How good UI design can make or break your online presence

Simon McCade

Human beings expect high standards because of the best standards in every walk of life.

You read East of Eden by John Steinbeck and you’re forever looking for a book as good as that. You watch Leo Messi play football and you’re forever thinking that nobody will be as good as him. You listen to any record by The Beatles and you think that music will never reach such a standard again.

The same principle applies to the design of the web. The standard is so high amongst the world’s leading sites and apps that we all expect every other site and app to be just as good, but the unfortunate reality is that we are left disappointed far too frequently.

For this reason, solid design principles are vital for any brand that operates in the online space. First impressions are everything. The perceived value of a site and the products or services within it is ultimately determined by how it looks and, indeed, how it functions.

As the late Steve Jobs once remarked on design: “It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Understanding user behaviours

Before we can determine how something will look, how it will feel and how it will work, we must first determine how people think and behave

There’s an inherent inclination to assess the value that a site will bring according to how much effort it will take to engage with it. If it’s easier to use, it’s less time-intensive and, therefore, more valuable to both the user and the brand to which it belongs.

Usability and the innovation involved in the overall user experience (UX) are crucial here. We can’t make users feel like we haven’t considered their needs when they’ve taken the time to visit us. High bounce rates are usually indicative of this kind of feeling.

The determinants of perceived value

Such is the complexity of the online consumer space today, there are many factors that affect this perceived value.

The immediate impact of the user interface (UI) is one of the key determinants, but you can also throw brand status and external marketing into the mix. If a user is familiar with a brand and approves of its marketing, he or she will arrive at the site with a certain level of expectation. If they have never heard of a brand, their expectations are in the arena of the aforementioned standards of UI on the internet.

A content-first philosophy applies to this perceived value, too. If the content is designed in such a way to deliver what the user wants and needs in the moment of the first visit, the perceived value will be higher. If the content is difficult to find because of a poorly considered UI, the perceived value will be lower and an early exit will be more likely.

It’s also important to remember that the determinants of perceived value are different for every user, but much can be gleaned from in-depth and sustained research into how people are interacting with your site over time.

The deeper understanding gained from such research means that every penny counts when it comes to improving design. The Design Council said in 2015 that “For every £1 invested in design, businesses can expect over £20 in increased revenues. Design increases turnover.”

This is why immediate perceived value matters so much.

What we see is what we get

People don’t have time to give you second chances online these days. A bad first impression is a lasting impression and any amount of design and redesign is going to struggle to win them over.

Think of it like entering a new coffee shop for the first time. If you get ignored by the barista, you get a two-shot latte when you asked for a three and you have to wait 15 minutes for it after asking twice, you’re probably not going to go back, are you?

I was recently in the market for a new wireless speaker for the studio and was struck by my first impressions of two sites in particular, especially in terms of the perceived costs of their respective products.

Sonos Website Design

Sonos (above) focusses on a slick and sophisticated representation of the technology itself and ultimately leaves you with the impression that the product will probably cost more than most on the market. Ultimate Ears (below), on the other hand, provides playful and expressive lifestyle imagery that suggests a more affordable and relatable product.

Ultimate Ears Website Design

Of course, every visitor will react differently to these design choices, but it is true that the overall perception of value and, therefore, the willingness to engage will come from what matters to you as an individual: cost or status.

That’s why we, as designers not of mere graphics, but of experiences, must make life as easy and relatable as possible for all of our visitors. It still rings true that design is not a one-size-fits-all solution, so we can’t treat it like one.  

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