In a previous post, I described why UX is essential to think about for any business who has a web presence. In this follow-up post, I’ll talk about some of the best, and most affordable, UX tools of the trade for helping you assess and grow that web presence.
What UX Tools of the Trade Look Like for the Average Business: Prototyping, Usability, and Content Management
If you’re reading this and you’re not sure what UX is, read my previous post where I define it. Essentially, the average business needs to think about three regular activities that involve UX: prototyping, usability, and content management.
Prototyping refers to the act of creating working mock-ups of a new website before you launch it. Usability refers to testing out your website with actual consumers. Content management is how you manage all your website content.
Think of UX as a 3-step process that you need to regularly undergo as a business:
- Coming up with an idea for a new website design and creating a mock-up of it.
- Testing new, and existing, website designs with actual consumers.
- Managing all your website content in one place.
There are a lot of great UX software programs out there to make this process easier if you’re just getting into UX. Below we discuss some of our favorites.
Prototyping tools should allow you to create a mock-up of your website without using code. They should be easy-to-use, drag-and-drop applications that allow you to quickly and easily build a prototype of what you’d like your site to look like. The more advanced ones even allow you to make interactive prototypes that you can test out before ever writing a single line of code.
Whether you’re working with a web designer or putting together your own website, you need to get a sense of what features you want on your site before putting in the time, effort, and money to actually build and launch your site.
Below are some of our favorite prototyping tools.
- UXPin: UXPin is a very robust tool with a lot of different features for protoptying, including a full design library that contains some really beautiful design elements, like buttons, icons, and even whole website and mobile layouts.
- Sketch: If you like to draw, Sketch might be for you. It enables you to create from-scratch designs that you can then export to Photoshop or other applications.
- Photoshop / Pixlr: If you have a graphic design background, you might want to develop a full mockup of your website using one of these programs. Pixlr is a free graphic design tool that is easier to use than Photoshop, but the latter is of course the industry standard for graphic design.
- Guide: Check out this great guide to prototyping by UXPin.
Usability tools should allow you to quickly gather data from real live users of your existing website, or of an interactive prototype. They should guide you through best practices in usability testing, like capturing video of what users do on their screens, capturing facial expressions so you can see when people are engaged or frustrated, and enabling you to tag and annotate footage from usability tests.
Whether you’re redesigning an existing website or developing a completely new one, you need to get a sense of how usable your website is for a variety of different consumers before you launch it.
Below are some of our favorite usability tools.
- UserTesting: UserTesting allows you to capture video of users, and will even find test users to test out your design. It is available completely online and can be used to test desktop, mobile, and clickable prototype applications. It also has advanced features like tagging, annotation, and analytics built-in.
- Silverback: If you’re a Mac user and want a simple usability testing solution, Silverback might be for you. If enables you to plop a user down in front of a laptop or desktop and capture video of their on-screen behavior and facial expressions.
- Crazy Egg: Crazy Egg is an application for visualizing where users click. If you deploy it on your website, it will create heat maps of where users are clicking on your site so you can optimize it based on what actual consumers are doing.
- Optimal Workshop: Optimal Workshop is actually a whole host of usability tools from applications for testing your website’s navigational structure to first-click analysis. It’s a bit pricier than these other options, but worth it if you need more robust analysis.
- Guide: Check out this awesome 1-page usability test plan by Userfocus.
Content Management Tools
Launching a website is one thing, but how will you maintain it? Paying a web designer every time you need the smallest change can be cost-prohibitive. That’s why for most of our clients we recommend they use a Content Management System (or CMS) so they can maintain their website themselves.
Most competent web designers can also design around a CMS. All the CMSs we recommend below also come with some great default templates you can use right of the box, or can customize yourself.
Below are some of our favorite CMSs.
- WordPress: WordPress is our go-to CMS for the vast majority of clients. It comes with thousands of great templates, a lot of features (including e-commerce solutions), and some truly exceptional support forums for do-it-yourselfers.
- Joomla!: Joomla! is also a pretty good CMS, especially if you want a simple, out-of-the-box solution that’s easy to deploy.
- Magento: Magento is a newer CMS that’s making a lot of waves these days. It provides fairly robust e-commerce solutions, but as a newer CMS, it’s difficult to judge what its future will hold when compared to more established solutions like WordPress and Joomla!.
- Guide: There are many guides to these CMS’s all over the Internet, but here’s a list of all the best WordPress guides we’ve found.
There’s No shame in Outsourcing to Good UX Tools
The key to keeping your website up-to-date, functional, and looking great is asking for help. Whether that’s from a consultant or a tool, you just want to make sure you’re not buying a lemon. There are a lot of very costly UX tools out there that we try to steer clients away from.
Regardless: you need to think about UX as an investment in your business. If a subscription to a tool is going to save you time and money down the road, then it’s worth it. Personally, I can’t recall how many clients I’ve worked with over the years who have come to me with websites they paid a lot of money for that they later came to hate. This was typically because they didn’t feel like they had a lot of control over the design of their site.
Using prototyping, usability, and content management tools can help you understand how your website will actually function before you launch it. As with most elements of your business, the more information you have about your website, the more informed decisions you’ll be able to make.