The success of a website’s design relies heavily on user experience. And creating a positive user experience relies greatly on delivering a repeatable process in a fast and flexible fashion. As Jeff Horvath (President & Founder of Balanced Experience) said, “A good user experience, like measurable ROI, doesn’t typically happen by accident. It is the result of careful planning, analysis, investment, and continuous improvement.”

There are many factors to consider to produce not only an appealing design, but most importantly, a positive user experience. What good is that super fantastic gadget you’re sure will win accolades if the users visiting your site can’t buy it? Your interfaces should be easy to use, simple to navigate and remain consistent overall. Not to mention it must take into account the business goals and objectives of the client. We’ve outlined the top five UX best practices that will ensure users find value in what you are providing them and prevent you from making UX design mistakes.

1. Understand the Role of UI

UX and UI are terms that are often used incorrectly or assumed to be one in the same. UI stands for “User Interface,” and refers to the visual elements of a website that allow you to interact with the page such as buttons, links, menus and displays. UX stands for “User Experience,” and refers to the overall design of an entire experience and deals more with the psychology and emotion of the user. While UX has a much larger scope, the UI can make or break your website. Design with UI and UX in mind to create an interface that accomplishes the goals of your users, but is also a visually pleasing presentation.

2. User Research/Testing

Good UX requires knowing your users and understanding their needs. User research focuses on understanding and discovering user behaviors and motivations through observation, task analysis and other feedback methods. Without doing the research beforehand, you’re making assumptions. And quite often, you’re going to be surprised by what your users have to say. The type of research you should conduct will depend on a number of a factors including the type of site or system you’re developing, your timeline and your audience. A good rule of thumb is to test early and often to gain a deep understanding of your target users.

3. Visual/Content Hierarchy

Highlight the most important elements of an interface by implementing a visual hierarchy. This will guide your users through the page painlessly with carefully thought out levels of importance in messaging. It will also encourage them to engage and invest time to scroll through your page. A simple technique to do this is to make an element larger and turn it into a focal point that draws in the users’ attention and makes it nearly impossible to ignore. Be aware of font weights, sizes, colors and how they play with and against each other to avoid creating visually competing elements that will confuse the eye.

4. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

When it comes to content, options and design, remember that simplicity is key. Keep it easy to skim, but allow visitors to your site to access more information easily, on their own terms. More often than not, simple is more convenient. Users today want what they need as soon as possible, which means the design should be intuitive so they don’t feel overwhelmed. When developing your website, use clean fonts with excellent readability so they can easily distinguish between different characters.

5. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Your users should feel at home when they visit your site. They shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time searching for what they are looking for. Stick with familiar design patterns and established UI elements to create a consistent website that is intuitive for the user. BUT, again…know your audience. Make sure the patterns you use are a good fit for them and unlikely to introduce confusion. Users should feel as though your site is designed and arranged in a logical way that they can comfortably access. This will not only leave you with happy users, but repeat customers.

By implementing these high level UX best practices into your design, you will set the foundation for implementing a good user experience. Remember that these best practices are guidelines – not rules. With each interface comes a different type of user with different needs. By having a deep understanding of your users, what they need, what they value and also their limitations, you will deliver a positive user experience.