A UX Intro

I was looking through some materials I used in teaching a course that included a unit on UX. The user experience is abbreviated as both UX and UE (which somehow in itself seems like a bad user experience). UX is how a user interacts with and experiences a product, system, or service. In that course, I had students looking at the UX of websites, but it can be applied to many other tech and non-tech instances.

Basically, you look at a person’s perceptions of the ease of use, and efficiency of a site. Companies are obviously interested in that and so designers need to use it in the creation process.

It seems odd that although the questions asked of users seem very subjective, the attributes that make up the user experience are objective.

Here are several basic terms used in UX.

Affordance – is one of the concept features that measures how well a user understands a feature without knowing how to use it. An example on a webpage or an object would be that something that need to be pushed or clicked looks like a button that should be pushed.

A/B testing – a controlled experiment for comparing two versions of the design. For example, you might present two color palettes of the same webpage design to determine if the colors make any significant change to a user.

Wireframes –  a simplified representation of your website or application consisting of just lines and text that can be hand-drawn or electronic and in this early stage true visual design and color are not presented.

wireframe for a user profile page

Mockup – is a richer visual version than a wireframe, including graphics, layout, and style. For products, these can be actual objects that users can hold or see as 3D objects.

Prototypes – are a further step toward the final product or website. This version can be responsive and there may be website items to click or enter data. They usually contain images and content such as text. Product prototypes can be physical objects, but a plastic or metal object might be made from paper or even just a 3D digital version. Technically, wireframes are prototypes but they are “low fidelity” and lack details.

Accessibility is something that is unfortunately too often overlooked. The common perception is that it is about users with disabilities, but that is too limited. Many users have “special needs.” Blindness would certainly be an accessibility issue but so would color blindness. A website designed for desktop users can present accessibility issues for all users if used on a smartphone.

There are many other terms used. The collection and analysis of UX data is itself an entire unit of study that would include things like clickstreams, diary studies, eye tracking, heat maps and card sorting.

The Infinite Scroll Debate


Of course, infinite scroll isn’t really infinite.

Infinite scroll became a design practice about a decade ago. It is a web design technique where, as the user scrolls down a page, more content automatically and continuously loads at the bottom, eliminating the user’s need to click to the next page.

In earlier decades, the idea of having a long web page (nowhere near infinite!) was considered poor design. In fact, early web design was based on the design of print, especially, newspapers, which thought of the initial desktop screen view without scrolling as the same as the “above the fold” for a newspaper.

A 2006 study by Jakob Nielsen found that 77% of visitors to a website do not scroll, and therefore only see the portion of the website that is above the fold. Some designers still believe the “fold” is worth considering today, but the move to small screens and mobile design has changed how we define that “fold.”

What are the advantages of the infinite scroll? It allows people a frictionless browsing experience without having to go to a “next page” link, arrow or button. Without a end point or bottom , people tend to keep scrolling. Therefore, this scroll is designed to pull you in.

It is a bit addictive – a rabbit hole and some people warn that it has psychological and even societal effects. The term “addictive technology” is sometimes considered antithetical to “ethical design.”

In 2019, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley introduced the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act which would outlaw social media platforms from using certain practices, including infinite scroll.

Infinite scroll can also make navigation especially difficult for users with disabilities.

One typical design feature – the footer – is diminished, if not eliminated in the infinite scroll design. This area typically contained “About” and “Contact” links and perhaps an entire menu and information that was carried over to the rest of the site. It is a long scroll back up to the top of an infinite page to get to the main menu.

Many users know how to jump back to the top of a long page, but not everyone, and it can be frustrating to a new viewer.

It’s easier to “get lost” on a long page. Long pages also load slower, which is an issue for anyone on a slower connection.

So, should you use infinite scroll? It is a consideration. And a compromise is longer but not infinite pages. I find most designers are not recommending it to clients, but be informed.

More at builtin.com/ux-design/infinite-scroll