If you’re ready to redesign your law firm’s website, chances are you want to improve the way your website functions in addition to the way it looks. You may have noticed that your website is slow to load, challenging to navigate, or frustrating to use on a mobile device. In fact, your staff (and even some of your clients) may have grumbled about it. As you’ve observed firsthand, your website’s functional concerns add up to a poor user experience.

If you’re worried about improving your website visitors’ experience, then you’re already thinking about UX — even if you’ve never heard of it before. The truth is that UX, which stands for “user experience,” is the dark horse of website design. It can spell the difference between an effective, impactful website and a wasted investment.

What is UX Design? and Why Does it Matter?

UX refers to the overall quality of a customer’s encounter with a brand. It encompasses all of a brand’s many touchpoints. This includes everything from a brand’s website to its products, services, branded environments, and so on. It’s really just a fancy way of saying that all your branded touchpoints should be crafted with your clients and potential clients in mind. UX aims to satisfy your target audience by keeping in mind:

  • Who are they? And what are their needs?
  • Which tasks are they trying to complete? And what goals are they hoping to achieve?
  • Most importantly, how can your law firm meet their needs as seamlessly as possible?

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Notice that the definition of UX doesn’t include the word “digital.” That may come as a surprise. After all, most people associate UX with websites and digital products. This makes sense given that tech companies have so far led the way in embracing the tenets of UX.

However, “UX” isn’t limited to digital properties and products. It can be used to assess (and improve) the overall tenor of your clients’ interaction with your firm. For example, it would theoretically be possible to focus on the UX of any aspect of your law firm’s interactions with clients, from the way you communicate updates about legal matters to how your firm handles billing. Naturally, you already think carefully about how best to serve your clients in these areas. It’s just that you call it “client service” rather than UX.

While UX isn’t a digital-only concept, it’s critically important that you consider the UX of your law firm’s website in particular. In the context of your website, good UX means thinking carefully about how to structure and present your website so that users can easily find the information they need. It’s about creating your website with your users (rather than your own firm) in mind.

UX vs. UI: What’s the Difference?

The terms “UX” and “UI” are sometimes tossed around interchangeably. But while they’re definitely related, they really aren’t the same thing at all.

UX principles can certainly be applied to websites and apps, but they aren’t limited to digital interfaces. Compare that to UI (or user interface), which relates specifically and exclusively to the visual and interactive elements of digital assets.

With UI, the focus is on making specific design decisions that support a high quality user experience within a website, app, or digital product. As a result, user interface designers focus on elements like buttons, colors, typography, and so on.

When it comes to your law firm’s website, UX concerns will include:

  • Who are your key user groups?
  • What are your users’ needs? (For example, are many of your clients 50 years of age or older? If so, they will likely have slightly different needs regarding your website’s structure. For instance, they may have trouble navigating a site menu that requires users to hover and scroll down on a single menu item to access a sub-menu item.)
  • What actions do you want them to take on your website?
  • How should information be prioritized on your website in order to connect users with the information they need?
  • Are there any accessibility concerns that should be taken into consideration? (For example, what percentage of your users will be accessing your website on their cell phone versus a desktop or laptop computer?)
  • What about disability concerns (such as poor eyesight or users for whom English is a second language)?

Meanwhile, UI concerns will revolve around how typography, color, buttons, menu items, and other visual and interactive components can be used to support a seamless user experience.

Your Website’s UX is a Reflection of Your Brand

Remember: Your website will probably be the first major interaction your prospective clients have with your brand. We know this is true because the vast majority of people today (up to 80%, according to some studies) visit a company’s website before picking up the phone or making some other form of contact.

What does that mean? It means that your website’s user experience is at least as important in forming first impressions of your law firm as the first human interaction a potential client has with your staff.

Interaction really is the word for it. Unlike looking at an ad or reading a brochure, when visitors navigate your website, they are engaging in a back-and-forth interaction with your brand. If their experience with your website is disorganized, confusing, or otherwise unpleasant, that automatically reflects on your brand. Your potential clients (and potential hires) may ask, “Since my experience of the website is frustrating, will my experience as a client (or staffer) be frustrating, too?”

Beautiful design elements will only go so far on their own. A slick-looking website with poor UX may be impressive at first glance, but it will still ultimately lead to an unsatisfactory user experience. The takeaway? UX is a make-or-break component of your law firm’s website.

Should My Law Firm Hire a UX Agency and a Website Designer?

Now that you understand the importance of UX, it’s time to consider how best to fold it into your firm’s website. Namely, should you hire a UX agency or rely on your website designer to help you make smart UX decisions?

The answer depends on the skills of your website designer and the complexity of your website.

When selecting a web designer, you should plan to assess prospective partners with UX in mind. The average designer will have some familiarity with UX principles, but they typically aren’t experts. They will often base their UX decisions on the lessons they’ve gleaned from past experiences. Ask prospective designers how they consider UX in their design process. And be sure to look at their portfolios and visit the websites they’ve designed for other clients. Are these websites as easy to navigate as they are on the eyes? If not, you may want to look elsewhere.

A key difference between a UX-savvy designer and a UX firm is research. UX firms will always conduct UX research, usually in the form of user testing. This means they will gather a small group of representative users and assess how easily they can complete certain tasks on your website. Based on their observations and discussions with test users, UX researchers will make recommendations about how to shape your website’s structure and design to optimize your users’ experience. If your firm is very large and your website is especially complex, you should think more seriously about investing in a UX agency in addition to hiring a skilled designer.

One thing is certain: If you want your website to be the first interaction your potential clients have among many with your law firm, then you must invest in UX.

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