At CQL, we are committed to designing and building top-notch user experiences for our clients and their customers. As a User Experience Architect at CQL, my job revolves around defining what “top-notch” means, and then architecting that experience.
What is User Experience?
As its name suggests, the field of User Experience (UX) is all about the emotions, impressions, interactions, and outcomes that a user has with a particular brand or product. User Experience (UX) practices and roles can vary pretty significantly across different companies and organizations, but at its core, UX focuses on ensuring users enjoy their experience and come back for future purchases and services.
UX specialists have to be flexible and able to create effective experiences. Is an experience particularly complex? A UX practitioner will work to ensure that the experience seems as simple as possible and ensure that users are well-supported through it. Are users frustrated after interacting with a product? A UX practitioner can find out why they are frustrated and recommend how to fix it. Are users getting lost or not successfully converting on a site? A UX practitioner can identify points of friction in the experience and determine how best to clear the way for users.
The field of User Experience stands at the intersection of a variety of other specialties, and UX experts often come into the practice from diverse backgrounds. UX fuses creativity and design principles, psychological methods and concepts, and even some technical and marketing methodologies. It’s pretty common for UX practitioners to have a background in software or web development, business, architecture, or the humanities.
So what, exactly, do UX Architects do, and how might you see us popping up on your project team? At CQL, User Experience Architects are involved with projects from inception through development and launch. During early discovery sessions, we gain a better understanding of the goals, needs, and priorities of our clients and their users. The insights we gain from discovery informs our approach and decisions throughout our design process.
After we have completed and delivered our designs and specifications, we stay engaged throughout the development process to ensure that our product is meeting the expectations of our clients and users. We’re also around to help problem-solve any usability challenges or questions that come up as our developers are working. Here are some of our key UX activities and deliverables.
If you’re looking to gain a better understanding of your users, we can help you do just that. UX practitioners have a toolbox of methods that can help us learn (almost) anything you want to know about your users:
- Who are they?
- What are their needs, goals, expectations, or pain points?
- What are their impressions of your site or brand?
- How would they structure your site, if it were up to them?
Some of the methods that enable us to gather this information include surveys, interviews, observation, card sorts, and more.
There’s no better way to identify how effective your product is than to watch your users interact with it. There are different types of user tests and different methods by which they can be conducted, but the intent behind them all is the same: to figure out what works, what doesn’t work, and how an experience can be improved, with every aspect sourced from its intended users. Some user testing methods are especially beneficial in that they elicit rich anecdotal feedback, while others help produce valuable data about task completion and success rates. User testing can also be conducted across devices and with different user segments.
Most user testing activities involve providing users with a product (either one that already exists or a prototype) and giving them tasks to attempt with it, ranging from finding a piece of information to completing a multi-step process. During the test, users provide their impressions and answer questions about the ease-of-use of the experience.
User Experience Architects are trained to evaluate, analyze, and craft effective experiences, which means we specialize in usability best practices. As a result, we are able to conduct heuristic evaluations, wherein we assess a site or experience objectively against usability standards. We can use this information to identify and prioritize improvement areas, and provide a better experience. Many UX practitioners have additional interest or experience in other domains, like SEO or Accessibility, which means we can conduct audits through a wide variety of lenses.
These types of analyses or audits are often conducted in conjunction with our strategy team at the beginning of projects, and helps us to define a feature set and specific expectations for the product.
One of the most critical elements of any experience is its structure. Good site structure and navigation make it easy for users to find information and easily accomplish their goals, while poor architecture creates a major barrier for users and leads to high bounce rates. User Experience Architects can help organize content and information in a logical, intuitive way that will translate effectively through all aspects of an experience, from its navigation to its checkout flow.
Before building an experience, we need to have a clear picture of what we will be building. Like blueprints for a house, wireframes provide the framework for an experience. Wireframes allow us to ensure we are accomplishing our goals, help us start visualizing layout and accommodating data or state variants, and enable us to see how the pieces of an experience fit together. At CQL, we often work with commerce platform partners such as Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Workarea, and more. These platforms have default, or out-of-box, experiences, and we use wireframes to identify, represent, and explain our recommended, high-value customizations or changes to those platforms.
Wires are typically lower-fidelity mockups so that changes can be made quickly and easily. Since wireframes are used as the basis for visual comps (the pixel-perfect rendering of screens to be built), the generic, grayscale styling of wires gives our creative visual designers full jurisdiction over how a brand is translated and represented in the designs.
While we use wireframes to align on general approach, structure, and framework for a site, we use Functional Specifications (or the UI Spec) to communicate the rules and functionality that underlie the experience. For each element, the UI Spec defines its:
- Rules: when and how it should display, any special use cases, variants, or any specific logic or requirements to account for
- Functionality: what should happen when the user interacts with it, by hovering, clicking, tapping (on mobile), etc.
These specifications allow us to think through all aspects of our experience to ensure that we are delivering a usable, high-quality experience. They also provide our developers with specific instructions so that they can determine the level of effort required to build the experience and the requirements that they need in order to do so.
Get a User Experience Architect On Your Team!
The User Experience Architects at CQL are dedicated to designing and delivering high-quality, scalable, intuitive, and conversion-driven experiences that leverage powerful technologies and design, ecommerce, and usability best practices to help you (and your users) achieve your goals.