user research through interviews, surveys, card sorting exercises, focus groups, usability and A/B testing can also improve the user experience. Paying close attention to what the participants say and do (or even don’t do) will provide helpful insight into special considerations and adjustments that may be needed to attract the attention of your target audience and ensure they’re able to find the information they’re seeking – effortlessly. 

Additional Resources

5 Simple Things You Can Do To Make Your Site More Accessible | Mediacurrent Blog Post 
Building Accessibility into a Website from the Start | Mediacurrent Blog Post 
Designing for Personas | Mediacurrent Blog Post 
Things To Test Before Your Website Launches | Free eBook 

Meet team member, Cheryl Little

As the Senior Director of UX, Cheryl leads the Digital Strategy and Design teams at Mediacurrent.  She capitalizes on opportunities by using the intersections of both disciplines,  effectively enhancing each project while providing maximum ROI for clients. Her strengths include research and design of user-centered products, creative direction, organizational management, and process improvement.

Cheryl is an award-winning UX/UI Designer with more than 20 years of professional design experience. Cheryl has led the research, strategy, and design of dozens of enterprise-level websites and applications. She works closely with clients and technical product teams to deliver seamless and memorable user experiences, solving complex challenges for a wide variety of industries including travel & tourism, retail, entertainment, e-commerce, higher education, finance, healthcare, non-profit, and technology. Her experience designing and coding custom websites, as well as Drupal, Wordpress, and Sharepoint Content Management Systems gives her a holistic view essential for bringing each client’s vision to life.

Intrigued by the human brain and how design can influence our decisions, she undertook training programs in human psychology and earned a certificate in Digital Psychology & Persuasion. With a demonstrated ability to create and capture sustainable and profitable value from innovation, she relies on data and research to inform design in the process of creating user-centered experiences that delight and convert.

Cheryl lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and their dog, Olly the Rottweiler. When she’s not encouraging her teams and pushing the UX envelope, you can find her on hikes around LA, sampling the latest new restaurants, or in the audience at live music shows throughout the city.

Learn more about Cheryl >

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