Website UX Design Principles & Best Practices

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User Experience is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. Everyone wants to create websites with great UX, but often the result is far from perfect. In light of COVID-19, more and more businesses are relying on their online presence to connect with customers, which means that the stakes are higher than ever for delivering an online experience that keeps them coming back again and again. But what makes for good UX? And are there any guidelines to follow to ensure that your website provides a great user experience?

6 Website UX Design Principles & Best Practices

1. Usability Is Your Guide

A website’s usability refers to how easily a user can interact with it and perform actions on it. While user behavior may vary based on industry or changes in technology, usability principles remain steady over time because they are rooted in the fundamental ways in which humans interact with systems. User experience experts have identified five aspects that determine usability:

  • Learnability — how easily users can perform actions and accomplish their goals the first time they experience the design
  • Efficiency of use — how quickly experienced users can perform tasks within the design
  • Memorability — how easily a user can remember how to perform actions after returning to the design
  • Errors and recovery — how often users make errors in the design, the severity of the errors, and how easily they can recover from them
  • Satisfaction — the feeling of value a user experiences when encountering and using a design

So then, how do you know if your website is usable? Usability tests, of course! This requires getting real users involved to see how easily they can perform tasks, where they run into problems, and if there are trends across these user sessions. These tests can be done in-person with an observer present, or remotely with tools like UserlyticsLookback, and more.

2. Know Your Users

With usability as the basic building block of your website’s UX, the most important thing you can do is user research. Tools like Google Analytics can allow you to deepdive into user details and behavior, whereas HotjarCrazyEgg, and others allow for more specific testing, such as heatmaps, user recordings, surveys, form testing, and more. At minimum, user research should uncover the answers to basic questions like: Who is coming to your website? Where are they coming from and where are they going? And what are they doing once they get there?

Having this data at your disposal can help you create a website that is specially-tailored to meet the needs of your actual users while also achieving your business goals for the site. It may also uncover opportunities to reach new audiences or prioritize certain types of content that’s more relevant to your existing audience.

3. Start with Mobile

Every year, mobile traffic eats more of the internet usage share, and users are becoming more confident making purchases and performing complex actions from their phones. Having a mobile website that looks good and performs well, therefore, is more important than ever. Mobile-first design forces you to think about the most essential elements of your website. You have limited visual real estate, limited navigational options, and you lose interactive states like right-clicks and hover states. Functionality must be streamlined, and users journeys pared down to their clearest path.

When mobile design is not considered at the outset, you run the risk of trying to force a design onto smaller devices that simply doesn’t work. Starting with mobile allows you to strategically add features as the screen size expands, ensuring that each breakpoint has the optimal navigation and layout.

4. Simple and Consistent Design

User interfaces can be thought of as functional art. That is, designers should always strive to make beautiful products, but at the end of the day those products must do something. Visual elements that detract from that purpose should be avoided. Good UX must also balance creativity and innovation with user expectations. For example, creating a completely new gesture to reveal a navigation menu on mobile devices will probably alienate more users than it delights.

That’s not to say that innovative UI is always a bad thing, especially if your brand is edgy or avante garde. But — applying the principle of learnability we discussed earlier — you must always clue-in the user when you challenge their expectations, and guide them through the processes of using your website.

Good design should also be consistent throughout the site. Of course, this involves brand consistency, but it goes beyond that. If you utilize cute animations on one page but the others are flat and lifeless, it can disrupt a user’s experience on your website, as their brains are reconfiguring expectations every time they load a new page. Likewise, navigation should be consistent throughout the site. If your navigation elements are always moving around or become hidden, users will get lost and frustrated and are likely to abandon your site.

5. Content Matters

While there is plenty of advice out there about writing compelling content for your website, how does that factor into UX? Well, for one thing, we spend a lot of time reading and interacting with words on a website. If those words don’t inform us and help us achieve our goals on the site, it can result in a bad user experience, even if the graphics are beautiful and the page load time is lightning fast.

Quick Content Tips for Good UX

Make the Content Scannable 

Visitors to your website aren’t interested in reading a novel or a longform article. They want to access the relevant information quickly to perform an action. Use headlines to your advantage, be concise, and avoid uninterrupted blocks of text.

Don’t Trick Users 

Dark UX patterns are those that mislead users into performing actions they had no intention of doing, such as adding items to their cart, signing up for a list, or navigating to pages they weren’t trying to get to. Misleading copy is one of the quickest ways to lose credibility with your users.

Help Users Out 

Let them know where they are on the website, and offer feedback when they perform an action. If they make an error, tell them what went wrong and why. For example, if you have a form with required fields — aside from indicating required fields — offer an error message if the user leaves one of the fields blank.

Pay Attention to Microcopy 

Words on buttons, disclaimers, and other snippets of often-overlooked text can make a big difference in delighting or disappointing users who visit your site. Not only can this microcopy entice a user to complete an action, it lets them know exactly what will happen if they do.

6. Great UX Is Always a Process

While it’s always important to do your research up front, odds are you’ll never get it perfectly right the first time — and that’s ok! Design should be an iterative process. This means making mistakes early and often, but always learning from them. Even after you launch your website, continue collecting data and user feedback. If it doesn’t match your expectations, that’s not a failure on your part. It’s an opportunity to learn and adapt. Continually optimizing your website for your user base will only lead to more conversions for you and better experiences for them as they come to your site.

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