Designing for customer experience (CX) can be a balancing act between the limitations of technology and the complexity of human behavior.
Web designers and developers have to create websites that are not only functional, but also emotional.
But it can be a challenge for designers to find that balance, and many struggle to create sites that really drive ROI while still remaining user friendly and accessible on multiple screens and devices.
In his book The Purpose Economy, Aaron Hurst argues that the future of design (and the customer experience) should focus more on humanity – emotion, behavior, psychology, and so on – rather than technology.
With a heavy emphasis on AI in the design community taking precedent within the last few years, it can be difficult to see how “human-centered” design factors in.
But Hurst believes that humanity is the key to successful design.
In other words, if you want to be a successful web designer in 10-20 years, you have to focus on “human–centered” design. Here’s what that means for you.
What is “Human-Centered” Design?
We often think of design as primarily qualitative, meaning that every behavior, action, conversion, and so on can be measured objectively.
If someone clicks on a certain button, we can track that analytically. If certain buttons receive more clicks than others, we take note.
We can even rearrange menu items, images, button locations, colors, logos, fonts, and any element of a page to reflect the actions of the user.
But those things are not necessarily reflective of “human-centered” design as much as it’s a reflection of “user-behavior-centered” design. As in, we design based on what we see the user do, not on necessarily what they want to do.
In other words, designers often think of the action, rather than the inherent motivation.
It’s easy to see why, of course. It’s easier to look at a Google Analytics page and see which elements of the site are doing well. You can easily create a report, or monitor behavior that’s already happening.
It’s infinitely more difficult to predict what a customer wants, why they want it, and how they will go about looking for it.
Motivation is a problem that baffles marketers, designers, business owners, and psychologists alike. So how are designers supposed to understand the complexities of the human mind?
You’re just being hired to build a website. What more do you need?
According to Hurst, technology’s primary purpose is to fulfill desire – to help humans find purpose.
“Purpose comes when we know we have done something that we believe matters — to others, to society, and to ourselves,” he says.
To him, human-centered design is about impact and empathy. How can you build a website that allows someone to fulfill their desires, even if they’re not quite sure why they’re browsing in the first place?
The answer, to some degree, is found in the customer experience.
How Humanity Impacts the Customer Experience
Customer experience – the interactions that customers have with your organization across various touchpoints, like a website – is vital to sales and engagement.
Companies that invest in CX have 60% higher customer satisfaction rates on average than those who don’t.
CX leaders also tend to outperform their market competition by an average of 35%. But why?
What makes CX so important? Or, maybe a better question is this: What makes successful CX so important?
Because not all CX is successful. Not everyone who sets out to design a customer-focused website achieves their end goal.
In order to achieve truly human-centered design, you have to start with the human –the user on the other end. This means that designers need three things when considering CX:
Empathy – What emotions led the user here? What emotions will keep them here?
Customer journey – How will the website meet their emotional needs?
Navigation – How will they get to the end goal (the met need) practically?
When it comes to empathy, designers will need to take a step further in understanding their audience, or in some cases, their client’s audiences.
It’s not about using a red button because red buttons get more clicks. It’s about understanding why a customer would click the button in the first place.
Is there enough copy on the page for them to understand why they’re clicking the button? Is the button in a location that allows them easy access?
Customer experience is typically made up of three elements: Needs being met, ease of use, and enjoyability.
Without empathy for the user – without understanding the emotions that drive them – you may design a beautiful website, but you won’t see the same ROI as a designer who gets the motivation behind the action.
This, of course, is part of understanding the customer journey.
One step that many designers fail to take when working with clients (or on their own projects) is customer journey mapping.
Many organizations have customer journey maps already (some don’t), but if you never ask to see it, how will you understand the big picture of what your client wants to achieve with their website?
Anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can build a website. To set yourself apart as a designer, you have to show that you understand the end goals of the client and their audience.
You have to know how to create, read, and implement a customer journey map in your website’s design.
And finally, you have to know how to build a website that has practical navigation.
Even if you understood the underlying motives of the end user, and you knew exactly where they needed to go, you could still miss the mark by forgetting to give them practical steps to get there.
Is it a landing page? Is it a menu item? Is it a conversion button? Will they know right away when they land on the site what they’re going to do?
If the answer to those questions is, “I’m not sure,” then you haven’t yet achieved human-centered customer experience.
Strategies for Better Human-Centered Designs
So how do you start designing for the human experience? Here are a few tips for getting started.
1. Spend time researching human behavior
You don’t need a Master’s in human psychology to figure out why people do the things they do online. There are people out there who have already done some of that work for you, you just have to find it.
Plutchik’s model of emotional response, known as the Emotion Wheel, is a good place to start.
Or consider looking to your own online browsing experience and self-reflecting. Why did you open the email you opened? Why did you click on the link you clicked? Why did you add a certain product to your cart? Why did you abandon that cart?
Self-reflection and research are a good way to understand why other humans behave the way they do. Chances are if you do it or think it, you’re not alone.
2. Put more emphasis on audience research
If you’re working with clients who already understand their customers, you’re one step ahead of the game.
You only have to ask them for that research and partner with them to build a site that reflects their audience.
But for clients that don’t have an understanding of their audience, or maybe are in the process of refining their audience, take some time to interview them, ask for case studies, and do your research.
Designing a pretty website won’t be enough to sustain your career. Designers that outlast others are those that go the extra mile.
Create an interview template for your intake calls, or make it a part of your onboarding process to get audience research from them.
3. Think about the audience when developing your navigation
Site layout, images, font types, and so on are all subjective to the client. Maybe they want their logo to be big, maybe they don’t. That’s not what’s important.
What’s important is that their website achieves their desired outcome, whether that’s increased traffic, better conversions and sales, or something in between.
So consider what design elements work to achieve that end goal, and keep the audience research and customer journey in mind during the process.
Ask yourself questions like, “If I were new to this website, and I wanted to do XYZ, what’s the first thing I would click?”
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Create mockups that reflect motivations, not just actions.
The future of design is human. It’s emotional.
While technology will play into that, designers who really want to set themselves apart won’t just focus on the coolest new gadgets or design tools – they’ll focus on the motivations that drive conversions.