User experience (UX) and UX design are major buzzwords across the digital landscape right now — and because of the hype and the glut of content out there around it, the whole thing can feel a bit confusing. Of course, we also have our take. So, read on to get a handle on what it is, why it’s important, and how we approach it at Edgar Allan.
First — what is UX?
UX is exactly what it says it is: user experience. If brand messaging is the why, UX is the how in the digital experience world — how users will access the information that you’re trying to give them on the web, on web pages. Its scope encompasses everything from how navigation is structured to where information sits on the page to how that information is presented. When you look at a final product of a site, it’s easy to identify designs and copy and even branding work, but UX is the less visible connective tissue that binds all of it together.
Can you build a website without taking UX into account? I mean, I guess. But without it, there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually accomplish your site’s goals, which should be closely tied to the goals of the audiences who will use your website to solve their problems and answer their questions about your brand.
For example, say you’re building a website for your child’s little league team. You aren’t just creating a whole digital experience so that you can splash your team’s colors across a screen and get some photos of them on the internet. Given what we’ll assume you know about your team’s audience – parents, maybe sponsors, to name a couple – your goals might be things like “make it easier for parents to order new uniforms” or “tell people where games will be played.”
Those two goals are UX goals: easy ordering and clear scheduling. They dictate two important purposes of the site and help shape how it will look and behave. Where you put the information and how you craft the experience around it — that’s all part of UX, and it matters because that’s the whole reason you’re making a website. Sure, you can spend time making the whole thing look nice, but if you don’t keep a clear purpose in mind, then you probably won’t end up with a useful end result.
We’re pretty big proponents of content design, and the practice works hand in hand with UX. UX is different in that it’s broader in that it also encompasses navigation, some basic elements of design structure and includes usability. Websites have to accomplish a lot, and content design doesn’t cover it all, but at their core, the two disciplines have a lot of overlap, and are often asking the same underlying question: What are we trying to do here, and how can we best serve the user?
When we’re running an end-to-end brand to build website project, UX is usually the first step we take when we get to the actual making-the-website part of the process (once we’re finished with branding and messaging).
We approach user experience by first starting with an audit of the existing website or product, if there is one. This gives us a lot of insight into the original thinking behind what kind of content our client is hoping to convey, and how they went about putting things together originally. Once we’ve taken that in, we look at everyone else who’s operating in our client’s space, from competitors in their same space to “mindspace” competitors (solutions an audience might turn to if they can’t get a good one from this specific industry), and often websites that solve similar problems that aren’t in our client’s industry at all. This gives us a sense for what’s possible, helping us nail down exactly what kind of information we need to display and how we want to display it.
From there, we start to home in on individual components. Do we want to use tabs to organize this information or a slider? How can we make consuming or accessing a piece of information more interesting, elegant, or easier? It’s a lot of arranging, rearranging, and reconsidering, but ultimately, we end up with a rough outline of the site — the wireframes.
As mentioned above, we don’t just consider our clients’ direct competitors — though they’re helpful for understanding what the end user might be expecting or looking for. Only looking in-industry would pigeonhole us to a narrow view of what’s possible, since there’s a lot of status quo out there. We look because we want to see the baseline – and then rise above it.
So, also look widely around the internet, specifically, websites that are doing interesting, exciting, or noteworthy things. We find them through award aggregators like Webby and Awwwards, which basically compile internet best-of lists. By browsing through these sites, we’re often struck with inspiration of how we can do something a little different (and exciting) in our own sites. Inspiration comes from everywhere; and solving problems is something that all businesses do. We love looking at the possibilities - and helping our clients create more opportunity with their web experiences in the process.
Edgar Allan is content- and brand-focused Webflow agency. Take a look at the rest of our blog for more of our thoughts on branding, content design, Webflow, and more.