Web design is in its Golden Age. Connections are fast, screens are everywhere, and advances in hardware and software have given designers and developers the ability to be more creative than ever. But even though we’ve come a long way from the days of waiting for Flash intros to load, some things haven’t changed — like the importance of a great user experience.
Most people don’t give any thought to UX unless it sucks (or they build websites for a living). Websites with exceptional UX are accessible and easy to get around; the sitemap and navigation are intuitive and logical; the layout is aesthetically pleasing, with a natural flow on desktop and mobile. Of course, what defines “good UX” varies from project to project, but here are some things I do to ensure a good user experience on new builds. These aren’t groundbreaking insights, but basic building blocks upon which more layers of UX considerations can be laid.
1. Establish a Strong Visual Hierarchy
It happens as soon as soon as your site loads: Before mousing over the navigation or reading any copy, visitors instantaneously begin trying to make sense of what they see. A solid visual hierarchy clues them in to what’s most important on the page. Colors are cues. Proportions of design elements are cues. Contrasting typography styles are cues. Using these different elements to create order within your layout is foundational to creating a good user experience.
2. Determine a Primary Navigation Color
This goes along with establishing a visual hierarchy. Navigation and other interactive elements, like buttons, text links and dropdown menus, should be a uniform color — or at least share a color palette. These colors become calls to action of their own, escorting users through the site. The idea is to condition visitors to associate a certain color(s) with an action. Research has proven that strong color associations will actually lead some users to drool, just like Pavlov’s Dog.
3. Create Smooth User Flows, with No Dead Ends
At one time or another we’ve all found ourselves stuck on a website, having to use the ejection seat (aka, the header logo) to get back to the home page. Well-designed sites don’t leave users stranded; they give them freedom to choose their own path, without getting lost. Most sites have multiple user paths, tailored to the sensibilities of each type of visitor. Getting to know the types of users and what they’ll be looking for once they get to the site is critical. It takes research. And those insights should be taken into consideration every step of the build, from sitemap development to front-end design.
4. Follow Established Best Practices
Some of us still remember the dial-up connections and bulletin board services of the young internet. But now the world wide web is a grown-ass man. Designing beautiful, feature-rich websites with solid UX isn’t a mystery. However, it’s important to get the fundamentals right before moving on to more advanced techniques. Personally, I take inspiration from sites I like and past projects I’ve worked on. The sites I build today have some of the same DNA as the ones I built five years ago, and I’m always evolving and refining my approach to UX design. But I always keep this in mind: There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It’s round for a reason.