User Experience (UX) is a staple of any web optimization process. At USF Health IT, we have a skilled in-house UX researcher, Elyse Lewis, who heads all of our major UX projects. With a Bachelor’s in Sociology from the University of Florida and a background in English literature and journalism, Elyse has learned to gather data and comprehensively present it. This is a key part of any UX process.
What is User Experience?
By simplest definition, UX is the “overall experience you have when you are using or interacting with something”, according to Usability Geek. More specifically, though, UX is focused on learning about the individual user and how they are able to communicate with a website or application. Of the UX research done at USF Health IT, Elyse Lewis says:
According to Elyse, there are three key points that UX research particularly focuses on: efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction. These three concepts all encourage UX researchers to ask specific questions about the users’ interaction with the website or application.
“User Experience means focusing on populations or groups of people and trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and what they need so that our team, others within IT, and the university as a whole, can serve those groups with excellence.”
Let’s break these three concepts down by looking at the scenario of a prospective student - we’ll call her Jane - browsing the USF site to learn more about admissions. Jane wants to know the following: what are the basic admissions requirements at USF? Is there a minimum required GPA? Or a required SAT score? She wants to know where the actual application lives on the site so that she can find it, complete it, and ultimately get a response from the University.
In order for the UX of the site to succeed in terms of efficiency, Jane would need to be able to find the answers to her questions quickly. She shouldn’t have to search through multiple layers and pages of the site in order to find a solution. There are a few things to look at in order to improve efficiency.
- Site navigation should be clear, concise, and comprehensible.
- Imperative information should live on the homepage. This is even more effective through dynamic elements like infographics or video.
- There should be clear links to important information throughout the site, especially living on the homepage should the content not be applicable there.
For the site to be successful in terms of effectiveness, it’s vital that Jane is able to accomplish her goal at all. On effectiveness Elyse Lewis says:
There are a couple of examples of effectiveness-improving features University websites in particular should focus on.
“Effectiveness leads us to focus on one of the most critical pieces of the overall puzzle. That is, our ability to help users reach their goal at all. If what they most need is to complete an online application to get into a particular college, then being able to see and click on a link leading to that application would be a critical step. Impediments to that could include links that are overly difficult to see, access, or operate - or not having that information available altogether.”
- Comprehensive apply buttons that lead directly to applications
- Application requirements pages that list clear, comprehensive guidelines
- FAQ pages that provide concise answers and solutions
While efficiency and effectiveness are goals you need to aim to achieve, satisfaction is the result you need to measure to determine if your efforts are paying off. There are quite a few sets of data you can look at in order to measure the satisfaction of your users.
- Bounce Rate - Google Analytics is a great tool to use to look at bounce rate. A bounce is a single-page session on your website. So if you have a high bounce rate, your users aren’t going past the landing page to discover more of your site. In other words, they are becoming dissatisfied quickly and leaving without engaging further.
- Social Media Engagement - You can use Google Analytics to look at where users are coming from. If there is a lot of traffic sourced from social media like Facebook or Twitter, then you know that users are enjoying your site and sharing it with their friends online.
- Google Tag Manager - You can use Google Tag Manager to track things like social interactions with your site, conversion rates, and more. To learn more about tracking social media engagement with GTM, click here.
- Surveys - Surveys are incredibly important in determining what is satisfying your users and what isn’t. Keep in mind, however, that a lot of factors go into making a survey successful, like phrasing, control group, audience, etc. That’s why Elyse Lewis insists that surveys are most beneficial when used alongside concrete, quantitative data such as those listed above.
Q&A With UX Researcher Elyse Lewis
What is the first thing you do in a UX project?
The first thing I want to know is what data sources I have access to. Can I get to Google Analytics? How much access do I have within that? I want to know if we have already met with the customer, and do we have a full understanding of all the needs they have? This provides the clarity necessary for me to take direction. I want to know if there's any historical data - is this the first time they've begun to work on something? Is this a brand new website, or has it been in existence for the past ten years? Do they already have students in the program? If so, do we have any data on them already? My first focus is on what information we already have that we can work with and what we can learn from that data.
What do you think is one of the most important tools for UX research?
I'd say it depends on what sort of information you're trying to get - so, what the goal of the customer who's collecting that information happens to be. If their goal is to have a really strong understanding of who a person is, then a persona is a great tool for them because it gives them information on their demographics, some of the things they like to do for fun, motivations, and personality traits. It gives you a fuller idea as to who they are as a person, or what that group of people have in common. If you want to know what path they're taking to get into a certain program, maybe the customer journey maps would be better for you. You can also combine tools, so that if your goal is to understand both the individual, and their service path, then I would get the persona data first, but follow-up by mapping their journey.
As the web has evolved, how has UX evolved? Or has it?
It's become something that customers and teams are focusing on more over time. They're realizing more and more - okay, we can build great tools, but many of us are very savvy with these tools. How well do we know our customers, how well do we know that these tools are going to fit them? You can see it with iPhones, virtual, and augmented reality. We're trying to create solutions that are very central to the individual. That's something I've been really interested in - how are they going to manage things like marketing and tracking the experience of the individual inside of a virtual or augmented reality? If we have an augmented campus, for example, and it's completely augmented like a science fiction novel or a movie, are we eventually going to get to the point where we're going to want to see how often people are interacting with certain parts of that world? Are there certain features that are extremely popular? Say there's an augmented character that is tied to a specific location or building. Do students seek out that area and interact with that character more often in comparison to other augmented characters and experiences? If so, why? Details like that would give us an idea as to what's working in that world, what audiences may really care about, and also what we might want to apply to the real world, as well.
What do you think is the most important thing about UX?
I think one of the most important things to remember about UX is that no matter what you're doing, you're ultimately benefitting or serving another person in some way. If you want to do well in that area, you need to understand that person as fully as you possibly can. Whether that's your boss, or a customer, or a family member - you’ll want to understand that individual if you want to be able to help them reach their goals, do it in a way that is efficient, and so that they feel good at the end of the experience. If any of those things don't quite work, you might not be building the relationship that you need. That's where user experience comes in.