User Experience (UX) Explained by South Africa’s UX Specialist Marli Ritter


We’ve recently decided to start focusing on website usability improvements based on User Experience (or best known as UX) audits. Our Managing Director, Wayne Swart, interviewed South Africa’s leading UX Specialist, and co-author of UX for the Web – Build websites for user experience and usability Marli Ritter, to learn more about User Experience.

As a UX Specialist, how would you define UX?

MR: UX is when you do everything in your power to create a digital experience that’s seamless and easy to use. The aim of UX is to create a product so awesome that people keep coming back for more.

What is the most interesting project you have worked on?

MR:  I’ve been privileged to have worked at some great companies on many interesting projects, but I would say my favourite would be working on Travelstart’s checkout flow. Travelstart is one of Africa’s largest online booking websites offering flights, hotel bookings, car rental, vacation packages and other travel services.

It’s inevitable that you’ll be confronted with several language and cultural challenges working on a digital product that’s live in 14 different countries, from Africa all the way to Europe.

For example, in certain African countries, online scams are a real problem and it’s your task as a UX specialist to make sure your users from that country feel comfortable throughout the entire checkout flow. At any time during this process, something as small as the wrong tone for instructions, or no presence of financial logos to enforce trust, can trigger fear and the user can abandon the website.

I have only recently become aware of the term “User Experience”. Where and when did this methodology come into existence?

MR: Everyone thinks UX is a fairly new concept. As a matter of fact, UX originated in the early 19th century from an American Engineer, Frederick Taylor, who pioneered the Industrial Revolution. He created a methodology called Taylorism which focused on how workers interact with their tools to complete tasks efficiently.

His focus was on the interaction between humans and physical tools, which later evolved to humans and technology. During the 90s, Don Norman, a psychologist, joined Apple and created the term “User Experience”.

From my own research I have learnt that UX leans towards the emotional aspects of human / computer interaction. Why should I as a software developer care about that?

MR: Knowing how to interact with the user on an emotional level is very important; but that’s only one part of the magnificent world of UX. Each person in the production cycle of a product has an important role to play in the overall UX of a product.

UX Researchers focus on the data, UX Designers focus on the user’s journey and interaction with the product, while User Interface (UI) Designers make sure the UI is supporting the functionality and interaction.

Software Developers are the key to making the UX dream a reality. Without their insights on best technical practices, loading times, available UI animations with the respective frameworks, etc., the essence of a great user-friendly piece of functionality is pointless. As you can see, each person in the production cycle has a specialised field which adds to the success of an enjoyable user experience on a digital product. UX is not only one person’s job.

From what I have read about UX, I have come to notice that it’s a very broad (and seemingly daunting) thing to get into. Where should beginners start?

MR: UX touches on a wide variety of topics and the list of resources online is endless; some are not as good as others, though, as information can be very opinionated, unfortunately.

I would suggest starting at the basics of what Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is and reading articles from the Nielsen Norman Group. The ‘The Design of everyday things’ by Don Norman is also a must read. From there you’ll go down the UX rabbit hole and there’s no turning back!

Are there any UX tools or applications that designers or developers can use to help improve their designs or apps?

MR: It depends on what your UX goal is. If you want to make a career change and become a UX designer, you’ll need to get familiar with UX methodologies such as wireframes, prototyping, research, usability testing and tools such as AXURE, Balsamiq, etc.

But from a basic point of view the most beneficial design / development tools are Nielsen Norman Group’s Heuristic principles, Google’s Material Design Guidelines & IOS Human Interface Design Guidelines.

The latter is often mistaken to be UI guidelines only, but there are some important sections for developers too. Another very useful tool is the WebAIM Chrome extension. This tool mainly focusses on accessibility and highlights design styles and code on your website that doesn't comply to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).

UX is obviously a lot more comprehensive than following a set of guidelines, but as a design / developer with no UX background this is a good start.

 Can you give us examples of people in the UX industry to follow and read?

MR: There are some really amazing UX influencers in the industry, some are focused on generic UX topics and others are more specific and focus on topics such as usability testing or web accessibility.