Designing for the user’s experience let’s a small business make more connections, build more trust and convert more people into clients or customers.
At Team Eight, we’ve been providing web and user experience design services to small business for the better part of the last decade. Over that time we’ve seen firsthand the large impact basic improvements to the user’s experience can have for a small business—whether they’re trying to establish or strengthen a connection with their customer.
User Experience (UX) is the entirety of a user’s interaction with your brand. These interactions can include using your product, engaging with your service, your social media, your print materials, your advertising, your word-of-mouth reputation, and of course, your website. For a small business, the users you should invest in are those that are already your customers or the ones most likely to become your customers. It’s your target audience.
Whether consciously or not, you’ve probably already spent a lot of time thinking about your user. When you develop, market and deliver your product you’ve likely considered some of the following questions: Will my customer like this? Will they know how to use it? Will they know how to find me? You’ve probably also balanced these considerations against other factors such as budget and efficiency. Without this kind of thinking products and services tend to be designed to meet more short-sighted factors alone, like budget, engineering specifications or the whims of the owner or designer. This can lead to an experience that is challenging or even frustrating for the actual user. Putting the user first in the design of your products, brand and messaging results in more satisfying and delightful interactions, strengthening your customer’s relationship with your brand.
So how well do you know your users?
Designing for the user experience requires empathy and empathy isn’t automatic.
Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
Identifying and researching your target audience is the only way to move toward gaining empathy for your user. We call this user research and it’s often more direct and simple than it sounds. Conducting interviews, surveys, observation and user testing are all great tools that can provide a lot of insight into specific issues. But, usually the best place to start is simply defining the common traits and needs that your users share—best accomplished by going out and meeting a few. The resulting level of understanding of your user will be useful across all facets of your business. It can inform everything from your marketing materials and brand positioning to the actual design of your product or service.
I’ll say it again: UX and user research can be helpful across your entire business. But let’s assume you already have a product and a brand and you’ve been out there interacting with customers. Now let’s focus on the next area I’ve found is the most immediately impactful for most small businesses: your website. For many of you, your website will be the cornerstone of your marketing and outreach. It makes sense, websites are the most widely accessible form of media to the largest number of people. Pretty much everyone is online and can find your website. A website also offers so much control over your message and the user’s experience, free from the constraints of a digital advertisement or printed piece. This broad outreach and almost limitless design potential make a well-designed website a smart investment for most small businesses.
So you’re convinced UX can help your business better connect with your customers, and you agree that your website is a logical place start. But how do you start?
That depends on where you are.
If you have an existing businesses with an existing website
You've been doing your thing for a minute, and you've already got a website. Maybe you invested in an agency developed site, maybe you put it together yourself using one of the many wonderful web building tools out there today, maybe your neighbor's whizz-kid built it from scratch for you in a weekend. No matter how rough or slick your current site is, it could certainly benefit from some UX love. If you feel that most of the messaging and functionality on your site is still relevant, you probably don’t need a complete overhaul, instead a UX review is a great place to start.
Hiring a UX designer to do a UX review of your site should loosely follow these steps:
- User definitions - Gotta know who your users are and what they’re looking for. There are usually a few relevant groups that should be outlined. If needed, more in-depth user research could come into play here. Make sure to share your thoughts about who your customers are and what they are looking for. A good designer may help bring more clarity to your understanding of your customer, but don’t let that designer miss out on your experience and insight as a jumping off point.
- The review itself - The UX designer will usually comb through your site, page by page and note issues and opportunities for improvement. Depending on the scope of the review and your priorities, you may agree to focus on specific areas of your site—usually the critical conversion path for your customer.
- A lot of questions like these will come into play:
- Where are we taking the user? Is it where they want to go?
- Are we confusing the user or providing clarity?
- Are we getting the right message across?
- Are we delighting the user? Is that the appropriate goal?
- Can the user find what they are looking for? Are we prompting the user effectively?
- As a bonus, UX designers with a visual design background can weigh in on potential design concerns. Is the layout and design supporting the overall brand? Are design details cohesive, readable, and effective?
- For answers, designers will look at the pages on your site, user analytics, and potentially some recorded user sessions to see first hand how users are interacting with your site.
- A lot of questions like these will come into play:
- Suggested solutions - For each issue identified, the UX designer will usually provide a suggested solution. These can range from simple text edits to reworking the flow of a group of pages. Each suggestion should come with an idea of the effort required to address it as well as the overall impact the solution may have on your site. These will allow you to work with the designer to identify which suggestions have the most value and are worth addressing right away.
- Making the Improvements - Depending on how your site was built, you may be in a position to follow some of the suggestions yourself using your content management system or your designer may get to work making the improvements for you.
UX reviews can be a great way to manage your budget and focus improvements on the most valuable areas of your site. Ideally, your first review will open a path to continuous iteration: an open conversation between you and your trusted UX designer about what needs to be improved next. With the organized list of issues from your UX review, you can set the pace of improvements and decide which are most valuable. Either way, for active businesses, we recommend never going more than a year without a UX review.
This is what we love to do, so consider reaching out to us to get started on your UX review. If you already have a preferred UX resource, make sure you’re getting the benefits of a quality review described here.
If you need a new website
Everyone starts somewhere. You might not have a website yet, or the one you have is really just a placeholder for all the things you intended to get online. Or maybe you do have a site, but it’s been years since you updated anything. Or your business has changed and your site no longer reflects your value or speaks to your audience.
In any of these cases, you probably need a new site and there are many ways of going about it.
As I mentioned before, anyone can build their own site using one of the many sitebuilder tools out there today: Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, WordPress.com to name just a few. These can be a great solution if you are comfortable on the web and don’t need anything outside of basic images, video and text. These won’t be very helpful for more robust or unique features that your business might need.
If you want something more professional or have a need for unique features, you’ll need to consider bringing in professionals. Many agencies have access to a robust team of strategists, content creators, designers and developers that can build almost anything you can dream up. These types of teams can quickly exceed a small business’s budget. Looking for a smaller team or even a solo freelancer can be a more affordable option, but quality and skillsets can vary widely. As the UX discipline continues to extend outside of the largest enterprise level companies, it is more and more common to find agile UX designers that are also part of small, qualified design and development teams. For many businesses this might be the best option for building a website from start to launch. Either way, make sure they have the experience to build the site you are looking for and they understand the importance of UX.
Whether you choose to build yourself, hire a big agency, or go with a professional that falls somewhere in between, do not be tempted to skip designing for the user’s experience. There is not much point in investing a significant amount of time and money in a website that does not connect with your customers, doesn’t get your message across, isn’t effective at converting, or at worst is frustrating.
Designing for the user’s experience needs to be present in every step of building a website. It will inform every design decision within the site, in turn dictating what the code needs to accomplish. At Team Eight we’ve spent years developing and refining a process for building and maintaining websites that incorporates or is informed by UX at every stage.
Never stop UXing
The user’s experience isn’t a puzzle that can be solved once and you’re done. As your business grows and changes and your customers and the marketplace morph and adapt to new trends and influences, UX solutions need to be revisited and maintained. This is why I strongly recommend an iterative approach to UX. It can’t stop just because the site is launched. In fact that’s the best time to get user feedback, test your assumptions and improve your understanding. User testing, questioning and observation will always reveal opportunities for improvement.
As a business owner if you want to improve your relationship with your customers, you can and should adopt a user-focused way of thinking. Also, I strongly believe that one of the best investments a small business can make is in an ongoing relationship with a UX designer. Having a trusted professional you can regularly tap into to improve your products, services, website, materials and overall brand experience will prove invaluable.