For any startup business looking to make its mark, a great first impression is of vital importance. Especially for a company selling a bold and innovative new product or service, you have a short and limited window to clearly communicate what your business does and what it stands for.
In the case of many tech startups, the website or app is the business – and so embracing User Experience (UX) principles can be absolutely critical to ensuring the user enjoys the time they spend interacting with the company and its services.
Author Adam Judge has said that “the alternative to good design is always bad design. There is no such thing as no design.” With that in mind, let’s take a look at four essential UX principles that will ensure your website or app is effortless and enjoyable to use.
1. Keep it simple
A good UX designer will never want to overwhelm the user with too many choices or an overabundance of visual clutter. It can be tempting to throw everything onto the screen all at once – the services you offer, your testimonials, your beautiful promotional artwork, buttons telling the user to do this or that, a navigation menu bursting with links that open all manner of further nested sub-menus – but the end result is going to be a lot of users who aren’t sure of what the main things they should be looking at or doing are.
Especially for startups, for whom communicating a never-before-seen idea or a novel twist on a classic product is often a principal concern, clutter is poison. A visitor could land on your page and not be entirely sure what your incredible new technology actually does – so make sure they find out right away, and with maximum clarity. Don’t make them click around several different pages just looking for a simple explanation of what you offer.
Instead, identify which elements are absolutely crucial for a user to see when they arrive – as few as possible – and eliminate or defer everything else. It may be that you need nothing more than a logo, a hero image, and a call-to-action button (with everything else coming later in the user’s journey).
If you’re concerned about making it look too simplistic, you should know that numerous studies (such as this one from Harvard) have shown that visually complex websites are overwhelmingly perceived by the public as being less attractive than simple ones. In other words, it’s recommended that you ditch absolutely everything that is not strictly necessary.
After all, the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once famously said that “perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
rench writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once famously said that “perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
2. Give clear feedback
Especially for apps, online application forms, and other forms of digital interactive media, a lack of communication can lead to a swift breakdown of the user’s enjoyment. If your website or service is unable to process the user’s request or submission, for example, it should tell them why – and how to remedy the situation.
Let’s say a user has read all about your new startup and is eager to sign up for your services – great! They click the button to join, fill out the registration form, hit Submit and then receive this message: “Error! Submission failed.” What are they supposed to do now – did they enter an invalid email address? Did they forget to complete a field? Is the website broken? They will have no way to know, and you will probably lose that customer. At least if they get a message along the lines of, “please make sure your password contains at least 8 characters” they will know exactly what the issue was and what they need to do.
UX feedback isn’t just about form
Especially in today’s world of heavily customised stylesheets, users may often not be sure if something is a link or just text that has been coloured for stylistic emphasis (and therefore unsure which elements of the page can be clicked, and which can’t). If the user moves their cursor over something they can click, then, that element should tell them, “you can click me!”
Another potential interface problem common to both users with slow connections and those interacting with a service that takes several seconds to process is that sometimes they may click a link or button, and then – when nothing seems to happen for a moment – become uncertain that their request has been acknowledged. In this case, an on-screen loading icon is all it takes to reassure the user, “your click has been noted, and the system is working on it.”
In essence: never leave your user wondering if they can or should be doing something. Consumers who are prepared to take a chance on a brand-new startup with a crazy idea are probably not an unlimited resource, so why not do everything in your power to make sure they don’t get confused and leave?
3. Know your customers
Knowing your target audience is a key principle of both business and UX design. Especially for a startup selling a new and unprecedented technology or idea, it’s good to remember that these things may not have mass appeal as such. It’s more probable that you’ll be targeting a small subset of people who are likely to be receptive to and excited about your product or services, at least at first – and so working out who those people might be and how to speak to them is of crucial importance.
UX, however, can involve getting rather more specific than the usual business demographic brackets – i.e., “Our product is aimed at 18 to 25-year-old female students and young professionals.” A UX designer might seek to understand this hypothetical ideal customer a little
For example, the designer might say: “Sally Jones is a 24-year old graduate just starting her first job. She’s short on cash, worried about her student debt and unsure whether she’s moving into the right industry.” By creating a character like this, now we can ask: how would Sally feel about our product? Does she have any questions? How does it solve a problem in her life?
By looking at your website or app through the eyes of Sally – or any other user profile you might invent, relevant to your own target demographic – you can get a sense for whether it truly speaks to the type of person you want to reach. Sally might be worried about money, so can we let her know our product is a good investment? Is she wondering whether our fancy software will run on her low-end laptop? What are her concerns?
4. It’s never “finished”
Making a smooth, enjoyable website or app that looks great and converts well is the ultimate goal, but it’s important to know that there isn’t really a moment where a startup’s UX designer can sit back and say, “at last, it’s complete!” and escape to the Bahamas.
At least, there shouldn’t be. For best results, you should always be testing and iterating, because there is always something you could improve. Maybe it would be small things – does the call-to-action button convert better if it’s red or blue? Of course, there are always larger changes that could be made, too – could the website be more appealing with a different hero graphic? Are those slick animated elements just a little bit slow and ponderous? Is the video header taking too long to load?
Even if a UX designer could make a self-evidently and objectively “perfect” website or app that simply could not be improved upon (which is impossible), it would still be necessary to make changes to it, because technology and trends move on. What happens when the new iPhone comes out, and your app doesn’t look quite right any more? What happens when your WordPress-based website gets a backend update that breaks one of the plugins? What if the web design trends of next year and the year after make your “modern” design end up looking a bit tired?
The needs of consumers, too, are ever-changing – and maybe your startup will need to evolve in years to come in order to stay relevant and find ever greater success. Don’t forget that Nintendo started as a card game company and Nokia started as a paper mill! Your company may be in its early stages today, but it’s sensible to be mindful of the future – and keeping on top of your website is crucial for ensuring that your users always get the clearest messaging relating to their exact concerns and what your business stands for.
Ultimately, for many startups in the tech sector, UX optimisation is nearly synonymous with business optimisation. If you have an app or website that generates conversions and is a joy to use, it will benefit both you and your customers alike – and will ensure that your business always puts its best foot forward.
This post was contributed by Angle Studios – a leading UX and web design agency based in Kent and London, they have over 15 years of experience delivering high-quality branding, UX and website services.