Why UX is at the heart of a good website

23 April, 2018

User experience or UX has been a buzzword since 2005 and chances are you’ve heard the term but there’s also an equally good chance you’re not quite sure what it means.

The role of the UX designer is to concentrate on how a website feels not how it looks. One of the first rules of UX is that you don’t talk about design.You talk about the problem you are setting out to solve.

This may seem obvious but in the excitement of commissioning a new website, architects usually skip this critical first stage. They think about aesthetics and how things look not how they work – a tendency that has wider ramifications than just successful websites, perhaps.

But before picking images for your home page, commissioning a video or deciding how to categorise your projects, you need to know who your users are and then, what they want to do when they come to your site.

Not even Google Analytics can tell you who’s visited your website and what they’re reading (we will deal with how to get around this this in a separate post) but the chances are you’re attracting a mix of people from students and job seekers to the all-important client. As new practice con/form said recently, its website is the “main marketing tool and the way that people will find us and our work”. This is particularly true for new practices and unless you are swamped with work for the foreseeable future, clients should be your most important user group too.

And just as you need to understand your client’s needs when you start a building project, you also need to understand their objectives when they visit your website – and then make their journey as easy as possible.

Very few architects do this. Too many websites I have been reviewing are gorgeous to look at but they commit a number of cardinal sins as far as good UX is concerned.

Yet for these architects who often have a rich back catalogue, great photography, video and plenty of written content, thinking about UX is even more important – otherwise it takes the user too long to find the information.

Foster & Partners has got a lot of things right from a UX perspective. It has 306 projects on its website but from first contact, you don’t drown in information because it has excellent navigation meaning you can get from entry point to what you are looking for quickly and easily.

Younger practices with fewer projects have an easier task than big firms who often struggle with their archive.

RCKa’s new website has gone down the minimalist design route which works well from a UX perspective. First, you are not distracted by busy photographs or annoying sliders – RCKa’s brand is the point of entry sitting in a vast expanse of white space – and pages have fonts that are easy to read and colours that convey a hierarchy of information.

Architects will always argue that their websites have a very different function to for example, an airline’s where people need a journey that has a fixed beginning-middle-end structure. I’m not sure. Most of us go to websites for information and if it’s not easy to find, we won’t go back.

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