By: Betsy Sherertz

Date: September 21, 2016

The origins of web design never considered user experience (UX) in the same way it does today.

Before UX became a primary focus of web design, static (and Flash 😱 ) websites were all the rage and content management systems were unheard of. For many graphic designers, a website was this shiny new toy that they wanted to get their hands on, take apart, and put back together in the most visually interesting and often unusable way. There wasn’t a thought put towards the website’s framework and content hierarchy; cool and different were all that mattered.

For the most part, both designer and client didn’t really know any better. There were no standards and no usability tests. Everyone often just accepted whatever the designer created. However, in the excited rush by designers to design for something other than a logo or poster, they created a huge website problem. They created (and set a standard for) websites that served no purpose.

This problem of the past has created the challenges of today–an exclusive focus on new and innovative design versus designing for the customer’s experience.

The true value of design now lies in a designer’s ability to restrain themselves, knowing when to push and when to not.

While designing something that has never been done before is always a priority for a designer, there are now a million different ways to make a beautiful and innovative website that is also functional for the customer using the website..

With new website development technologies popping up every year, it’s the designer’s job to push these technologies and to push the visual standards. However, the true value of design now lies in a designer’s ability to restrain themselves, knowing when to push and when to be more sensible and methodical in their design choices. For agencies the goal is to solve the right problem for our clients, and help them understand the choices that were made to create a better customer experience.

Creating an effective online customer experience

To create a seamless, enjoyable and effective customer experience, we need to first ask why a person visits a brand’s website. What they are hoping to find? What they are setting out to accomplish?

Web design is no longer about reinventing the wheel. Testing and iteration have shown that there are reasons why people tend to click a certain type of button over others, where they are generally looking to find navigation, and what they look for if they want to search. Certain web standards have established themselves over time, and for good reason. They work. These standards still evolve, as does the way we use websites; it’s the same as with any technology. But the ultimate goal moving forward will still be the same, understand what the customer wants to do and make that experience as seamless and enjoyable as possible.

Understand what the customer wants to do, and make that experience as seamless and enjoyable as possible.

In order to understand what the customer wants to do, we must know how customers will want to engage with a product or website and the content they will need to do so. Visual design on its own, won’t create a great experience. It needs the right content and structure.

Wireframes, as their name suggests, are the framework (or bones) of a proposed website. They are crucial in determining the final content and general approach to the content hierarchy on a given page. With wireframes, designers, agencies and brands can see how a website will generally function and what the content flow is before beginning visual design.

Using an app like Invision, allows our clients to view the wireframes in a real browser setting. Adding in subtle interactions and functional effects can help visualize the actual experience their customers will have, all before introducing aesthetics and visual design. This keeps everyone focused on solving the initial challenges of creating a great customer experience.

Once there is agreement on the structure of the website, the fun part begins. Designing the actual look of a website can be an incredible experience, but even design can now be tested for customer experience effectiveness. Using user testing during the visual design phase to gain deeper insight into placement, colors, button styles, and fonts work better over others can create a website that converts better and offers a superior customer experience at launch.

This doesn’t mean the conclusions of these tests need to suck the life out of the design process, but it’s important information that should factor into visual design choices. Part of a designer’s job is to consider this data, and find ways to best implement it along with the client’s brand and overall visual experience.

Web design has come a long way from designing conceptually “cool” (although fascinating) websites to focusing on one goal: solve the customer’s problem quickly and enjoyably.

It’s no longer aesthetic versus UX. It’s aesthetic AND UX. There can’t be one without the other. Understanding the difference between the two, and how one informs the other, will lead to a better product and a better customer experience.