Beantin

James Royal-Lawson

Web management

UX is fundamentally technical

There is no universal definition of UX. Almost everyone has their own idea of what it means and what it encompasses.

A lot of the time we talk about UX as an umbrella term for a wide range of tasks and specialist areas.


Interaction design? Wireframes?

If you take a look at “UX” job postings, you’ll probably be led to believe that the role “UX Designer” is synonymous with “Interaction designer” or just a producer of wireframes.

There are some aspects of UX that everyone agrees on. At the very least, the (digital) user experience is everything you come into contact with on your screen and how it makes you feel.

UX Podcast

In episode 36 of UX Podcast, Per and I turn our attention to the term “UX” and it’s misconceptions. Can it be defined? Can you be a “UX-er”? Is the phrase “UX” needed or are we just unnecessarily complicating things?

I said during the show that User Experience isn’t, and can’t be, an occupation. It’s a topic rather than a task, but it’s a topic that many of us are passionate about.

We really do believe in making great user experiences (and happy companies as a consequence!)… and we all have our toolboxes of tools to help us achieve that.

Fundamentally technical

What we can’t get away from is that the user experience is fundamentally technical. You can’t craft a digital service to deliver a fantastic user experience without also scoring high on the technical side.

You can have a huge amount of insight into user behaviour. You can have walls filled with effect maps, wireframes and personas.

But unless you piece it all together with the right technical glue, you’re going to under-deliver and end up with an expensive and sub-optimal user experience.

Page speed/Performance, SEO, back-end, front-end, accessibility, usability, interaction, design, information architecture, content, branding… any of these and more can trip up your well considered UX in an instant.

A guiding hand

With the diversity (and multitude) of roles involved, plus the complexity of what we are producing, the UX-er – if it’s going to be an occupation – should be a silo-crossing hand holder.

A constant hand-holding role that remains present from start to finish (from research to deployment), making sure the pieces are all put together as expected and not just a a box that’s ticked when someone’s signed-off on a bunch of wireframes.

Grab my hand! It’s going to be a bumpy ride…


James Royal-Lawson+ is a freelance UX-er, hand-holder, and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

How can I improve my website?

No website is perfect. It’s not going to be. The pace of change within digital media is far too fast for us to reach perfection. We can though make them more effective.

People learn and adapt. We learn and adapt. We adjust and improve.

Testing and tweaking. That’s how you can improve your website. Adjusting and improving. Optimising what you’ve got.

A wise man said to me that you should aim to increase the conversion rate of your website every single month. A good goal to keep things moving.

4 areas of optimisation

The way in which you can improve your website is quite straightforward. There are four areas of website optimisation you should focus on.

All of them are interconnected and all of them affect your bottom line. They cost you money if you neglect them, they earn you money if you give them a little love and attention.

The four focus areas of optimisation are:

  • Web performance optimisation
  • Search engine optimisation
  • Usability optimisation
  • Conversion rate optimisation

Freeing up untapped potential

Everyone working with digital media and e-commerce is aware of Search Engine Optimisation. Often “optimisation” is taken to mean SEO and nothing else.

Many companies have spent a fair bit of cash over the years paying for SEO and SEM services to drive more traffic to their websites.

Increasing (relevant) traffic to your website is almost always a good thing. Unfortunately, if you’re site has poor usability or is sluggish due to poor web performance then you’ve got untapped potential.

The best way to free untapped potential is to turn your attention to your website. A good starting point is a website review.

Web performance optimisation

Start with web performance optimisation – in plain English, we’re talking about page speed. How fast the page loads and responds for your visitors in the context they use your site.

For some this context might be sat at a desktop computer connected to the internet via a high speed connections. For others it could be via a mobile telephone whilst in a moving vehicle.

For every second it takes for you pages to load, you could be losing you could be losing 7% of your online business. That’s expensive. Here are 5 practical tips from me to improve your page speed.

On-site SEO

After web performance, I’d tackle on-site search engine optimisation. This is where you make sure that your website is presenting the right content to search engines so that they in turn can present the right content to your potential visitors.

We need to help convince them that your page is the one they should click on amongst all the others.

Usability

Your website needs to be usable. Visitors need to be able to complete their tasks without falling over as if their shoes have been tied together. Optimising the usability of your site is your way of untying them.

The most basic (and critical) usability issues can be pinpointed quite easily. But you learn the most by testing and then analysing the behaviour of real visitors to your site. They are the ones trying to use it, not you. It’s their behaviour that counts.

Conversion optimisation

Once you’ve worked our way through these three areas of optimisation, it’s time to set your focus on CRO – Conversion rate optimisation.

This is where we look at the goals of your site and the steps a visitor goes through reach them and try to make sure the highest number of people possible make it all the way to the end.

Although usability and conversion optimisation are intrinsically related and overlapping, they are different.

You could say – Usability is making sure that it’s possible for visitors to complete their tasks. Conversion optimisation is giving them the right nudges to make sure they actually do.

User experience

I’ve laid out these four areas of optimisation for you in a specific order, but you can switch the order around or run the whole lot in parallel. It’s just a matter of resources and a bit of planning!

All-in-all we’re optimising the user experience. I could have sliced this up in a few difference ways, but all-in-all if we create high quality digital experiences, both the customer and your business will be as happy as the cat who got the cream.

Take the first step in optimising your digital business: check out my website review and audit service.

James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist, web manager and optimiser based in Stockholm Sweden.

5 basic (and practical) ways to make your site load faster

Faster is better. There’s no arguing about it. Google likes faster pages, people like faster pages. Your 3G wireless connection loves leaner, slimmer pages. God damn, your shareholders love them too!


Website performance optimisation, like search engine optimisation – or any optimisation – is a fine art. It also follows the law of diminishing returns. The largest efficiently gains can be made from a handful of optimisations. Futher gains are possible but at an increasingly higher cost.

5 basic tips

Here are 5 practical ways that you can improve the load time of your web pages.

  1. Head stuff. Put CSS first, Javascript last – Javascript blocks loading the other files in the head part of your HTML. Put your CSS and Javascript in as fewer files as possible, and minify them all.
  2. Width and Height. Declare width and height on all img tags – this reduces the need for browser redrawing/reflow once images are loaded. Yes, you can set the size in CSS, but in the tag itself is marginally better and often possible for web editors to do themselves.
  3. Code efficiently. Both HTML and CSS. Deeply nested div tags, empty div tags and overqualified CSS-selectors make James cry. For many this will be the least practical suggestion in this list.
  4. Static content. Serve static content using a CDN or (for example) Amazon S3 and a separate domain (for example, I use media.t1n.se). With Amazon S3 it is very easily for any website to spread requests over 3 domains if needed. An additional advantage of a separate domain is that you can keep it cookie-free, reducing requests and bandwidth even further. Exception: serve your CSS from your main domain.
  5. Trim the fat! Have less stuff on your page! – Ground breaking advice I know, but it’s too easy to let your web pages become cluttered, especially with sliding banners, widgets, and other externally hosted scripts. Use ROPS to assess the cost of new features.

Bonus tips

It goes without saying that you should be using gzip compression and sensible caching policies on your web host – if you’re not already, then it’s likely that fixing it is probably not “simple” (or unfortunately someone somewhere isn’t up to their job).

Google’s page speed analyzer which is available as an additional to the Firefox add-on Firebug gives some excellent feedback on the state of your web site, including practical tips. It also provides optimised images and compressed scripts as ready-to-download files.

Yahoo have written up best practices with regard to improving site speed. The list includes 35 different tips, and should keep you going a fair while.

Finally, this article is a great bit of further reading and gives detailed advice but written in a way that makes it accessible for more than just the front-end web developers it targets.

Responsive

If you are working on a responsive website, then congratulations! Make sure website performance optimisation is a clear part of your work. It’s more important than ever in these types of websites and has a huge impact on the user experience.

If looking for ways to optimise your website feels a little beyond you, get in touch, I’d be more than happy to help you out.

James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist, optimiser and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

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