Even the largest budgets and well-rounded marketing campaigns won’t help if the platform you are investing in (or which you are creating) doesn’t appeal to users. We live in a time when everyone realizes how important UX/UI is in the world of digital transformation. Interfaces may indeed be a matter of trends. However, they must meet a number of requirements and regardless of fashion and style, they have to resonate with the needs of users – they need to be friendly, convenient and simple. Remember: hundreds of variables make up UX! In this article, we want to guide you through the most important elements of building user experiences that will allow you to create a project that people will want to follow from the very first click, swipe or tap.

Whether you're building your project from scratch or you’ve been entrusted with the task of optimizing, providing better conversion and faster performance or refreshing the interface and functions, you should follow the key UX principles regardless of the size of the project and the scope of activities. Before we get down to business, it's worth mentioning the difference between UX and UI. Despite the fact that we are in 2021 and the awareness of this subject is ever-increasing, there are still people for whom user interface design is simply a synonym of user experience. UX is not UI and the differences between them are best illustrated by the graphic below created by Erik Flowers:

The "UX is not UI" poster was created by Erik Flowers - http://www.helloerik.com/ux-is-not-ui

UI design is a big part of UX, but just look at the first part of the chart above. There are so many different variables that need to be fitted into the great puzzle of the project, even if it is not a particularly large undertaking. Before the visual interface even appears on a mockup, there are hundreds of things you should think about when it comes to the experience of users who will use your application! So, let's focus on how you can improve the UX of your project.

Start with research: you will save money and understand your needs better

Before you start choosing fonts, icons, and colors for backgrounds, you need to do your homework on the foundations of your project. Keep in mind that 70% of online businesses fail because of bad usability! The details are of course important, but we'll cover them later. Start with the simplest thing in the world, which is... asking questions. It would be difficult to deepen UX research without such questions as:

  • Who is my product for?
  • What does the target group like?
  • How will the app meet user expectations?
  • What will users get that competing apps don't have?
  • What will you do better than the competition?

In a nineteenth-century joke, the phrase "everything that can be invented has been invented" appears, which to this day is quoted in various books and articles. It is very note-worthy when it comes to research for digital transformation projects. Even if you have come up with a unique application that will revolutionize social media, solve the problem of cancer or bring peace to the world it will surely… have parts in common with projects that already exist on the market. Competition analysis is a valuable tool that you can deepen with new variables. You can turn all the weaknesses of your competitors into your strengths! Read user reviews and comments, search for reports that companies themselves share on the web, perform or commission audits, compare and draw conclusions. You need to know your users' needs thoroughly. Let your product be a response to all the imperfections and shortcomings offered by applications that are already available on the market.

A very good solution for people who are just starting their UX journey (or do not know which way to go with their application or website project) will be participation in "Design thinking workshops." Even a one-day meeting with specialists who have the appropriate experience and knowledge will help to confront ideas with reality and choose the most optimal solutions. Group brainstorming, ongoing feedback and practical exercises that accompany such workshops are the next important steps which, after independent research, will be an invaluable help in choosing the right direction of development.

Usability checking without a user? Try heuristic evaluation!

Usability is a measure of the efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction with which a given product can be used by specific users to achieve certain goals in a specific context of use. If you have an application prototype, a mock-up, or even a step-by-step plan for its creation, you can analyze the requirements and expectations of a good UX. The audit primarily verifies the usefulness of the product by checking among various elements such as information architecture, navigation, or way of interaction between content and user. One of the most appreciated methods to help determine which elements should be changed and tested from the very beginning is the heuristic evaluation. The advantage of this method is that it can be used even at a very early stage of work (even paper prototypes). The use of heuristic evaluation (before the product even reaches the first test users) will allow you to discover many bugs, and in later stages of work, it will be easier to spot errors that need to be corrected. It is worth noting that the evaluation of an application or website may be based on several hundred variables that make up the evaluation criteria. The absolute basis here will be "10 Usability Heuristics" by Jacob Nielsen. This list was created in the early 1990s and although it has been updated with more explanation, examples, and related links, the 10 heuristics themselves have remained relevant and unchanged since 1994! As the author himself says:

“When something has remained true for 26 years, it will likely apply to future generations of user interfaces as well.”

10 usability heuristics in UX design

You can find the 10 usability heuristics as print-ready PDF files on the Nielsen Norman Group website. Attaching them to a wall in a brainstorming room can be a pretty good idea. After reading the generalities, let's move on to the details. Here are specific examples of using the 10 usability heuristics in the applications development process.

1. Visibility of system status

The user must understand at what stage of the process or progress they are currently in. Remember about all kinds of progress bars and action counters that are left until the end of the activity. Without these elements, users are confused and often skip further due to uncertainty.

2. Match between system and the real world:

If you want to make the interactions of users with the application easier, use the components they already know. Icons, animations, illustrations, and design will help them find the way around each action faster.

3. User control and freedom:

The application you create must provide the greatest possible freedom of movement. The user should easily be able to undo their actions or go back to previous screens if the swipe, click or tap gesture was made by accident. Buttons like “undo” or “go back” are your allies.

4. Consistency and standards:

Always follow the consistency and established standards throughout product design. Try to unify the experiences with the various elements of the application. Use the same solutions in similar actions. Everything that is not consistent with the project causes chaos.

5. Error prevention:

You have to be one step ahead of the user. If there is a chance that the person using the application may not know something or enter some data incorrectly, take care of the facilitation in the form of helpful hints and tips appearing in the right place of the interface. Did you notice that Gmail tells you that an attachment is missing from the message if the text says you were supposed to attach it? This is a great example of what you should consider when it comes to error prevention!

6. Recognition rather than recall:

A user's memory and attention can be unreliable. It is worth reminding them that they have started some kind of a process. Solutions that suggest what products they viewed in the store or that the shopping cart includes products that have not yet been paid for are very important user interface elements, especially in contemporary e-commerce.

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use:

Application users can be divided into beginners and more advanced. This mainly applies to more extensive products, but it is worth remembering that the latter group has always been in the former. If you want to satisfy all users, take care of efficiency. A good example of flexible UX is placing the name of the action in drop-down lists with a keyboard shortcut hint located next to it.

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design:

Less is more and nothing else needs to be added here. Google's home page is the best example of this.

9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors:

Help users recognize what they might have done wrong and suggest solutions to problems. Remember that every obstacle a person using the application encounters increases the probability that they will not use your product anymore.

10. Help and documentation:

The assumption that we have such a good product that we don't need a "Help" or "FAQ" section can be fatal. Making it easier for the user to contact the support or the possibility of reporting feedback will certainly pay off!

As we wrote earlier in the article, there are hundreds of criteria and variables that can be taken into account in an evaluation. Below you will find some other useful solutions, standards, and lists of issues that will help you deepen your analysis, find the right questions that you need to ask yourself if you want your UX to meet the highest standards.

  1. How To Write Effective Usability Testing Questions: A Beginner’s Guide
  2. The Art Of Asking Questions In Usability Testing
  3. 10 Usability Heuristics Applied to Video Games
  4. Usability applied to life
  5. Latest UX Research Reports
  6. 247 web usability guidelines
  7. UX Research Cheat Sheet