They say you can’t understand how a person thinks until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. But when was the last time you walked a mile in your website to understand how your site’s visitors, clients and potential customers think? Is it intuitive to navigate? Are the most important points of information easy to find? How readily can users sign up for you to contact them, or complete a sales transaction? Website design aesthetics are crucial, of course, but many organizations forget the importance of UX – the User Experience.

User Experience is a concept that long precedes the Internet. Consider, for example, the placement of controls on the dashboards of cars – or for that matter, the invention of the steering wheel over the rudder-like sticks of the first horseless carriages. Architectural design, assembly line equipment, you name it; UX, or the understanding of how people interact with equipment and technology, and how to refine that interaction for the easiest use, is really a timeless idea.

Flash forward to the age of the personal computer, even before the Internet. PCs may have come first, but very soon came Apple, with more intuitive, user-friendly interfaces that helped people work with less frustration and more productivity. When Apple introduced the first Macintosh in 1984, the concept of user-friendliness exploded, and suddenly 1984 wasn’t like…well, you’ve seen that classic commercial.

Today, UX design is a critical, yet often overlooked aspect of website architecture and functionality. It’s also a part of website design that has become its own field of specialization. When creating a new website from scratch, or redesigning an existing site, smart marketers will engage UX design professionals to examine the behaviors and navigation patterns that site visitors prefer. Test factors like heat-mapping – a survey of which areas of a website are the most-used “hot spots” – the configuration of a site’s navigation menu, auditing of how much or how little content a site should have to meet users’ needs, and many other factors go into creating websites that not only look good, but keep visitors engaged longer (and more effortlessly convert them to more sales or inquiries).

Key factors that UX web designers focus on are:  overall usability, ease of finding the most important information, credibility, accessibility, desirability of use (that gets back to appearance and content), and the overall value that a site brings to its brand’s mission.

That isn’t all, though. Mobile devices are increasingly the only way many people use the Internet now, so a major spinoff of the UX philosophy is responsive design. That’s to say, how a website’s appearance and functionality respond, or adapt, to the device on which it’s being viewed. One size does not fit all, so website designers and programmers have to incorporate functionality variations so that a website will include the same content no matter how it’s being visited, but will be as visually pleasing and easy to use on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or on a large format screen.

So, if you’ve never done so, go onto your own website and spend an hour really using it as if you were a client, customer or prospect. Do the same on your major competitors’ sites, and compare notes. Or, ask friends or colleagues to give their honest critiques. Then, contact Red Thinking, for an in-depth analysis of what’s right and what’s wrong with how your current website feels and functions. Much more than graphic design and messaging define a strong website (though, of course, those are essential). Equally important is an understanding of how users interact with your site and how it interacts with them. Fold all of those factors together, and you’ll create a website that people like to visit, use, and will come back to again and again.