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What is UX Design & Why Does it Matter?

Making sure websites and eLearning projects meet the needs of their user boils down to effective User Experience (UX) design. In this post, we break down what UX design entails and why it matters. 

What is UX?

“UX is the web. It is literally all there is. Everything that we interact with in any form of digital communications is only UX as far as we as humans using these tools are concerned. All the stuff happening under the hood may as well be done by dancing gerbils as by gazillions of bits flipping from 1 to 0. The only thing that matters to us – the only thing that is real to us – is the UX. There is nothing else.”

– Dan Bashaw, Web Development Lead, PathWise Solutions

It makes sense that when we build something for people to use, whether it’s a website, an eLearning course, or even a can opener, it’s designed and built specifically for its precise purpose. However, it also needs to be designed and built for those who will be using it. This is where UX design comes in. UX design is a user-centred discipline that focuses on the audience to ensure that a product or service is designed and built to meet the specific needs and wants of that audience. 

UX design is “…an extremely varied discipline, combining aspects of psychology, business, market research, design, and technology” (White, 2021). The goal of UX design is to ensure that those specific users have a smooth, relevant, and enjoyable experience – getting what they need from a product or service.

How does UX design happen?

The UX design process is detailed and should include the following steps:  

  • Researching end users/who the audience is and building personas based on findings
  • Planning out the structure of information (e.g., where will everything go on the website?)
  • Mapping out the user experience (e.g., how will they access and move through the eLearning course? Where will they find the information they need on the website?) 
  • Focusing on accessibility
  • Creating wireframes and mockups or prototypes
  • Conducting usability tests with intended audiences
  • Designing the overall look and feel (visual design elements)

It’s about making sure that the user experience is not just efficient but also fun and meaningful.

How does UX design unfold?

While we’ve outlined some of the steps involved above, UX designers tend to cycle through a series of stages as they design, develop, and build a product or service: 

The process tends to be less linear or step-by-step than other disciplines and often includes rapid prototyping and jumping back and forth, using agile development methods. The idea here is that you don’t build the whole website, for example, but a portion and then test it with intended users and see what works and what doesn’t, and then redesign as needed. 

UX is the most pivotal part in a website development project without question. This is the first thing that a user encounters. We can develop a robust backend system; however, if the interface is not intuitive enough, then the project is a complete failure. A good UX means users should be able to access and navigate the website with ease, and all components on all web pages should be responsive on all screen sizes, i.e., mobile, tablet and desktop. Moreover, one of the most important but often forgotten factors about UX is the performance of a website. Depending upon its audience, we sometimes have to carry out performance/stress testing on a website before it goes live. A lack of performance testing may cause a lack of access, particularly when there’s an abrupt increase in users – something which occurred with some government websites at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

– Nila Kundu, Web Developer & QA Engineer, PathWise Solutions

What about accessibility?

We mentioned focusing on accessibility as one of the steps of the UX design process above. A lot of UX design focuses on usability (whether the product or service is logical, effective, and efficient), and it may seem like the same thing as designing for accessibility, but accessibility has another layer to it. 

Accessibility is about ensuring all users are able to enjoy an equivalent user experience, no matter how they’ll be using or accessing the product or service. In other words, a person using a screen reader while taking an eLearning course should be able to experience the course material in a way that makes sense and has the same mindful UX as someone who isn’t. This means that if an activity needs to be adapted for screen reader use, for example, a PDF version of an activity that replaces a drag-and-drop exercise which doesn’t translate well for a screen reader, this replacement activity should not just convey the same information as the original activity, but it should also be just as logical, efficient, and enjoyable. 

The importance of good UX can not be understated. It is often the most important piece of any project, especially projects where a generalized community will be interacting with your interface. You can build the most beautiful intricate backend, but if the experience of the interface isn’t intuitive and efficient, the backend loses all its value. To me, a good UX means just that, an intuitive and efficient method for interacting with a website. Some people may say that the user experience should appeal to the lowest common denominator and that is what makes a good UX. While that should be considered, I don’t think that is true. The best designs work for the majority of users, but there are always outliers and trying to modify your design so your grandma’s grandma can use the website may have unintended consequences that affect the majority of your users. Know your audience and iterate with feedback.”

– Craig Vanderlinden, Programmer, PathWise Solutions

Whether you’re building a website, creating an eLearning course, developing an app or building a product, putting yourself in the user’s shoes and focusing on UX is critical to good design. As Dan Bashaw says, “The only thing that matters to us – the only thing that is real to us – is the UX. There is nothing else.”

PS – Curious about how we may be able to help you add better UX to your website or eLearning? Get in touch!

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