We’ve all heard the term ‘User Experience’ (UX) and how the design and functionality of a website should be providing the best experience, but what specifically should we be aiming for to reach this?

First it is important to know what user experience is. Simply put – user experience is the experience a user has and how the user gets the best out this to reach their needs. This could be a user wishing to purchase a product online, or navigating through a website to get some specific information from it. The experience the user has from purchasing the product or finding the information will either result in the user repeating the experience in the same manner next time, or they will find an alternative solution.

If the user has a good experience buying a product from your website, then they are likely to come back and purchase further products in the future. Similarly if a user has easily found the relevant information they were searching for on your website, they will also return again and pass on the ease of finding the information to others.

If you are redesigning your current website, it is crucial to look at how users are currently using the site and seeing any issues with the current UX to create a better user experience. It is important and a continuously evolving skill to use design to solve these issues while also maintaining a great look and feel of the site too. The benefit of a good user experience is therefore a win-win situation for both the user and for you.

Jakob Nielsen, who is thought of as the ‘Godfather’ of UX, had 5 principles that are still as valid for using design as part of user experience today. These principles are listed out below and include key questions to be considered when creating or updating the user experience for a new design:

1) Learnability
How easy is it for users to learn/do the basic tasks on the site the first time they use it?

2) Efficiency
Once users have learnt the tasks, how quickly can users perform the tasks?

3) Memorability
When users return, how easily can they reestablish the tasks and what to do?

4) Error management
How many errors do users make while using the site, how severe are they, and how easily rectified are they?

5) Satisfaction
How pleasant is it to use the design?

If you take the Amazon site as an example, you can see that this site has encompassed all of these 5 principles and provides an excellent user experience. Users are able to instantly learn to search, browse, and purchase products from the site, whether it is a book, DVD, CD or a different product. The process is exactly the same across the site, and is easily replicated and remembered the next time users visit the site and wish to purchase a product. It is hard for a user to make many errors in the searching and purchasing of the site, and if so, it is easily rectified. Although you could argue that the site is not the most aesthetically pleasing, the design is simple and transferred across the site, allowing ease for the user to know where they are in the site and the process of purchasing their chosen product. Jakob Nielsen’s 5 principles have therefore all equally been addressed. If the design changed now, many users would be flummoxed and have a much less satisfying user experience.

So, what specifically should we be aiming for to reach good user experience then? This will be subjective to the designer, business owner and more importantly to the various users. What might help the business objectives may hinder good design, and what may be aesthetically pleasing may reduce the user’s experience to find the relevant product they wish to purchase or information they require. The challenge is therefore to address the needs and goals of users while still maintaining the business analysis, visual design and functionality of the site.