The user interface design of your website, just like any other product, will ultimately determine its success.

Think back to Zune, Microsoft’s ill-fated music device that was supposed to compete with Apple’s iPod. Zune never took off, in large part because of its user interface, which just couldn’t compete with Apple’s elegance.

Likewise, Ford’s Sync has gotten poor user reviews that resulted in low satisfaction rankings for vehicles that featured it.

These are just two examples of products where a poor user interface design has caused problems for the product’s manufacturer.

User Interface Design for Websites

As it is with product user interface design, the interface design of your website is equally important.

What happens when someone first lands on your website?

What type of emotions are evoked as your visitor begins browsing and navigating through your website?

Is the visitor frustrated, and seemingly having to hunt for every critical link?

As you can imagine, this type of user interface on a website would result in a very poor experience for the visitor.

On the other hand, if a visitor on your website was hand-held, and seamlessly guided through your website as they experienced easy navigation, then the user experience would be substantially better.  And this more favorable experience would translate into a visitor who may become a customer, or at least someone who more than likely will return to your website again.

The user interface design of your website is critically important in not only making a strong first impression, but also in setting the stage for one of the most important analytic measurements in all online traffic – returning visitors.  

If the visitor to your website does not have an enjoyable experience after visiting for the first time, the odds of that person ever coming back are nominal at best.

And perhaps even more damaging is that person talking negatively about your website, or sharing how frustrating it was to visit your website.

what does effective user interface design look like?

When products have similar capabilities, the product with the best user interface will usually capture more market share, even if the buyer has to pay a higher price to get it.

A better user interface is perceived by many people as a mark of higher quality products and services.

In fact, every product needs a good user interface design.  Manufacturers have the engineering skills to design and make a product that does what it needs to do, but they often lack the skills to make the user interface as functional as a customer would like it to be.

And so it is with the design of your website! 

Whenever possible, you want to reach out to the visitors of your website to get feedback about their experience while visiting your website.  Their response, whether good or bad, is a direct reflection of the user interface design of your website.

What are people’s perception of your website, and of your business, after leaving your website?  Did they leave with the impression that you website and business have that mark of “higher quality”, especially compared to your competitors?

User Interface Design Strategy:  Make It Intuitive

A user interface should be intuitively obvious to anyone using the product. Consumers don’t want to refer to a manual to look up what a button does, or how to set up a key feature. Companies don’t want to spend time training employees on how to make equipment work. The user interface for medical and safety equipment needs to be intuitively obvious – customers just want things to work.

The intuitiveness of your website

One of the last things your visitors want to do while visiting your website is have to think too much, or search too hard to find what they are looking for.

In fact, visitors hitting your website will have the most favorable experience if the user interface design is such that you’ve already considered your visitors needs and interests, and allocated your design elements so those needs were met quickly and efficiently.

A good website design and user interface is a lot like a good waitress, they know your wants and needs and stay two steps ahead of that curve while you are visiting.  A strong user interface design of a website will forecast the wants and needs of the visitor and make every allocation to satisfy those needs before the visitor even realizes he or she has that need.

Effective User Interface Design Strategy:  Test It With Novices

Your engineering and marketing team may find a user interface easy to use because they’ve had a hand in its development and lived with its evolution.

The true test of a user interface is to let a novice try it.

Convene a panel of users familiar with a competing product and watch them interact with your design. Listen to their comments after the test, as you may find them eye opening.

Find a way to get feedback from visitors.

When the user interface design of your business website has effectively integrated a visitor feedback form that is actually being used, then you know you are on your way to a successful web presence.

After all, when you are initially building your website’s user interface, it can be challenging to know exactly what each visitor – or the visitors as a whole – are going to be interested in.  That’s why feedback is critically important for the on-going optimization of your website’s user interface.

Analytics is a form of feedback!

You may not have ever considered this, but traffic analytics is a form of customer feedback.  Analytics will tell you exactly how people got to your website, and what pages were most interesting to them while on your website.

The best part is, analytics data is objective, which means the visitor doesn’t know their behavior, clicks, and navigation are being measured.

This gives you, the website owner, even more valuable feedback because since the visitor doesn’t know their clicks are being measured, their actions on your website will be more natural.

The feedback from analytics will tell you valuable information about your user interface design such as:

  • what are the most popular pages within your website
  • where do visitors click after getting to your website
  • what elements of your website are visitors most attracted to
  • what page, pages, or elements are causing visitors to leave your website

As you can see, traffic analytics can become the single most effective form or feedback on the user interface design of your website.

User Interface Design Strategy:  Test In Real World Conditions

If your product is used in a noisy or dim environment, test it under those conditions. If the operator will be wearing gloves, test it wearing gloves. If the consumer needs to change stations while driving, test it (on a closed track!) while the vehicle is in motion.

You get the idea.

What works in the lab may not always be so easy to use in the real world.

Your product may not require the easy grace of an iPod, but you should take as much care in designing the user interface.

And as it is with physical products, so it is with the user interface design of your website.  

One of the best ways to find out what’s working within your website’s user interface design strategy is to do what’s called split testing.

Split testing is a very interesting concept and goes back to the early days of pay per click marketing, i.e. Google Adwords.  Split testing is where you, the advertiser, would be able to set up two different ad messages and test (or split test) the effectiveness of these messages.  The ad message that was getting the better click thru rates and customer conversions was the obvious winner.

The same split testing strategy can be implemented into your website’s user interface design.  With effective analytics in place, you can easily add certain web elements, plugins, ect… into your website and then set a certain period for gathering data.

For example, you want to test and ad for one of your products in the top right corner of your homepage.  So you place the ad and predetermine that you’ll let your new ad run in its current location (top left) on the homepage of your website for two weeks.

Then after two weeks, you move the ad to the upper left hand corner of your website and then you gather analytics for another two weeks.

After you’ve ran your split test for a total of 4 weeks (2 weeks in the upper right, 2 weeks in the upper left) you now have valuable information that will tell you the most valuable (or profitable) location of the ad placement.

The same split testing environment can be implemented with your user interface design of the elements of your website.

So what about you – what are some strategies you’ve found most effective at designing the user interface of your website?