While you might be new to this wide world of UX design, you’re likely not new to building digital products. Perhaps you’ve found, through trial and error, that the awesome idea you came up with to solve a problem ended up falling flat. Or that the feature request people were dying to get is now just collecting digital dust. Queue womp womp sound effect.
How does this kind of thing happen? Well, chances are you’re missing some UX best practices, and you need to infuse some of these principles and mindsets into your team (or just your own brain 🧠 ).
Why should you integrate UX best practices into your product? Let us count the ways…
- Reduce churn rate
- Increase product and feature adoption
- Make your product more “sticky”
- Spend less time re-doing features
- Prevent UX bugs that turn into blockers
- Become more competitive
UX is both a practice and a mindset: it’s about how you think and what you do. Applying certain best practices involves making concrete changes to your product, and with others, it’s about how you make decisions and prioritize things.
So, if you’re just wrapping your head around this whole UX thing, here are some high-impact UX best practices you can apply to improve your product today.
Getting users involved is an invaluable practice, that benefits the quality and relevance of your product faster than you might think. And no, I’m not talking about Jerry, your work buddy a few desks over, but actual real users that represent your target market.
User interviews are an important part of the UX design process. By speaking with current or potential users about a product or topic, you’ll better understand user needs, motivations, pain points, and workflows. These insights can spark new perspectives, challenge your assumptions, and validate your good ideas.
The hardest part of involving users is usually that first attempt at recruiting people, especially if the UX culture around you is really green. Involving users might feel like a big change for teams, and it’s normal to feel bit fearful about getting feedback at first. It could take time and energy to operationally make this happen, and to put the right incentives in place.
Adopting a user-centered mindset requires a slight shift in the way you think and the way things are done. At a high level, you’ll be ahead of the game if you can establish relationships with users who are available to interview and run usability tests with (or even more informal feedback sessions on early concepts). This could set you apart from your competitors, who might be spending thousands of dollars implementing features that are irrelevant and hard to use.
A few tips ☝️
- You don’t have to be a perfect user tester from the get-go. The most important thing is to simply into the habit of speaking with people and testing things.
- Running short usability tests as a baseline will give you great ideas on how to prioritize your backlog.
- Testing early concepts before going all-in on development helps you rethink your approach and de-risk your ideas. It’s the ideal way to make sure you’re spending resources wisely.
Learn all about the UX design process in our course “Intro to UX for teams”
Keep UX copy clear
At the root of any smooth navigation experience is clear copy. Copy refers to the words used on your screen, and words matter. Much like the significance of words in a face-to-face conversation, the same principle applies to digital experiences. Nailing the copy isn’t easy—it requires serious effort.
Copy is especially crucial for experiences that involve heavy step-by-step interactions, like onboarding, filling out forms, or really any time you click a button.
Many under-designed products are chock-full of confusing word choices. Take, for example, a product that uses three different words—remove, delete, and archive—for the same action. This inconsistency degrades the user experience, leaving users confused and skeptical. Users might wonder: “If this product doesn’t differentiate between these words, what else are they missing?”
Our recommendations 🏆
- Do a comprehensive copy audit. Pinpoint any inconsistencies in wording and fix those issues first.
- Run a usability test to understand where people get confused regarding the words used for actions, headings and descriptions.
- Consider re-thinking how things are organized to suit mental models that people are already familiar with.
Maintain general consistency
Consistency can come in the form of visual design, behaviour, information architecture, or logic in your system. It might sound a bit abstract, but let’s paint a picture: Imagine you’re trying to send an e-transfer. As you go through the process, the screens change colour, each form field acts differently to tell you what’s required, and most buttons say “next,” but one of them says “proceed” right in the middle.
A word of wisdom ☝️👵
Audit your software for consistency differences. Map out the journey from screen to screen in your main flows, note any wonky behaviours or UI elements that could be changed, and prioritize them as a team.
Prevent loss of work and time
If you want to deliver a great UX, sometimes you just need to not deliver a bad UX (at least to start off). If users waste their precious time and effort, it’s a major disadvantage for your product and brand.
We’ve all filled out a long form, only to LOSE THE WHOLE THING. It’s not just upsetting; it can send users away, taking your potential revenue with them.
Consider the scale of importance here directly related to the level of investment users put in. If you fill out a form with your personal details and lose that, it sucks, but you’ll probably get over it soon enough. However, if you have to gather multiple files to upload and add numbers from your tax forms, now that’s way more difficult and stressful.
When working on digital products, your main focus should be on preventing users from losing their precious time. The best products out there avoid these major UX-tastrophies.
🏅 Pro tip: Apply this concept when prioritizing your backlog: the more users lose, the more important the fix or feature.
Optimize for efficiency
On the flip side of ‘avoiding a bad UX experience’, we have the potential to boost ease of use by filling in the gaps for people. This is where thoughtful defaults come into play. They are a hard nut to crack, and may not seem like typical “design,” but well-done defaults are a crucial part of the user experience (and absolutely a design choice).
Take this real-life example: Once upon a time, we were working on an early-stage fintech product. In one form, people had to declare their criminal record. The first field in the form was “Name of crime convicted” and the default selection (before we sounded the alarm) was “assault”. This is exactly the kind of detail you want to pay attention to, so you don’t accidentally accuse your users of committing a pretty serious crime. #thatwasacloseone
But back to defaults and efficiency. The more you can usher people along, filling in the likely defaults along the way, the better your product will be—especially when there’s a lot of work to be done in your product. Just be cautious when it comes to selections that are of a more sensitive or high-stakes nature.
🏅 Pro tip: Humans only have so much mental energy, so ask yourself: Is this field or decision someone has to make worth their energy? Or can we have a default in place to help them fast forward?
Follow a clear visual design and visual hierarchy
Your user interface’s (UI) appearance is a game-changer: it can make your product appealing, or, in the worst case, confusing. Visual design involves expertise in arranging elements so that they function seamlessly in a UI. You’ll want to learn how to align elements on your page, build a type scale, build a UI colour palette, and the basics of visual hierarchy.
Our recommendations 🏆
- Be judicious with your font styles—don’t go overboard.
- Follow a clear page hierarchy: higher-level headings should be more prominent.
- If you’re using a lot of colour, have clear reasoning behind your choices (for example, red and orange are typically used for warnings and errors).
- Use a consistent interaction colour throughout the whole experience.
Ensure high-quality UI interactions
Think of interactions as how the interface reacts to what you’re doing, and what it communicates back—it’s essentially UX feedback. At a super high level, each step a user goes through needs to be played out in the user interface through interactions. It’s the action <> reaction of the experience.
To complete a task, users need to know if the action exists in the first place, how to do it (e.g. fill out a form), and how to complete it (click save). Then to finalize things, they need to know whether the system is loading and if the task was completed successfully, or if errors occurred (and how to fix them).
High-quality interactions are especially important in the world of enterprise products, as people use these products every day at work. Good design affects workers’ efficiency and reduces the chance of critical errors.
Our recommendations 🏆
- Ensure loading indicators are in place where relevant so that people don’t think the system is broken.
- Include error feedback where it makes sense, using clear language to explain what happened and what’s next.
- For successful actions, a simple toast or banner is better than nothing to keep people in the loop and prevent them from trying to repeat actions.
Reduce loading time
If you want your user experiences to even stand a chance at being ‘good’, ten loading time is a key requirement. Imagine an interface where you’d have to wait three seconds every time you click on something 🤯 it’d be impossible to use—the system isn’t going nearly as fast as your brain. Womp womp x 10.
Fixing loading or performance issues requires a lot of development tricks and effort. But there are a few situations where it’s not even worth trying. In the enterprise software world, long loading times can be unavoidable, especially when these complex products run intense processes on ginormous amounts of data. At that point, it’s more about giving appropriate loading feedback than it is about preventing loading time altogether. And that’s okay! As long as your system is telling people what’s up, they won’t think it’s broken.
🏅 Pro tip: Integrate loading time into your non-functional requirements. Create a system for what’s being loaded and the amount of time it takes. As a team, define what’s acceptable and what’s not for your product.
And there you have it! Armed with these best practices, you’ll be better equipped to create top-notch user experiences. And having better user experiences across all touchpoints is a huge competitive advantage.
Whether you’re avoiding UX-tastrophies, fine-tuning your visual hierarchy, or improving loading time, remember that: clarity and consistency are key. Don’t forget to involve users, as they’ll help you prioritize your backlog and avoid creating irrelevant features.
You can dive a lot deeper into each of these UX fundamentals, but starting with these basics will get you off on the right foot when designing products.
Want to keep nerding out about UX best practices? 🤓
Sign up for our Intro to UX course, where you’ll look at UX through the lens of software people use at work. Get real-life examples, scenarios, and business stories to apply UX best practices and work better with designers.