User Experience (UX) Design is a discipline focused on ensuring that users of a website, or a piece of software have a pleasant and successful experience. This means different things for different websites or software, and its related a lot to what the user wants to achieve. If you are browsing on a news or magazine website, chances are you either want to find a particular piece of information, or else easily stumble across something interesting. If you are using a survey creation app for your customers, you probably need to be able to create exactly the kind of survey you want very quickly and very easily. It is a UX designers job to ensure that you can achieve your goals, and on top of that, that you enjoy yourself whilst doing it. This forms an integral part of building a product that people are happy to spend money on, and that they will recommend to others.

Check out a cool infographic on this at the end of this post.

UX designers spend a lot of their time considering the interfaces for websites and software, since this is where most user interaction happens. We think about things like what copy should be written on action buttons, what colour and size text should be so it is readable, and how to suggest related products or content that is relevant to users.

Underneath all of this interface though, lies the tech than makes the website or software function. If this doesn’t work, then it is impossible to craft a superlative User Experience. And underneath the tech lies something even more fundamental to online User Experiences: Bandwidth. We all know that without a doubt, one of, if not the most important factor in determining whether we have a poor experience online or not, is load time. Websites taking a long time to load, e-commerce sites not updating the shopping cart for ages, or a bit of web software hanging with a ‘processing’ graphic – these are all enough to make us leave and never come back. To ensure a truly great user experience, we have to take these factors into account, and this involves both Hosting, and Internet connection.

On the hosting side of things, we need to make sure that our website or application is hosted on a fast and reliable platform, which is flexible enough for us to set it up in a way that promotes fast load times. This can mean hosting images and different website files (CSS & JavaScript most commonly) on different subdomains (e.g. images.mydomain.com and scripts.mydomain.com) to allow web browsers to load files more quickly. It can also mean effective caching, which reduces strain on a server’s database, and allows more people to be on a website at any one time without slowing it down.

On the bandwidth side of the coin though, things get more interesting. This area is more in line with the way a UX Designer thinks, because it is more focused on the circumstances of actual different users. When we plan a website or application, we first consider who the expected users will be, as well as the kinds of technology they will use to access it. Imagine for example we are making an online stock taking application. We might work out that there are going to be three common types of user: Jimmy, who uses it on an iPad in a warehouse with super fast WiFi; Jane, who uses it on her laptop in an office with average speed ADSL, and Jake, who uses it on his phone, on a slow mobile GPRS connection. Each of these users needs a fluid, fast and responsive experience in order to achieve what they need to achieve with the app, and in order to feel happy with using it. Each of them has vastly different limitations though.

UX designers then consider things like reducing resources (pictures and other large types of files) for mobile versions of websites and software, because mobile phones usually have less bandwidth to play with. We also sometimes think about the typical mindset of these different kinds of users, and then serve them only the functionality that they need, so that less has to be loaded up front. Jake the mobile user, for example, might not need full administrative access to the stock taking software at all times on his phone, he is more focused on ticking of and checking in items of stock. The mobile version of the app then could focus primarily on this, and forego having access to more complicated interfaces that load a lot of data, and are largely unnecessary for mobile users. Jane, who uses the software on a decent ADSL application, does make use of the more complex administrative functions and has the bandwidth to handle it. Remember though that we saw she has a decent connection – not a super fast one. This can also influence how we design and develop the application. Whilst we want it to look pretty, the main influence on Jane having a good experience is whether Jane can achieve her task quickly and easily. She doesn’t need a heavily designed interface with lots of slick looking animations to do that – in fact if we did build that in to the app it would slow it down for her, and end up damaging her experience. She would be more likely to feel irritated, and less likely to recommend it as a good product.

So with this quick overview you can see how an efficient hosting/server solution, and bandwidth are intimately tied to the User Experience. UX designers and website/software developers do not have complete control over these factors – especially bandwidth, so should always consider the limitations and opportunities very carefully when planning, designing and programming. A good UX designer will forego a flashy veneer and a cutting edge animation in favour of a plain text interface, if it means a user will get what they want more quickly and more easily and be happier as a result.

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