What’s user experience got to do with conversions? Everything.

Great user experience is a means to an end. You don’t create awesome user experiences just to make somebody happy. You want it to lead to something – be it sticking around on your social networking site or buying your stuff.

Whenever users land on your website, they’re having an experience. The quality of their experience has a significant impact on their opinion (‘do I like it?’), referral possibility (‘do I tweet or talk about it?’) and ultimately, conversions – will people do what we want them to do.

User experience matters a lot. More than most people realize. The best designed user experiences get out of the way and just help people get sh*t done.
 Less is more. If you have to explain it, you’ve already failed.

- Jason Goldberg, founder and CEO of Fab.com.

So is their focus on user experience paying off? Seems to be. In just two years they reached $150 million in annual sales.

Here’s a great animated video that explains how UX design delivers ROI:

Getting things right: what UX is and what it’s not

First of all, UI (user interface) is not UX (user experience). A car with all its looks, dashboard and steering wheel is the UI. Driving it is the UX. So the interface directly contributes to the experience (beautiful car interior makes a better experience sitting in one), but is not the experience itself.

Here’s a great infographic on the differences between UX, UI and more.

Visual beauty is important for websites, but visual design is only one step in the process. A beautiful website might make a great first impression, but if it has terrible usability, users can’t figure out what to do, forms on the site don’t quite work, the error messages are not helpful and the copy on the website is vague, the overall experience will be quite bad.

Experience is also personal and subjective – and is greatly affected by our past experiences, personal preferences, mood and a myriad of other things.

User experience is not something new that was invented along with the internet. Since the beginning of times great designers have understood the importance of experience (Sistine Chapel, anyone?), and how the object of design was going to used, in what context and for which end-purpose. By using the abbreviation ‘UX’ it just sounds new, but none of it really is.

All in all, the user experience is a shared responsibility of all those who contribute and support a product – from the UI designer to customer support people.

The user experience honeycomb

Peter Morville & friends developed the user experience honeycomb to describe all the facets of UX:

Here’s what it all means:

  • Useful. Is your product or website useful in any way? The more useful, the better the experience.
  • Usable. Ease of use. If it’s too complicated or confusing to use, you’ve already lost. Usability is necessary (but not sufficient).
  • Desirable. Our quest for efficiency must be tempered by an appreciation for the power and value of image, identity, brand, and other elements of emotional design.
  • Findable. We must strive to design navigable web sites and locatable objects, so users can find what they need.
  • Accessible. Just as our buildings have elevators and ramps, our web sites should be accessible to people with disabilities (more than 10% of the population). Today, it’s good business and the ethical thing to do. Eventually, it will become the law.
  • Credible. Websites need to be credible - know the design elements that influence whether users trust and believe what we tell them.
  • Valuable. Our sites must deliver value to our end-users. For non-profits, the user experience must advance the mission. With for-profits, it must contribute to the bottom line and improve customer satisfaction.

There are 3 ways to use this honeycomb:

  1. It enables you to have a meaningful conversations about improving and creating experiences
  2. You can assess your site through a specific lens, and get specific ideas as to what to improve
  3. If you can’t improve all of your website due to lack of time or budget, why not do a single-facet makeover?

So how do you design a good experience?

As per Ryan Singer from 37Signals, you need to cut it down into 3 steps:

  1. Know what is common to all people. Understand how the brain works, how people view websites, what makes people tick, how to boost readability, keep attention, come across as credible and so on.
  2. Know what is special about your users. How is your target group different from everybody else? What is it that they are trying to get done by using your site or product? You need to understand their purpose for using your product, how they talk about it, their points of reference and so on. This is called ‘domain knowledge’. If you don’t know this, you need to first identify your audience.
  3. Be empathetic to to your users. See it from the user’s perspective. If you know the job they want to get done, you can put yourself in their shoes in order to make the right decisions.

Some people say you can’t design ‘user experiences’, but instead you can only design for user experiences. Bryan from Zurb has this view on it:

The designers that work on Amazon.com don’t create the experience— they’re responsible for building the system, product and service that allowed those different experiences to happen. The designers work to understand how the user interacts with the website to create the most desirable and profitable experiences. We call that interaction design.

I hope we can all agree that user experience is a subjective feeling as people are different. The total experience of the user depends on huge amount of things starting from how their day started to their socio-economic status to personal preferences.

So when we talking about designing an experience, first of all we need to be on the same page that design is problem-solving, not “making things pretty”. The goal of a design is coming up with a  solution aimed at achieving a specific outcome – like getting people to sign up for something or checking availability in a hotel.

Experience design is deciding on the experience you want people to have with a website or a product (how someone feels, behaves, thinks as they interact with).

Examples of great user experience

Let’s look a few sites that provide a really good user experience – and analyze them using the UX honeycomb.

#1 Hipmunk

“Our main philosophy is that we want you to spend as little time on our site as possible with the least amount of pain.”

- Hipmunk cofounder Steve Huffman

  • Useful? Very much so. The focus is on finding flights, sorted by hassle.
  • Usable? Amazingly easy to use.
  • Desirable? Fun, great design.
  • Findable? The core functionality is in your face, can’t look past it.
  • Credible? Their modern and uncluttered design helps to come across credible. No credibility blunders here.
  • Valuable? Tons.

#2 Nest:

Never before has a thermostat got people so excited. More or less a year has passed since the original Nest Learning Thermostat made its debut, and recently Nest Labs announced the successor to its smart thermostat.

  • Useful? A smooth flow to complete a purchase
  • Usable? Great usability.
  • Desirable? Looks awesome! The photography and videos make it extremely desirable.
  • Findable? Yes.
  • Credible? High profile mentions in the press right on the home page. Kickass video (seeing is believing).
  • Valuable? Totally builds up the value Nest offers.

#3 Foodily:

The Webby Awards named Foodily the best food and beverage website (won against tough competition like Blenderbox and The New York Times).

  • Useful? Very.
  • Usable? Really good usability.
  • Desirable? Superb design and photography
  • Findable? Slick and easy to navigate.
  • Credible? Social proof (33k likes) + constantly updated content + great design.
  • Valuable? Very much so.
I suggest you browse all these 3 sites and take notes. There are of course many other sites that have grown really fast due to awesome user experience – Made.com, Pinterest, Airbnb, Stripe just to name a few.

How do you measure the effectiveness of user experience?

It’s simple. While some of the designers might disagree with me, I say it’s all about achieving the business objective. The user experience is a means to an end – to achieve a goal. The simplest and most objective measure is the conversion rate – whether changes in the experience design will boost or reduce conversions. And the action of conversion might be whatever (purchase, signup, quote request, repeat logins etc).

Conclusion

Great user experiences can lead to great results. However, it’s dangerous to play with the label ‘UX design’ or a position called ‘UX designer’. This suggests that the only folks who need to worry about user experience are the designers – which is not true at all.

In fact, companies need to treat user experience no different than they treat increasing revenue, improving customer service or corporate culture. It’s essential for sustainable success. The success of your company cannot rely on a single designer, it needs to be the mindset and focus of the whole organization. So treat it accordingly – start discussions about the experience your provide every step of the way.

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