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User Experience Design: 4 Essential Elements & Awesome Resources to Save

User Experience Design: 4 Essential Elements & Awesome Resources to Save Blog Feature

August 17th, 2017 min read

When it comes to user experience design (UXD), my main source of inspiration, Steve Jobs said it best, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

As marketers, we design user experiences every single day, whether we’re aware of it or not. Each time a prospect visits your landing pages, uses your site navigation, and even fills out a form, they’re interacting with your UX design.

Now, you may not be a professional graphic designer or UX/UI designer and that’s okay, but it’s vital that you’re aware you are design experiences for your site visitors and they could be awful ones.

Don’t fret, you don’t need to go to school for four years to understand the fundamentals of good user experience design and apply it to your marketing.

Here, I’ve broken down the four most important elements of user experience design (from the lens of a marketing strategist). Use these elements in every new change you make to your website to ensure that you’re creating the experiences you intend to for your visitors.

They’ll thank you for it by returning to your site and actually engaging with it, but first, let's answer the obvious:

What is User Experience Design?

User experience design is the strategic combination of best practices in usability, function, accessibility, and overall ease of, when designing and developing a product.

In other words, it is the strategic planning of how people interact with a product and putting particular pieces in place to make it happen as easily, naturally, and even fun, as possible. 

For the case of this blog, your product is your website. 

4 Elements of User Experience Design

1. Strategy

Being a strategist by trade, it’s only natural my first recommendation is to think about the strategy of the page/site you’re creating.

Strategy is never something that can be glossed over, skipped, or paired down just to get to the “real” work quicker. It can be frustrating to feel like progress isn’t being made or to not have a tangible design to show for the efforts of your work, but skipping this phase carries risks you should never be willing to take. A well-designed or built website is not your end goal in user experience design: your end-goal is achieving the business goals you’ve outlined with your stakeholders.

So, what exactly does strategy mean in this case?

The strategy phase for user experience design consists primarily of answering these three questions:

1) Who Is This For?

If I had a nickel for every time I had to convince a company their website wasn’t about them -- I’d have a lot of nickels.

Yes, your website showcases who you are, what you do, why you do it, and that you’re the best at it - but none of that really matters unless you first create an experience designed for your buyer personas.

Everything we, as digital marketers, do should directly tie back to those we are ultimately serving - our personas. This includes our user experience design.

Understanding who is coming to the site/page and what they are trying to accomplish will direct every decision to you have to make.

Don’t build personas and leave them in Google Drive. Build personas so rich that you could picture them as a real person and then filter everything you create through their point of view.

2) What Is The Purpose of This?  

Once you understand WHO this page/site is for, you’ll need to understand why this piece will exist?

Does this page exist to provide information? If so, what information?

Each page on your site, including landing pages, should always start with a purpose. Deciding on the purpose of this page early on will guide you as you work through the following elements of user experience design.

3) What Should the Visitor Do?

You now know who this page is for and why it exists, now determine the what. What action do you want your visitor to take when visiting this page?

Never leave your visitor unclear about what you want them to do next. Consider the logical next-steps that would help your persona complete their goals.

There are a lot of ways that you can denote the actions and provide that direction and you don’t have to figure that out now, but you do need to understand where this page fits in the journey and what comes next.

2. Foundational Requirements

When you’ve answered all the strategy questions and you understand the who, why, and what, it’s time to scope out what will be on the page.

User experience design combines the look, feel, content, graphics, and development requirements and creates a complete solution. Scoping is the second step to creating that solution.

There are a few different requirements to flesh out during the scoping phase:

Content Requirements

In order to fulfill the purpose of your page, you need to determine the content requirements of the page. Don’t read content as written copy.

Written page copy is one type of content that will most likely be present on the page, but don’t neglect imagery and video.

You don’t have to write the copy or have the videos shot during this phase, but having a shopping list of what will be needed in order to complete this page is vital.

With your content requirements in hand, you can plan how and when the content will be created and what it should say.

Functional Requirements

If the content is the story, the functional requirements are how we tell the story. A few things to consider are:

  • Will your images need to slide or be in a lightbox?
  • Will parallax be a feature you’d like to use?
  • If using video, how will that work?
  • Should your page include hover elements?

Similarly to your content requirements - having a list of what you need the page to do in terms of function before moving on.

3. Skeleton

While each element of user experience design is important, the structure phase is, in my opinion, the most important.

Structuring your page combines the strategy, content, and functions elements and begins to layout what this will actually look like.

Wireframing is an essential step in laying the structure of your page and being able to visualize how it all comes together.

Your wireframe should NOT be a design, fully-fleshed out with colors and functions, instead really focus on how you’re presenting the information to your personas to help them reach their goals.

A few things to consider when wireframing your page:

4. Surface

If the structure phase of user experience design is the most important, then the surface elements are my favorite!

This is where your graphic designer really gets to shine their talents in combining the strategy, purpose, requirements, desired actions with design best practices to create the visual representation of the page.

Your branding, color choices, and imagery selection should all be directed toward solving for these points:

  • How your visitor will move around (navigate) your page/site.
  • What visual elements should be represented (graphic, photography, etc.)
  • How interactive elements will be communicated visually to the user
  • How the information will best be consumed and understood

The final result of your surface elements will be a completed design of your page. You should be able to speak to every element present, answer why it’s there, what action it should drive for your visitor, and ultimately who this is for.

Non-Designer User Experience Design Resources

Successful user experience design doesn’t require that you get all the elements right for every single person who will visit your site. It means that you’ve considered the intention of each page, who it serves, and applied best practices to the structure and design of your site.

As a non-designer, I use a lot of resources to help me understand what should and should not be on the pages that we build. A few of my favorites are listed below!

Hotjar: HotJar is a great tool for testing how your finished product performs in the real world. With heat mapping, scrolling and click data, and the ability to launch surveys, I use HotJar to review how new or changed pages resonate with our visitors.

HubSpot: HubSpot has a lot of great articles about creating user experiences and the best practices to follow. This is one of my favorite articles in applying UXD to landing pages.

User Testing: Who better to tell you if the page you’re working on will connect with your persona than your actual persona? UserTesting.com allows you to crowd source feedback from an audience matched with your persona criteria. Submit your page and/or site and listen to the feedback that you’re hearing and implement improvements to your user experience based on what you learn.

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