A few years ago, user interface designers realized they would be a lot better off if they changed the name of their field from UI (user interface) to UX (user experience). The name change worked on a couple levels. Mostly, it communicated that everything that happens on the website, or off of it, is part of an experience which can be either good or bad. For another, UX just sounds better. In related news, the search engine optimization field (SEO) considered a similar move, but the result was too obvious.
Every year that goes by, we spend more time online, complete more tasks online, accomplish more goals online. The places we go are getting better and better at guessing our needs and fulfilling our expectations. Those that don’t suffer more and more by comparison with everything else. The overall ability of a website to allow us to easily accomplish whatever brought us to that website is the user experience of that website.
Larger websites have to take this seriously, and use it as a cornerstone of all design and development decisions. The larger the investment, the more important it is to solve any UX issues before launching it. Bad UX stories can spread quickly, and you may never get another chance to launch.
Small businesses and organizations may not have the luxury of spending a lot of time working on user experience issues. But they still need to think about it. Generally, using current generation tools such as WordPress and Drupal will lead to an acceptable user experience. However, once you start adding long drop-down menus and huge slideshows to a website, you are changing that initial setting. The more complex your navigation becomes, the greater the likelihood of driving people away because they can’t accomplish simple tasks.
So think of the starting point as being generally acceptable, but as you add in design decisions, you need to spend at least that much time reviewing the user experience implications of those decisions. Otherwise you can design yourself right out of having an actual audience.
Time changes things, of course. A 100% acceptable website today may be just too clunky for users in ten years. Technology may well open the doors to hand gestures, visual cues, or spoken commands. Many users may be using a much reduced screen size—or perhaps a much larger canvas. Either way, the rules will change, and the best websites will adapt. Those that do will create new expectations, and these expectations will change the websites of today from winners to losers.