Content, code & design: the three pillars of an effective user experience

3 minute read

If you—like myself and the rest of the Integrity team—have been on the front lines of digital since the web’s inception 20 years ago, then you know the demand for world-class user experiences is greater than ever.

Today’s consumers are looking for more than just a stand-out logo or a catchy slogan. They’re looking for an outstanding experience, whether it’s in a store or on the web. We remind our clients all the time that their user experience, or UX, is their brand.

When it comes to building an effective, delightful online experience for a client’s users, we always use a model foundationally aligned with the three core disciplines of our agency: content, code and design.

three-pillars-graphic

Breaking down your user experience challenges

The UX is the overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use. Content, code and design work together to create this “overall experience.”

If you’ve ever landed on a website or used an app and found that it just didn’t feel right, odds are one of these three pillars was subpar. The UX issues resulting from poorly executed content, code or design are easily identified, even by inexperienced users. Where a good UX might be subjective, a bad UX is painfully obvious.

Content

My team and I have often seen our clients overlook this pillar. It’s easy to forget about when you’re focusing on creating a beautiful design or writing flawless code. But bad content stands out.Users will notice ineffective or poorly written content regardless of how lovely the design and functionality are.

Here are just a few ways content and UX are directly related:

  • Spelling and grammar: Misspelled words and misplaced commas may seem minor, but they kill trust and professionality
  • Labeling: The labels on navigation or buttons can impact UX by supporting intuitive actions and inspiring delight
  • Inconsistencies: Have you ever read an article where the same word was written in different ways (email vs. e-mail)? Although subtle, these inconsistencies diminish the user experience
  • Hierarchy: The organization of the content on a site or in an app is as important as the content itself. If it’s not organized correctly it can be frustrating to interact with
  • Voice: This one is harder to recognize, but is super critical in crafting an awesome user experience. The best content strategists can create compelling content aligned completely with the voice of a brand

Design

A good design provides a delightful backdrop for the information a web product seeks to provide its users. A bad design, on the other had, can distract or frustrate users, making it harder for them to find the information they need—and thus making them less likely to interact with your brand again in the future. When I talk about poor visual design. I don’t just mean an overused color. Poor visual design comes in many forms, all of which negatively impact the UX:

  • Lack of color contrast: Designs that utilize contrasting colors can attract a user’s attention and build excitement. Low-contrast designs, on the other hand, can be boring to look at and difficult to read
  • Incorrect proportions: A simple design decision such as font size can dramatically impact the overall experience
  • Large image files: Images should always be saved for web. Large files can slow down your website, making the experience less enjoyable
  • Design for the sake of design: Design decisions made for the sake of creating an unusual or unexpected element are easy to spot. Breaking with common conventions is great for things like billboards that need to stand out to get drivers’ attention, but absolutely horrible when a user wants to accomplish a task on a website or app

When evaluating design, it’s always safe to adhere to Dieter Ram’s Ten Principles of Good Design.

Code

Fully acknowledging that code has a deep relationship with the server and network, code structure and quality critically impacts user experience. Broken code and related errors create a very frustrating user experience that also causes the user to distrust the site or app.Although the primary complaint of most users remains slow download speeds, Google has identified the following as the most common HTTP error messages:

  • Internal Server Error (HTTP Error 500): This is a general purpose error message that relates to the server potentially being overloaded
  • Not Found (HTTP Error 404): No doubt you’ve seen this one! 404s include broken or out-of-date links
  • Forbidden (HTTP Error 403): This error occurs when no login opportunity was available or if the user was trying to access a secure directory
  • Bad Request (HTTP Error 400): This is the server saying the code is accessing it incorrectly or the request was corrupted
  • Unauthorized (HTTP Error 401): This error occurs when a user tries to access a restricted page, usually because of a failed login

Code issues are often the most obvious, especially those that return errors. However, when looking under the hood, highly optimized and super clean code can dramatically improve the user experience.

Building a business around the three pillars

Integrity has formally organized itself around the three disciplines of content, design and code.For every project, we assign a lead from each of the three disciplines. These individuals serve as the core leadership team for every engagement and are responsible for advocating for their area of expertise. They operate as peers, so nobody can supercede anybody else.By empowering these three leads—each with a separate domain craftsmanship of content, design or development—we’re able to help our clients provide an exceptional overall experience for their online users.

Worksheet

User Journey Map

A tool to help you plan better content for your audience and map what users are thinking, feeling, and doing.

About the author

Ed Morrissey

Ed is an industry expert in applying creative, user-centered design and development principles to help businesses extend their brands online and better connect with consumers, employees, partners and investors.Ed’s passion for technology, creativity and user experience design has powered his 20-year track record of building and selling businesses, launching products and opening markets for both startups and Fortune 1000s.

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