User Experience, and it is a growing field in the digital world. While many aspects of websites focus on the amazing technologies that support it, UX turns the lens back on the people using them. UX attempts to tie your church's strategic goals to the people you are trying to reach. A practitioner attempts to not only make those connections work, but making them meaningful. This is the key reason why your church needs UX.
The field of UX began decades ago as large companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Apple tried to figure out how the general public would interact with the hardware and software they were producing. This practice was eventually ported over to the world of websites. Some companies decided to really measure how people used websites. This curiosity eventually became the art and science of User Experience, which measured the very subjective level of a person's happiness with that website. It attempted to dispel myths and confirm rumors about people's behaviors while interacting with websites. Many tools were developed to increase the likelihood that someone would enjoy that interaction, as well as measure the success the website's design.
Breadth and Depth
Many UX practitioners come from many walks of life and other parts of website creation. This is often because the field of UX has not existed in the mainstream since the mid 2000's. The result is that many UX people have a wide and varied background that includes one or two deeper fields of expertise. This is obviously a benefit, as they may have any number of additional skills in their portfolio. For me it is HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL, web design, business analysis, and project management. Please do not see that list as me bragging, it is just to illustrate that UX practitioners often bring a myriad of skills to the table. Yet as the field matures, some areas of expertise, such as interaction designers, strategists, user researchers, and usability experts are starting to emerge from this young field. If there is a skill set your church website would benefit from, seek out someone with extra experience in that area.
Tools and Practices
Many of the tools and techniques that a UX practitioner uses have already been discussed in previous articles. I may not have explicitly mentioned it, but it is true. Things like determining a website strategy, creating personas, conducting content audits, and usability testing are all part of the tool set. They are used to analyze, add objectiveness, and put faces to the customers you want to serve.
Honestly, the two biggest advantages of having someone well-versed in user experience is the connection between strategy and tactics, and user research. The first will give your church a better rudder to steer the website toward functionality that will best serve your immediate and future goals. The later is the engine that will make that website move faster toward those goals. It is often the bridge between your pastoral team and your website design and development efforts.
Action Item: Consider either bringing in a UX practitioner, or getting some UX training for your existing team. Unfortunately bringing a UX person is difficult, as titles are not always very clear. A good measure of their skill set is to ask to see examples of their work, such as those mentioned in the tools & practices paragraph. Like any sort of designer, they should have a portfolio of work to showcase. As for training, this can be in the form of books, conferences, or workshops. One I can recommend is the UIE "All You Can Learn" library. They will give your people a better understanding of the tools available to them, as well as a deeper understanding of how to connect different tactical solutions to the church's overall strategy.
Photo courtesy of Ronit Geller