How hard can simple be? Very hard, actually. Keeping a site or app simple can seem easy in the beginning of your build. Yet after a multitude of meetings, various iterations and endless add-ons you site ends up a complex beast. In order to ensure that you are continually developing toward simplicity you must look to UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) development. During the Freestyle Conference Miami (#FCMIA), Rima Gerhard, lead Web Design instructor at the Miami International University of Art & Design, shed light on UX and UI and how to use them to keep a site simple and seamless.
Oftentimes UX and UI are considered the same thing, when they should be considered two separate tools or skills. UI is what the user sees, whereas UX is how the user interacts and feels. Gerhard explained this using the example of cereal; UI is the spoon and UX is the feeling you get when you eat the cereal using that spoon. UI is a small part of the UX. Simple UI makes it visually easy for the user to find the right content on your site or app. Simple UX quickly answers any questions a user may have when coming to your site.
In order to maintain a simple UI make sure that your users’ eyes are going to the area of the page that you intend for them to go by utilizing color and space. Train your users to relate specific colors to specific actions. For example, an “Add to Cart” button should be in your CTA (call-to-action) color and should be the same color throughout your site. Additionally, avoid adding clutter content. Keep images and layouts simple with clear blocking of content. If too much is going on, the user’s eyes will not know where to navigate. You can test the success of your UI by using heat map testing to track where your user’s eyes are going on your page. They should be directed to the location that will best answer their questions or communicate what you’re offering. You can also test UI through A/B testing and interviews with your users.
UI is just the start of making a site simple; it’s the first impression. It’s the conversation you hold over the course of a date. When trying to tackle UX, think of who your user is and what they will be looking for. Look to easily answer any questions they may have when visiting your site. A simple UX effectively organizes content, has streamlined paths to information and clearly directs users in the directions they are looking to go.
Rima gave the wonderful example of a tool store online. As a user, I may go to the website in search of a hammer. When I arrive at the site it should be simple for me to find the hammer section and add one to my cart. At first I am looking for something: a hammer. Then I am looking to answer a question: which hammer do I like best? Finally, I am looking to take an action: add the hammer to my cart and check out. A good UX will have the hammers neatly organized in a category that makes sense. It should be clear how I can find more information on the hammers and the “Add to Cart” button should be simple for me to find.
You can check the effectiveness of your UX by performing tests such as Tree Testing, Card Testing, and First Impression Testing. To Tree Test your site give someone a particular task to do on your site or app and track how they go about doing it. Many of your users may not take the path you had originally intended for them to take. Make note of these changes and alter your site accordingly. Card Testing allows you to test out the organization of your site by asking your users to bucket out your content into the categories that make the most sense to them. Draw out on index cards the different services of your site and allow your beta users to group out the different pages of your site into categories. Finally, First Impression Tests let you see where your users are clicking first. Give your beta user a task or question to complete on your platform and track where they first click. This is a more focused way of testing user path to content.
Similar to our dating analogy earlier, your UX and UI are like a relationship. You can’t optimize them and then ignore them forever. You have to put work into them constantly in order to keep the relationship alive. As your user base grows and evolves, so will the questions they are looking to answer and the paths they are looking to take. This is when simplicity becomes increasingly ephemeral. Remember to test, iterate and listen to your user. Keep your UX and UI simple and your users will spend more time on your platform, be more satisfied with their experience, and tell more of their friends to check it out.
Now let’s start testing!
Image credit: CC by Juhan Sonin