PublisherSol Minion Developmenthttps: Custom Software user experienceapplication development

When you embark on the journey of creating something, it's important to remember your audience. Whether it's coming up with a great blog or presentation, a re-designed or completely new Web site, or a brand new product or service, it's important to keep in mind that, without an audience, you're really just talking to yourself.

I've seen my share of the Web. Whether it's a custom application, a Web site, or a mobile app, the most common mistake that persists among many small business owners and entrepreneurs is that they design for themselves and not for their audience. That's not to say that every design is invalid, only that many business owners think about looking at a Web site they like even though its's their customers and, more importantly, their potential customers who will be looking at the site or application and deciding whether or not they want to proceed.

User experience (UX) is very subjective and you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who agrees on every detail of what works, is intuitive, or "looks good". What you can do, however, is create an experience based on human behavior principles. We'll talk about this in the context of both Web Apps and Web Sites.

Web Apps

Web apps are Web sites that have customized logic and do more than just market your company - they enable your customers to do things (just like any application you have on your home or work computer does). These same principles can also be applied to mobile apps, but we'll just refer to everything as a Web app for simplicity.

Due to the logic involved in a Web App, these are much more difficult to get right on the first try, but collecting user feedback and acting on it to improve their experience over time is key. When designing a Web app, it's important to break things down into smaller concepts or workflows. Failing to do so could easily overwhelm anyone. To do this, break things down into a single unit of work/workflow. Each of these workflows will typically represent a screen or view of your application and you can break the experience down by asking:

These questions determine how prominent access to a function should be and asking for just enough information keeps you from overwhelming a user or making a workflow too complex to complete. If a button or link to a frequently-used workflow is hidden in a menu, a user may not be able to easily find it, which will frustrate them. Similarly, if a workflow isn't broken down into simple enough steps, the user is going to feel overwhelmed and become similarly frustrated.

When crafting the experience you want your users to have, you should consider these two questions. Working with a front-end developer while answering these questions in the planning stages will help you create a more intuitive user experience.

Web Sites

When an Internet user wants to find out about a company, they turn to the company's Web site. That's assuming they already know about the product or service in question. In some cases, they just know what they need (a restaurant, a handyman, an employee, a consultant) and they turn to "The Google" and rely on their algorithm to help point them in the right direction. That leads them to a site and with so much variety, they have to identify whether the site is what they were looking for quickly. Every Web site should answer these two questions immediately (within a couple seconds):

If either of those questions is missed, you'll miss out on capturing the information (and potentially increase your "bounce rate" with Google Analytics, which may affect your site rank). Branding placement has changed over the years. With responsive design that means having the logo in a prominent place on the site. Most people read left to right (if you're not in the US, this paradigm may not apply to your company), so having the logo in the upper left corner makes it one of the first things a visitor sees (helping them with the "Who are you?" question). It also serves, in current UX convention, as a means of resetting or returning to a user to their starting point (have you noticed how on almost every site, clicking the logo takes you to the site's home page?).

There are other concepts to consider when crafting a user's experience for a Web site, such as what's visible "above the fold", responsive design, and how you should place calls to action, but that's beyond the scope of a single article, so let's just leave you with this final thought. It's not about your experience, but the experience of your clients, prospective clients, and customers. Next time you're looking at your application or site, put yourself in your their place and ask yourself the questions above. If you can't answer the question within a few seconds, it's probably time to make some adjustments.

Anatomy 101 is a series of articles about the planning process behind the creation of custom Web sites and applications. It's goal is to help our clients understand how a project is successful.