How do you know when to invest in User Experience (UX) research and strategy, or when it makes more sense to do quick aesthetic updates to your website or app? Can updates to surface-level visuals address usability issues? Or does the experience need more fundamental changes to increase conversions? These are questions we often encounter at the beginning of redesign projects. To answer them, we must first recognize the distinction between UX Design and Visual Design.
What’s the Difference Between UX Design and Visual Design?
UX Design is about thinking from the ground up to build an experience that truly addresses user needs. UX designers advocate for the user, delivering features and content that will be most beneficial to them. This is usually done through journey maps, wireframes, and user testing. There’s a heavy focus on mapping the sequences of user actions to then create a natural and enjoyable experience.
Visual Design deals with the presentation of already defined features and content on your website or app. There’s a big focus on colors, typography, icons, and the overall look and feel of the project. A strategic visual designer uses these aesthetics to reinforce and enhance the intended user experience. This is usually done through visual comps of the user interface (UI) designs, specifying all the visual characteristics of the UI before it moves into development.
These two disciplines work together to create the best possible user experience. However, because they each bring something different to the table, you may need more of one than the other, depending on your situation. Here are some common criteria we use to decide how much UX or Visual Design is needed on a project:
When to Invest in UX Design and Research:
• There are critical gaps between what you know about users and their onsite behavior
• Users are having difficulty navigating and completing tasks
• Your digital property isn’t achieving business objectives
• Your site doesn’t facilitate purchase of your products or engagement with your brand
• You’re building a website or an app from scratch and need direction on features and content
• There’s a lack of clarity among stakeholders on project goals and business objectives at the outset
A related topic to UX Design is Content Strategy and Information Architecture (IA). Your site design and high-level structure may be fine, but if users are struggling to find relevant content because it’s either not there, or buried in outdated or irrelevant content, then a focus on content strategy, governance, and IA is your best bet.
When to Invest in Surface-Level Visual Design:
• Your site is performing well, but the look and feel are outdated
• Your site needs to reflect recent visual updates to the organization’s brand
• Content and features are solid, but UI elements are confusing users, with issues like:
◦ Spacing or proximity issues, making users miss important connections
◦ Affordance issues, like buttons not feeling like buttons
◦ Off-message or off-brand imagery that’s confusing or not engaging
◦ Consistency issues, making it hard for users to decipher and digest information
A UX overhaul can require significant investment in research, testing, content strategy, experience design, and even technology. At the same time, doing aesthetic adjustments alone can leave an experience disjointed, content challenges unaddressed, and business objectives unfulfilled. Figuring out what’s right for your organization can be difficult. But since digital ROI is critical for nearly every business, doing the analysis is worth the effort.
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