UX Design 101: Learning from scratch

Photo of Alex Dalgleish
Alex Dalgleish Client Relationship Manager
03 Nov 2021

The UX design process - design, user research, and improvement - is the best way of providing your users with the kind of experience that leads to sales, repeat visits and good word-of-mouth. That’s what we think at Fruto, and we've got the testimonials to back it up. Knowing your users, and viewing your site through their eyes, is key to its success.

Having said that, when I first joined the Fruto team as Client Relationship Manager, I didn’t even know what UX stood for.  When I told friends about the UX/UI design studio I’d be working for, they unsurprisingly asked what that meant. Following a quick Google search, I was able to parrot the phrase: “The goal of UX design is to create easy, efficient, relevant and all-round pleasant experiences for the user.” Follow-up questions were something I did my best to avoid. 

I’d previously worked at places like Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science, which was a chance to see how scientists go about designing new tech and materials. At Fruto, I would come to see a real similarity between their process of constant inquiry and improvement, and the work that our talented designers undertake for our clients. 

I’m constantly being blown away by the range of skills that the team bring to work with them each morning. There’s so much more to successful UX design than my Google search had told me. 

User testing

The other day, I sat in on some user testing being run by one of our team. They sat down on video chat with a member of the public to see how they interacted with a client’s product. 

I was fascinated to see how someone else used a site that (to my untrained eye) seemed perfectly functional. Given simple tasks that any user would likely want to perform, the user went about it in ways I wouldn’t have expected. They navigated to areas of the site that I thought were clearly unrelated, but they also found shortcuts that wouldn’t have occurred to me. 

The user in question was uncomfortable with technology and frequently became confused by the site they were trying to navigate. The designer running the session had to nudge them in the right direction without telling them what to do; what impressed me was the way the designer did it without making them feel inadequate. It’s not easy to do a task with a stranger watching you over Zoom, so that took real skill.

Sitting in on that session made me realise that the way I encounter a website might be completely different from the way you do - and that’s before you even start considering things like differing accessibility requirements and the various devices that audiences can now use to access your site.

UX reviews

I was similarly fascinated when one of my colleagues showed me a UX review they’ve written for a client. As is often the case, they’d approached us with a specific issue in one area of their website (in this case, issues around the login process). Looking at the site myself, it seemed fine - certainly nothing that should cause the dropout rate they were experiencing. 

But looking at the list of issues the designer had spotted and the fixes they proposed, it all made perfect sense. They had applied accessibility requirements that I didn’t know about, and made suggestions for information hierarchy that I would never have guessed - but they had also spotted things that in retrospect, were clearly causing problems. Whether it was the placement of buttons or the way that crucial information was presented, I could see how all these things were adding up to a confusing user experience and getting in the way of the client’s goals. 

User interface

Something else I’ve been discovering is how much thought goes into the process of designing a User Interface. We naturally expect the menu to be at the top of the page, and maybe we’ll go to the top right for login settings. I’d usually scroll to the bottom to find contact details, and I’d probably click the logo if I wanted to reach the homepage. 

What I didn’t realise was how much the layout of buttons and dropdowns directs the user’s eye to more and less relevant information, or the extent to which different colour choices engender different preconceptions about what this site can do for me. Purple tells users that your product is a luxury one - or perhaps you’re trying to show your professional nature, in which case blue might be a better choice? 

There’s so much more to a successful user interface than just putting your information on the page in an attractive way that fits your brand guidelines and optimises well for mobile. Every choice you make on that page affects the relationship you have with your customer, whether you consider it or not. 

The value of good UX

Going back to those friends asking about my new job, they all assumed that the process of building a new website involved: 1) telling a developer what you want, and 2) signing off on the finished product they present you with. In fact, that was always my assumption. I secretly thought that maybe the UX process was unnecessary, especially for clients who already knew how customers felt about their product.

But once I saw our team at work, the value became clear to me. It’s a human-centred approach, one which puts the user first. Our designers’ first question isn’t about what will look prettiest; they focus on applying psychology, science and industry-standard principles to make sure their work caters for users' needs.

Something I love about working at Fruto is the range of clients we work with - being based in and around Oxford, we get approached by companies working in all sorts of industries. Two that come to mind here are healthcare and education, areas in which a strong UX basis is especially crucial. 

In healthcare, there’s something called ‘defined consent’; patients must be informed what their healthcare involves, they must be told the side effects, and that information must be presented to them in a way they can understand. As digital healthcare becomes more prevalent, empowering people to make their own decisions about their care, it’s more important than ever that their design puts the user at the centre.

One client working on this was Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences. They came to us with an idea to help healthcare practitioners communicate with patients about their ‘kidney age’ and its health impacts. We designed an interface and ran usability tests with representatives of the target user groups to understand any issues they might have with the product. 

As I now know, it’s so important to understand these products from the point of view of the user - not that of the expert behind it, or the developer building it, not even of a UX expert. It’s the individuals who’ll be using them to get information about a scary diagnosis, or to make decisions about their treatment or that of a loved one. It’s the busy doctor who needs a trustworthy way to convey vital information to their patients. Every user is different, and they all deserve a user experience that works for them.

The UX design process

  • UX design is all about putting the user first and seeing your product through their eyes 

  • User testing is a key step in understanding how users will interact with your product - and it’s not necessarily in the way you think they will!

  • A UX review can be a chance to sit down and take stock of the way your product works, with an expert who knows how to find the issues you can’t

  • An experienced User Interface designer knows how the layout of a page changes how your customers interact, often in ways that run counter to your expectations

  • Sectors like healthcare have a particular responsibility to consider user experience. But it’s a consideration for any company with an online presence; if you care about how your customers see you, UX is something that you need to be thinking about.

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About the author

Alex Dalgleish

Alex is a communications professional with customer and stakeholder research experience. He has 7 years of experience creating digital strategies for B2B and B2C customers and holds a BA in English Literature and Philosophy.

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