From the second a user interacts with your site, that individual begins evaluating your brand. Now consider this: how many other sites are your users interacting with on a daily basis?
It’s likely they are visiting plenty of other sites and, solely based on their interactions, many users will determine the value of what your site has to offer them. Not only this, but these interactions are also the basis by which users have created their mental models.
Mental models are developed by users from past experiences, and they are the beliefs that users have regarding how a system or interface will work.
When designing for a good user experience (UX), it is imperative to meet these user mental models. Let me break it down for you like this: when you enter a site, where do you expect the company’s branded logo to be? Below the fold or in the middle of the page? No, from your past experiences you can assume that the logo will be located at the top of the page, normally in or near the navigation.
Going further, what would happen if you could click on the company’s logo? Based on your mental models, you can predict, before it even happens, that clicking on the logo will take you to the homepage.
When you don’t meet mental models, the user experience of your site goes down. That’s not to say you can’t create an innovative or unique experience for your users, but if you divert too much from their mental models, or don’t make the unique features discoverable, it will simply result in frustration for the user.
With that being said, what principles should you apply to meet your user’s mental models and create a great experience for them?
Let’s go over these 5 principles that will help your users get the most out of your site.
The first things that a user will ask when they enter your site are: "How do I use it?" or "What should I do first?" For this reason, you must design your site with good usability in mind. A simple and easy to use interface can make or break an experience because if something is difficult to use, a user will simply leave and search somewhere else.
Users have a goal in mind when they enter your website—as they interact with your site, they should be able to figure out how to reach it. It may be making a purchase or simply finding out more information.
The question you must ask yourself is: have I created an easy to use system that will allow them to complete that goal? Simplicity is key here. Do not use bells and whistles to make your site seem cool or impressive. These can be distracting and confusing to the user as they try to complete their goal.
Make the actions and processes that you want your user to complete as simple as possible. Ease of use, with no frustrations, is one of the best experiences you can give your user.
You very well may be an expert in your company’s field or on your company’s product and services, but it is likely that your users are not. When designing a site for your users, you want to be as clear as possible so they can comprehend it quickly and know exactly what to expect.
This can be applied in two areas: content and functionality.
You want the content on your site to be clear and straightforward to your users. People scan a website fairly quickly nowadays, so make the content digestible by breaking it down into smaller comprehensive pieces, with clear headers and subheaders.
You have a short time to convey your message to your audience, so use language that is simple and easy to understand to express that message.
Functionality also has to be clear. If there is an action that can be taken that will help a user reach his or her goal, but it is unclear how to do such, be sure to clarify to the user how to use that function on your site.
That does not mean you should create instructions, but instead, use clear labels and design principles that match user mental models. It is also important to make the purpose of the function clear, so users know what to expect when they take the action.
When users enter your site, they may have been drawn to it through a few different avenues. Maybe they already knew your company or brand and came directly to you. Or maybe they came to your site through an ad. There are numerous possibilities, but regardless how they came to be there, your users entered your site expecting to find something related to their goal.
It is your job to make that content findable to them. In other words, ask yourself if your users are able to find the content on your site that they believe will be present on your site when they enter.
Assume you are an affordable, all-inclusive family resort. A user that enters your site to gain more information about an affordable family vacation getaway assumes content on the getaway will be findable to them.
If that information is not findable via navigation—or even through related links—users are going to be hard-pressed to find that information at all. That's why when it comes to designing for findability, a good navigation is crucial.
Discoverability is similar to findability in that a good navigation is a must. You can make content discoverable to your users by directing them through your site with an effective navigation and a well-structured information architecture.
It isn't reasonable, or good UX, to throw all of your content at your users on one page, such as the homepage. You want them to move through your site with a goal in mind, and you want them to discover new and valuable content along the way.
Another part of discoverability is functionality. Can your users discover certain functions on your site and how to use them? In this instance, we need to rely on signifiers. Signifiers communicate to the user what actions can be taken.
Say you have a call-to-action (CTA) on your site that you want your users to click. Currently, it looks like a plain label and gets lost in the rest of your content. How can you signal to your users that it is a clickable link?
In this instance, when your users hover over the CTA, make it change colors slightly. This is a signifier, which communicates to your user that he or she can take action. Signifiers play a key part in allowing users to discover what actions can or cannot be taken.
It’s very possible that your site has a great aesthetic design and processes with great usability, but is your brand and content desirable? Many of the other principles we have discussed relate back to rationale, but desirability relates to the emotions of your users.
What does desirable mean in this context? In terms of UX design, it goes beyond just having a nice look and feel and gets to the heart of the matter to engagement. Do your users desire to engage with your brand and its products?
There are plenty of products and services out there that have very plain user interfaces or even bad usability, but if the user desires the product and service, then often times they are willing to overlook these flaws. One key factor that you must always keep in mind is the user’s perception of value.
It’s safe to say that desirability can sometimes supersede some of the other principles, because of its relation to the user's perceptions and emotions. A question to ask yourself is—what is your user placing value on? This will help you answer what experience it is they desire when interacting with your site or brand.
Without a doubt, UX design goes beyond these 5 principles, but these few are a good starting place. When designing your next site or making improvements to your current site, remember to keep these 5 essential principles in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a great experience for your users.
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