Digital technologies change all the time. The websites that were fashionable and user-friendly last year look hopelessly out-of-date this year. If you’re a small business owner, you may struggle, as many of us do, to maintain an aesthetically-pleasing website that continues to be relevant.
Here’s a little secret to make you feel better: everyone does.
All kinds of organizations struggle with the pace at which technologies change. Hospitals. Schools. Corporations. Local businesses. Large, multinational businesses. Even experts in technology. Especially them.
If you’be been paying attention to any conversation involving digital technology, you’ve probably heard about this term “UX,” short for “User Experience.” It seems to describe everything hip, trendy, and cool involving websites and mobile apps. And it’s very difficult for outsiders to the UX conversation to crack what it really means. There seem to be a million definitions and no one seems to agree on any of them.
To help you decipher this term and why you should care about it (you should), below we define UX in the simplest terms we can and then provide three tips for keeping on top of UX trends.
Defining UX: Once and Not For All
Whenever we’re introducing new clients to UX, we like to do so in a visual manner:
We really like this infographic from Erik Flowers, because it shows the true nature of UX: it’s not one thing. It’s actually the place where three areas meet: business, technology, and design.
So, why should you care? Because all of our businesses now involve UX. Think about it: how do customers find your business? Do they look through the Yellow Pages? The Yellow Pages are now online. Do you get random foot traffic? Maybe, but you’re as likely to get someone wandering into your store because they asked their smartphone for services near them.
We are all dependent on digital points-of-contact for everything from marketing to customer service to following up after a sale. All of our customers are now users, in other words, and the experiences we provide to them will determine whether they stay our customers or whether they seek out someone who better understands their needs.
So, now we have a better understanding of what UX is. How do we stay on top of UX trends?
1) Find UX Thought Leaders You Trust and Follow Their Lead
According to Forbes:
A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.
What we like about this definition is that it shows that recognition is key to who is considered a thought leader. You need to decide who you recognize as a UX thought leader. You need to decide who you recognize as someone who can help you solve problems.
This raises another question, however: what are UX-related problems? Essentially, any problem that involves an interaction between a human being and a digital technology can be said to be in the realm of UX. This includes:
- Usability: how easy and satisfying is it to use a website (or other kind of app)?
- Information Architecture/Content Strategy: how useful and usable is the information contained in a website?
- Visual Design: how appealing and appropriate are the visual elements of a website?
- Interaction Design: how useful and usable are the actions users can take on a website (clicking, subscribing, entering information into forms, etc.)?
So, who has been paying attention to problems of this variety? Lots of people.
To help you get started, however, here are some of our favorite UX thought leaders:
- Jakob Nielsen
- Steve Krug
- Jeff Gothelf
- Kristina Halvorson
- Whitney Quesenbery
- Tomer Sharon
- Jim Kalbach
- Jared Spool
- Leah Buley
- Janice Redish
You might also consider checking out these UX-related blogs:
2) Use UX Tools to Help You With Best Practices
Thankfully, there are lots of tools out there for helping you improve the UX of your website. Tools can help provide you with short-term or long-term solutions to UX problems you might be facing. Need help usability testing your business website? There’s now an app for that.
The best thing about UX tools is that they’re made by UX designers, AKA the masters of creating the best experiences for users. This also means that many tools are available for free as a basic package or a free trial period. If you decide you like the tool, you can then decide if you want to invest money in it as a premium service.
To help you get started, here are some of our favorite UX tools:
- Usability Testing: UserTesting, TryMyUI
- Evaluating Information Architecture: Treejack
- Wireframing: Axure, Mockingbird
- Rapid Prototyping: UXPin
- Surveys: Google Forms, SurveyMonkey
3) Hire an (Affordable) UX Consulting Agency
Sometimes, you just need another human being who can help you solve your problem. Lots of people claim they know about UX, however, and don’t really know much at all.
So, to help you make an intelligent decision about who to partner with…
What you should look for in a UX agency:
- Someone who can explain solutions to you without using technical jargon
- Someone who has experience solving UX problems like the ones you need solved
- Someone who charges what you can afford to pay (a lot of UX consultants target very large companies, meaning that they charge a lot of money for their services)
- Someone who is prepared to work with you one-on-one to solve your problem
- Someone who can show measurable results, even if they’re incremental
Just Remember: There Is No One Right Way to UX
Ultimately, it’s up to you to find your comfort level with UX trends. Do you want to do the work of reading blogs, books, and articles? Do you want to invest in tools? Do you want to partner with an agency? Do you need some combination of these approaches?
As hard as UX may be to stay on top of, you need to pay attention to it if you want your business to be successful in today’s fast-paced, on-demand world.