User Experience - a buzz word or the way forward for web development?

User experience might sound like just another bit of marketing candy, but there’s a lot of science hiding behind this feel good phrase.People always come to a web site with a goal in mind, whether that’s to book tickets, find out when the local recycle centre is open, check their bank statement or listen to the radio. It sounds remarkably simple, a logical assertion that the purpose of any web site is to fulfil the goals of the user. But time and time again, this fundamental concept is overlooked or underestimated.It takes a subtle combination of a number of different disciplines to build a web site that is functional, attractive, supportive and user friendly. Each one plays a vital role in creating an environment where people can achieve their goals without difficulty, obstruction or frustration.

Psychology

If the purpose of a web site is to support the goals of the user, it’s necessary to understand what those goals might be. Psychology helps us understand who people are, the reasons they do things and the purpose of their choices.

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

In supporting the user it makes sense to picture the way individuals use technology. HCI helps us understand why people choose to use different technologies, the strengths and weaknesses of those technologies and the different ways people use them.

Usability

It is absolutely essential that any web site is user friendly. Usability helps us understand the elements of a web site that can sometimes be difficult for people to use and to identify ways to clarify and simplify them, removing frustration for users.

Accessibility

If a web site is to support all users it is necessary to ensure that the site is accessible. Accessibility helps us identify the potential problems people with disabilities might face on a site and to identify ways in which these problems can be avoided.

Graphic Design

Visual clarity and appeal are vital elements in a web site. Graphic Design helps us identify colour schemes that enhance readability and ease of use, whilst defining a visual identity that provides the first signal to the user that a site will fulfil their expectations.

Computer Science

For a web site to meet the target of supporting the user’s goals it is unquestionably important to use the most appropriate technology. Computer Science helps us to produce code that supports the web site and which enables us to identify solutions for problems facing users.

The whole package

User experience is born out of the knowledge and experiences that each of these disciplines bring. Independently of each other they cannot ensure that a web site will meet the goals and expectations of the user, but working in combination they produce a valuable tour de force. The web development industry is maturing from self taught practitioner to business savvy enterprise. It is no longer enough to throw a web site together, it’s not even enough to go through the motions and tick all the right boxes. For web development to meet the needs of an increasingly web savvy business world, it must be able to deliver a powerful user experience and that requires a considerable arsenal of skills.

Further reading

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