Design experiences not sites – lessons learnt by a visual designer

I used to be one of the visual designers who thought I could design a website in a few days. For an experienced designer, it’s not too difficult to put a few concepts together and build a website that looks good. But is ‘look good’ good enough?

In the past few months I’ve been working for a major car dealer in London, helping them to define and deliver their new digital presence. It’s been a challenging but really rewarding process.

From the definition of their new branding guidelines and taking the senior stakeholders to the journey of digital strategy I was able to quickly understand the value of user insight when designing and re-designing applications.

Is re-skinning worth it?

PaintbrushWhen I started with them, they had already made the decision of modernising the site. The management of this company decided to hire an agency that could deliver a new website, with a more engaging look-and-feel that will make them look good.

They spent quite a few pounds getting the PSDs done, as well as the index page (HTML and CSS style sheets). When I saw the deliverables, I thought they looked really good. They had new imagery, colours, uncluttered layout… pretty good, right?

Then I started thinking. Is it worth re-launching exactly the same experience, but with a different UI design? Are our end-users actually using the site in the right way? We have a lot of traffic, but are we providing the experience that they’re expecting?

User testing feedback makes you feel ‘naked’      

Nudist PaintingSo I challenged the team and suggested to use with a number of users to user test the current experience of the site. In our naïve minds we were hoping to validate that our users were happy with what they were getting and we only needed a ‘refresh’.

The results were more than valuable. They made us feel ‘naked’. We could easily see all the imperfection of our current solution and even though we felt proud of the things that they liked about us we could clearly see that just re-skinning the site wasn’t good enough.

Now it’s time to persuade your stakeholders

It was clear to me that we needed  a fundamental change to the way the site was structured and designed. But was it clear for my stakeholders? You can have many proven reasons why you should make changes and deliver a better experience for your users – but time and budget constraints always leave UX outside the landscape for delivery.

It’s our role as UX designers to keep ‘fighting’ for what we think is right. As the UX Lead for this project I’m trying to prioritise the requirements that I know will really resonate with what our users are expecting.

However, I don’t know if we’re going to get it 100% right. But at least I can say now that I’ve learnt the lesson and we can’t just keep ‘designing sites’ – we need to design experiences that will attract and retain users.

Images courtesy Terence J sullivanIan BurtDeSales University