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Picture: 123RF/STOKKETE
Picture: 123RF/STOKKETE

Calling a job “UX (user experience) design” almost sets it up to be mired in an alphabet soup of acronyms and terminology. User experience relies on a language of its own – and being familiar with it is important so that both designers and clients understand each other more easily. If you’re baffled by the term “breadcrumbs” or worried about “widgets”, that’s OK – the language is really simple, once you get the hang of it. Here’s a breakdown of what it all means.

Dark user experience

It really is as ominous as it sounds – a dark user experience is a way of designing a digital experience to trick a user into an action or task that results in an unfavourable outcome. That could involve a person inadvertently getting signed up to a mailing list, and then having to jump through hoops to unsubscribe.

On a less ominous level, a dark user experience could stem from a company looking to satisfy its own needs on a digital platform rather than a user’s. A bank, for example, wants people to open accounts. They can make it simple to open but challenging to operate because they (incorrectly) assume that once users are locked in, the banks don’t have to worry about retaining them. A bank could also force a customer to sign up for unnecessary products which suit the bank’s needs rather than the customer’s.

Breadcrumbs

“Breadcrumbs” are a secondary navigation system that shows a user’s location in a website or web app. It’s a nod to the story of Hansel and Gretel, who lay down a trail of breadcrumbs to help them find their way back to their house later.

In user experience, breadcrumbs refer to a visual trail of links that depicts the user’s journey through a site or app – where they’ve come from and where they are now in terms of the site’s hierarchical structure. It’s a handy source of contextual information for users that helps them understand where they find themselves on a website. They don’t have to click through menus to find navigation options, because the experience is intuitive.

Cognitive load

“Cognitive load” refers to the amount of mental effort required for a user to complete a task. The aim is to minimise the number of clicks a user needs to do when attempting to achieve a goal. It’s essential for designers of products, services and features to keep users’ cognitive load to a minimum to make it as easy as possible for them to use the platform.

Many businesses want to showcase every bit of content, all features and every aspect of their commercial offering on their digital platforms, but what’s more important is making it as simple as possible for someone to find the essential information they need. This means pushing for simpler design, which leads to better adoption of essential products and services because it’s easy for users to find them.

Accessibility

Accessibility deals with using digital design for good purposes. It means designing an experience that is as inclusive as possible for as many customers as possible, bearing in mind potential disabilities and accessibility challenges that customers may have and designing an experience that includes them.

It requires a company to think that way across its processes, rather than just in the acquisition phase – or we head back down the dark user experience path. Once you’ve invited someone who has accessibility challenges into your digital world, every aspect of their journey with the company needs to cater for the person’s needs.

Logan Hing is a product design consultant at Strider.

The big take-out: User experience relies on a language of its own.

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