User experience is often overlooked in website and app design and, indeed, the design of many things. How many times have you felt compelled to push a door only to find you need to pull it instead? While fire codes might dictate such design, it’s an example of user experience at work.

While taking a moment to figure out whether a door is push or pull sounds like a small thing, those types of irritants can add up online — and cost your business customers.

What is UX?
The User Experience Professionals Association defines user experience (UX) like this: “Every aspect of the user’s interaction with a product, service, or company that make up the user’s perceptions of the whole. User experience design as a discipline is concerned with all the elements that together make up that interface, including layout, visual design, text, brand, sound and interaction.”

In some cases, you can even equate UX to customer service. Similarly, the Nielsen Norman Group says a good user experience meets “the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother.” But, to go above and beyond with user experience means creating something that is “a joy to use,” they said.

“True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want or providing checklist features,” says Nielsen Norman Group. “In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings, there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.”

Also notable in this description is that it applies to any medium, whether it’s the design of a public restroom, your company website or an airplane. Many times you see these terms in reference to online design, and we’ll continue to use them in that sense here.

The difference between UX and UI.
We can’t discuss UX without mentioning user interface (UI) because the two are often connected, and also frequently confused. UX is science-based and takes into account sociology. Think big picture.

User Interface is more graphically focused, with attention to the buttons on which a user clicks and the paths that follow. UI is the look and feel of a website, its responsiveness and interactivity. A visitor might have an excellent UI with your site but walk away with a disappointing experience upon learning you don’t have the content he or she is seeking.

Further, you’ll often hear about usability, another essential element of your website and app design. This refers to the utility of a site, whether it’s easy to use and has the features you need. You may also see references to this in terms of accessibility, providing resources for people with disabilities. For example, people with visual impairment rely on software that reads alternative text out loud to them, describing images on the screen.

Why UX matters.
Now that you have some idea of what UX means, why does it matter? If you’re in business and trying to attract customers via your website or app, it matters a lot. Studies show:

The point is that your website is now akin to someone walking into your store or office. If they encounter a bad experience, don’t find what they need, or can’t reach someone, they are going to leave and not come back. You can also think of it this way: the more time, money and effort you spend making your site fantastic upfront, the less you’ll likely have to deal with bugs and changes after its release.

Google has indicated that UX is one factor in search engine rankings. They want to deliver results that customers want to land on so more people use their search engine. Serving up a crummy site is not going to satisfy searchers. Thus a site must be easy to use, navigate and understand.

How to create a great UX.
Many of the rules and guidelines out there are based on research, but those indicators may not all apply to your website or app. Of course, you should start with the industry’s latest best practices, but the best way to create a good user experience is to test your website or app with users.

This process starts while your product is in development. If you wait until the end, you may realize too many problems to fix or that the overall approach is not quite right. Test early, test often. Here are some other tips when striving to build a good user experience: