For far too long, digital systems were designed in a way that neglected the end user. Even now, usability is often sacrificed on the altars of extravagant software features and various technological capabilities. However, a professional digital design effectively combines functionality and usability; its functions reflecting its purpose and its user-friendliness catering to its target audience.
User-centered design (UCD) places users at the center of product design and development. It comprises strategic processes that work to create an exceptional user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) combo. By putting them first in your design process, you are more likely to create products that meet their expectations and increase their satisfaction.
Businesses and consumers are perpetually entwined in a form of corporate courtship where the former constantly seeks newer and smarter ways to woo the latter. The sheer number of available “suitors” can be overwhelming and the competition is always fierce. Any business hoping to stand out needs an edge over the crowd. As UCD has proven, this requires knowing your consumers and using that knowledge to your advantage.
Understanding your target audience and its needs is how you single yourself out from the multitude offering generic experiences. Data shared through a Zippia research paper highlights that poor usability is responsible for about 70% of failed online businesses and is perhaps one of biggest culprits in this digital age. The same source also reports that over 80% of web users steer clear of sites with bad user experiences. You can escape these bleak statistics by utilizing UCD as a means of giving consumers an outstanding user experience.
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User-Centered Design and User Experience
User experience is an essential part of digital design because it involves how the end user perceives your product. One of the aims of UCD is to create stellar user experiences. As a broad part of design thinking that engages the user at every stage of the creative process, UCD envelopes user interface and user experience. It dictates the trajectory of the user interface and addresses how that affects the user experience as a whole. Consequently, users can see that you’ve taken their experiences into account at every touchpoint.
However, tailoring your design to meet user expectations might seem easier said than done. It begs the question “how?”. All the user-friendly design tips notwithstanding, the process requires user evaluation. It begins with knowing what users want rather than working based on assumptions. With UCD, you exploit situational and environmental factors to woo consumers. These include traits like age, social status, education, and location. A good deal of data collection is required to know what influences design perception in your target user. Consider sources like:
- Social media pages
- Census data
- Beta testing
- Online forums
These offer insights into user behavior and expose trends that affect their predispositions towards UI/UX design.
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Principles of User-Centered Design
Once user evaluation is complete and you have a solid grasp on what drives positive user engagement, it’s time to proceed with your design. However, there are principles to follow to achieve a design that truly focuses on the user. Here are eight user-centered design principles to follow.
1. Determine the Context of Use
Start by asking why users need your product. What purpose does your website or application hope to serve? Your design should aid usability in a way that seeks to achieve the purpose of your digital product. Once the context of use is established, it’s easier to determine user expectations and the tasks they need to accomplish using your product.
By keeping in mind the overall aim of your product, you can tailor your design to help users achieve it in optimal conditions. For instance, if you’re developing an eCommerce website, users will expect to see the available colors of an item. Rather than just stating them, add a slideshow of the product in various shades. Improving the UI and UX of your eCommerce website helps mimic shopping in a brick-and-mortar store and creates an immersive user experience.
2. Design with Users in Mind
This is perhaps the most important UCD principle of all. At every stage of your design process, consciously carry the user along. From aesthetics to content, ensure your design revolves around the end user. Admittedly, UCD is an intensive process that requires meticulous planning; every dot is strategically placed to appeal to your target user. However, it’s the extra effort that separates such designs from the rest.
Do not be afraid to go the extra mile because your users will recognize and appreciate the added effort you put in to accommodate them. At each level, seek to ease their interactions with your design. Don’t just do what’s convenient, do what’s convenient for them. In all your design-related efforts, remember to put your end client first.
3. Reduce Cognitive Load
Cognitive load refers to the amount of mental effort required to process information. There is a safe side where the brain processes data smoothly and an overwhelming side that strains the mind. Your design feeds information to web users. As they explore your product, their minds are informed by what they see. Unnecessary complexities can overwhelm them and strain their mental capabilities.
Remember that users need your product to meet specific needs and while your design contributes significantly to their experience, it should neither distract them nor get in the way. Your product design should complement its purpose, not overshadow it. Avoid unnecessary design elements that will likely strain users.
4. Provide Intuitive Navigation
Intuitive design and easy navigation go hand in hand. It ensures adequate navigation mechanisms like action cues and suggestions are in place. This helps users understand how your product works. For instance, at every stage of their intended tasks, users should be able to tell where they are with elements like page indicators and scroll bars. Additionally, if they wind up in unwanted territory, there should be a visible route for backtracking.
A non-intuitive design creates confusion. Users will likely feel lost while interacting with such a product. It’s like designing a car with no/hidden door handles. It presents an obvious problem for the user who would like to get in and drive. Users should be able to follow a clear path through your design while performing their intended tasks. This also helps boost conversion rates because it guides them toward desired actions.
5. Offer Adequate Feedback
This involves responding to user activities within your website or application. From your responses, users know how to proceed as well as when certain actions are successful or otherwise. Undertakings such as making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter require feedback so users know whether their actions are completed or still processing. They need to know that you are working to accomplish their desired goal and a feedback loop is how you keep them informed.
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Beyond ordinary text, visual cues like simple pop-ups, animated loading screens, or a change in appearance can also help provide positive reinforcement so users know they are on the right track. This makes way for effective interaction design, a key feature for relating with your user beyond the typical click-and-scroll interface.
6. Use Simple Language
To accommodate users from all walks of life, your design needs simplicity and clarity. This involves using clear and understandable language. Unnecessary technicalities limit your user base to individuals with special knowledge. Simplify the dialogue by focusing on information and text that are relevant to users and their desired tasks. You need to explain unavoidable technicalities so that moving forward, users understand what you wish to communicate.
7. Provide Support
From your design process, you should be able to foresee where users might get stuck or face friction when using your product. In response to this, provide easily accessible links to help pages and other forms of support. Providing assistance through live chat may also be helpful. Real-time support offers users a means of communicating their concerns when other forms of online assistance fail.
Planning and making adequate provisions for any trouble they might encounter is a loud statement telling users that you prioritize them. Identify places where your users are likely to need assistance and ensure that they get it in a quick and effective manner.
8. Adopt an Iterative Design Process
An iterative approach leaves room for improvement. It allows your design to evolve, constantly aligning with the changing needs of your users. As you understand your users better based on their interactions with your design, you can gradually tweak some aspects of it to accommodate more of their needs.
With more user insight, you can constantly reassess your design and iterate subsequent product releases or updates. This means the UCD process extends beyond the release of a product into the market. It still guides and informs subsequent redesigns and upgrades, ensuring your product maintains its usability standard.
Why is User-Centered Design Important?
User-centered design is important because you are designing the product for the user. Additionally, it isn’t just so users can mentally acknowledge what you’ve done, you also want them to engage with it and enjoy the process. It’s like getting a gift for someone you care about. The amount of care and thought put into it reflects on its quality and relevance to the recipient. If your friend loves red shoes, you don’t buy them white shoes just because they’re in vogue.
If you want users to engage with your product as frequently as possible, you need a design that encourages them to act accordingly. Creating a design around the end user leads to superior usability, a key element in top-notch user experience, and a tremendous business advantage. Consumers understand their value in the business world and before committing to any brand, they demand to be made a priority. User-centered design is how you prove your undying loyalty to your target audience.
Benefits of User-Centered Design
While UCD bears obvious advantages for web users, as a business owner, you might wonder if you gain anything from it. Here are some of the top benefits of user-centered design for your business.
- Offers a competitive edge. With a design that feels personalized to web users, they will be more inclined to engage with your brand. The more you win the trust of consumers, the more you stand out in your industry.
- Increases conversion rates. The fewer bumps in the road, the more enjoyable the journey. Easy usability offers a smooth user experience that effortlessly guides the user toward desired actions.
- Expands your business. Word gets around fast. Just as talks of poor user experiences easily circulate, news of positive user experiences also travels quickly. When users enjoy time spent interacting with your design, they communicate this with others. Social networking platforms make the process easier, where a single tweet can gain significant traction.
- Maximizes the design process. By having defined goals for your design, you can avoid several design misses while maximizing your resources to hit a clear target. Ideally, you need to spend time and effort to design something your users will love instead of repeatedly returning to the drawing board.
- Reduces project risks. With higher chances of satisfying your end-user, your design process becomes less risky. Rather than staking your entire design on assumptions about what users will like, UCD helps determine their preferences, consequently lowering your project risks.
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There are several elements to leverage in the digital sphere that produce better responses from users and user-centered design is one of the most important. By making the design more about the user, designers and businesses can focus on creating optimal user-friendly products that people look forward to using. The goal is to balance your business requirements with the needs of your users, thereby creating a two-way channel of effective web design.
For many, navigating the nuances of users may seem daunting. Fortunately, you don’t have to handle the complexities on your own. Instead, you may consider getting in touch with a digital marketing agency that will brilliantly combine aesthetics and functionality with a user-focused approach.