One of the most overlooked things when it comes to web design is making sure the user experience of your website is as good as it can be. Often, when setting up your website, graphic design or the visual look takes centre stage. But amazing visual representation in itself is not what makes a visitor feel welcomed.
In a way, user experience design (UX for short) can be likened to the Attention phase of Moment Design, where you show by your own demeanour how to get lost in the experience. In a similar way, when you have paid attention to the user experience of your website, prospective clients will be gently and almost invisibly guided into understanding what you offer, instead of just being served with a ‘cool’ visual presentation.
In basic terms, user experience design defines how a person feels when interacting with your website. It covers anything from the functionality of your website to usability and the general efficiency of the experience of navigating your site.
Let’s run through some of the ways you can help people through the experience of interacting with your site.
1 Place important elements ‘above the fold’
Above the fold is a term that indicates the top section of your website which can been seen before having to scroll down. It’s crucial that any information or copy that tells new visitors what you are about is placed in this section.
Try to look at all the components on your homepage, from the copy and images to the navigation, and rank them in order of importance. Do not try to simply cram EVERYTHING above the fold, but make sure the most important information, and the most engaging image/s are the first things your visitor sees.
You might have to compromise and make some elements smaller at the expense of a fancy design concept, but unless your website is purely a visual showcase with no intention of selling your products or services, you are better of compromising on flashy design and having all the important elements visible instead.
2 Simplify your navigation
This is a never-ending process! As time goes on and we add new content, there’s a tendency to just keep adding items to our navigation. The quickest way to confuse your visitor is by having too many menu items and no clear path through your site.
See if you can cut down your menus. Think about whether you might be able to organise or combine pages, or move some items to the footer or your blog’s side menu, in order to make things clearer. Try not to have more than up to 6 items in your main navigation, and a max of 4 pages in your drop-downs (although sometimes having too many drop-downs in itself can get overwhelming!). If you decide to go completely without drop-downs, you might be able to get away with a few more top level items, but just make sure you have thought them through thoroughly.
3 Reorder your menu items
How you order your main menu has a huge impact on the way your visitor is guided through the experience of your website. The order shouldn’t be decided at random, but instead by paying attention to the way we tend to consume information.
Since our eyes move from left to right across a page, the order of our menu items should reflect that natural progression. It makes sense to order your items on the lines of ‘Home’, ‘About’, ‘Portfolio’, ‘Services’, ‘Contact’, because the natural journey a first time visitors will take is to, first of all, want to find out about who you are, then see your work, then see what services you offer, and ideally end up with contacting you.
4 Consider how your visitors prefer to browse
When it comes to blogs, I see a lot of missed opportunities in helping your visitors browse your (often overwhelming) content. When it comes to secondary navigation, especially in the form of the blog side menu, you can give your reader different options.
You can have different navigation paths, for example, based on the type of event or shoot, locations or style or even specific venues. That way, depending on how your visitor found you, they can easily browse all your content in a way that is most relevant to them, instead of being present only with the option of scrolling through years and years of content.
5 Make sure you include a search function
The benefits of having a search bar seem obvious when it comes to new visitors (i.e. finding what they’re looking for fast), but it is also an important tool for returning visitors.
For example, a past client will most likely not remember the whole url to the blog post on their session, so when they want to show to it to someone else (hello, word of mouth referrals), they will most likely search your site for their name.
Make sure your search bar is visible and placed where it is most useful.
6 Guide your visitor with ‘calls to action’
Often, the flow of our website and its contents seems obvious to us, but that’s because we know our work and our offerings inside out. To a visitor, however, it might not all be so obvious. So it’s important to take your visitor’s hand and guide them through the experience by making sure all your pages include call to actions that help them on their journey. In the same way as your navigation should follow a logical progression, the content of each page should have a natural-feeling flow as well.
Try to take a critical look at all of your pages and remove any dead-ends where you might lose a visitor because they are not sure where they should go next. A good example of a common dead-end is the ‘about’ page, which might have some information about you and even a friendly picture, but seeing that it is the first page most visitors hit, it would make sense to make sure you guide people towards your portfolio, or a blog post you know is effective, or even to your services page so they can get a deeper understanding of what you offer.
As an example, you could start the journey on your about page by finishing it with a link and call to action, such as: ‘If you like what you see why not visit my portfolio to see more of my work‘. Then, on the portfolio page you could say ‘For more in-depth stories, visit the blog, or take a look at the services I offer’. On the services page, you’d finish the journey by saying: ‘Get in touch and let’s chat about how we can work together!’.
As you can see, user experience design is a way of guiding your prospective client into your world. Good user experience design will encourage visitors to return often and to recommend your site to others. A site that is easy to navigate will create a positive experience that increases trust, and thus results in more paying clients that truly understand what you do.