A strategic approach to UX design

A lot of people think that UX (user experience) design is the art of how things look in a digital product. But it is so much more than visual design. A strategic approach to user experience design is an important part when creating a digital product or service. And it definitely deserves a place in the process as early as possible. That is, if you want to avoid building the wrong product.

In August 2020, our team (Cathi, Jackie, and myself) talked about how we approach usability at UXATT on rethink.fm. The starting point for the conversation was what we valued most when we do digital design. And how these values relate to each other. This resulted in a pyramid shaped model that was inspired by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Our ever evolving model for a strategic approach to UX design starts with a three layer pyramid.

The layers of hierarchy start with Performance, Security and Accessibility. Followed by the 10 Heuristics, Findability, UX writing and finally Delight. This is version 1.

The layers of the pyramid

The model consists of 3 layers:

  • Layer 1: Performant – secure – accessible
  • Layer 2: 10 Heuristics
  • Layer 3: Delight

On the sides of the pyramid, we have UX writing and Findability stretching across these 3 layers. In this article we’ll explain why the values in these layers matter to us – and why you should care about them too.

A performant application helps conversion

Web performance is vital for your website visitors to have a good experience. MDN Web Docs gives some great examples of why you cannot ignore web performance.

I’m blessed I’m in a country that has a good internet coverage. But actually, as I’m writing this article, my home internet is down and I’m using my mobile data to use all my cloud tools. Obviously, I don’t want them to use up my data with unnecessary large images. Or have embedded social media feeds or fonts that I don’t need for a good experience. Imagine what it’s like for someone in a country with worse internet facilities? Or someone accessing your services on a device that’s not that new and fast, like my laptop.

That’s why we look at data like loading times too when we audit a website or other digital product. Of course we focus on your target audience while doing this.

A secure website builds trust

In 2021, every site or app should be secure. There really is no excuse. Yet, we still come across websites that operate on an insecure domain. You may have noticed that Google Chrome gives you a warning when you’ve landed on a insecure site. This will lower the trust of your website’s visitors. Besides that, you also risk losing traffic as Google no longer displays non-secure sites in their search results.

Obviously, security is not only about serving your site on a secure domain. How data is handled and stored matters too. Especially when you take the GDPR in consideration.

An accessible web for all users, not some users

We truly believe that the world wide web should be usable and accessible for everyone. So we aim for digital design that people can use in every possible way. Regardless of place, background, level of digital skill, impairments or other usability needs. We don’t want this to be the main reason for you to comply.

But, in a lot of countries you are legally required to present the information on your website in a way it’s accessible to everyone. Especially when you are a governmental or semi-governmental organization.

An accessible website means a well-structured website. It will also help improve your Google ranking if you do this right. And who doesn’t want to be the no. 1 search result?

And no: there’s no quick fix to make a website accessible, by using an accessibility tool. The best approach is to keep it in mind from the beginning. To learn more, read the article Adrian Roselli wrote about these tools.

Heuristics: enable your users to find things out by themselves

Good digital design should be intuitive. Though people may have different levels of digital experience, it’s important for people to find out things by themselves. This way, they will have less frustration and friction when using the product or service. The result is a better user experience. You can measure the levels of friction by doing an audit of your product or service using the 10 critical design heuristics.

Just enough delight

The last thing to consider is, bringing some delight to the people who use your product. This is the cherry on top. This is where you can put emphasis on your product and differentiate from your competitors. At this stage, you can make your users feel important, engaged and valued.

But it’s easy to overdo this part. Besides, delight won’t save you if you haven’t taken all the other points into account. It also heavily depends on what type of organization you are, who your target customers are and what your product or service is.

In the Netherlands, we have a big online store, Coolblue. They are a great example for bringing just enough delight to their customers. Their tone and voice and way of bringing delight is very informal. And it really does fit their company, market and products.
But when my 82 year old mother in law received a ‘hey how are you doing dude’-card as a heads up from her council in times of COVID-19, this did not bring her the delight she was expecting. In fact, she found it rude and filed a complaint.

Consider findability and UX writing in every step of the process.

Along the sides of the pyramid, you find two more layers: findability and UX writing. We’ve added these to the sides, because we think this is something you need to consider with every step you take when you work on your strategic approach for UX design.

You need to find it before you can use it

Findability precedes usability. You can make the most user-friendly application. Or write the most usable and readable content. But if people can’t find it, it’s a waste of effort. This counts for both outside and inside your application. Your product needs to be findable on search engines like Google, in product directories like the App store or Google Play. If you make plugins or themes for WordPress, you need to make sure you show up with the right search terms. Inside your application, people need to be able to find what they are looking for. A search box, you’re saying? Actually, that’s something that might not even be necessary. When you’ve made the right choices on navigation, menu’s and labels, people should be able to find what they need by themselves.

UX writing: does your wording make sense?

Words in applications matter. This is the fine art of UX writing or content design. And it goes hand in hand with the findability. We don’t talk about long form content here, like blog posts. This microcopy appears at various interactions between you and your audience. Well written UX copy is:

  • clear
  • concise
  • useful

However, good UX writing should bring some delight as well. You need to make sure that the writing reflects your brand through the right tone and voice. In every moment people engage with you. Therefore, this needs a strategic approach from the beginning.

New layer: Sustainable, Ethical, Inclusive

Although the pyramid seems finished, we keep polishing and refining it as we go. Our team never stops learning and creates new insights. So now, a few months after we discussed the initial model, we found that our pyramid needed a new foundation for the strategic approach to UX design: Ethical, Sustainable, and Inclusive.

The layers of hierarchy now start with Ethical, Sustainable, and Inclusive. Then a layer of Performance, Security and Accessibility. Followed by the 10 Heuristics, Findability, UX writing and finally Delight. This is version 1.

Ethical design

There’s so much we could talk about here. But in a nutshell, there’s a reason why this is at the foundation of our model. And we couldn’t say this in a better way than Morten Rand Hendriksen does in his article on Smashing Magazine:

“Every design decision is a decision made on behalf of other people, those we often refer to as “end-users.” As the creators of designed experiences used by people all over the world, it is our responsibility to think carefully about how our decisions impact the person on the other end of the conversation.”
Morten Rand- Hendriksen

Sustainable product design and content while caring for the environment

We do believe that most digital products are built to sustain. Like most organizations are. Therefore, you should be mindful of precious resources like energy. A sustainable application is performant as we mentioned before. This way it will use up less energy from the data centre. Considering a green hosting company or compensating for the energy used can be part of your UX strategy too.

Sustainable product design also means not wasting money. Starting with user research will not only give you valuable information on building the right product. It will also help to allocate the available budget in an efficient way, so no money is wasted on features that aren’t valued by the users in the end.

When we talk about sustainability, we can also look at it from a content perspective. In the end, you want your content to be a valuable resource that people will consult over and over.

Having a solid understanding of who these users are, and what they want, should be an essential part of your digital product and user experience strategy. That’s why every new or improved digital product should start with user research.

If you want to approach UX design in a strategic way and make the most of your application, please get in touch to discuss how we can help you.

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