The evolution of the internet can be divided into consistent periods or generations that group a technological paradigm. We all have heard the terms Web1, Web2 and most recently Web3 when talking about the history of the Web (I’ll go into detail on all of them in just a bit). These terms represent a holistic vision of a certain relevant period (around a decade) and give an overview of the general case for the functioning of the products born during that time.
Although technological development and user adoption are the key driving forces behind these paradigm shifts, the overall definition can be best noticed through an analysis of each period’s typical user experience (UX).
Over the past one and a half years, the world has seen the emergence of Generative AI. Although this technology is not new, its massive adoption by the regular user was unseen until recently, with more than 30% of businesses in the US adopting AI in the workplace.
Therefore, it’s time to reflect on the impact this will have on user behaviour and what experiences businesses will deliver to stay relevant in this new era to come. It’s still unclear but very likely that we are seeing the advent of a new web generation.
UX is a very generalist field, that needs a holistic approach to transform complex technologies into useful products. It always follows a major technological democratisation, helping the regular user to leverage the best of it.
In this article, I intend to reflect mostly on the evolution of the overall user experience up until now and how business owners can leverage this opportunity to take their business into the web generation.
The Generations of the Web
I want to first look at the history of the web generations to understand the trends in how changes are implemented into these paradigms.
Web 1.0 – 1995-2005
Although the internet was invented in the late 70s, it wasn’t until the 90s that mass adoption occurred – alongside the adoption of the personal computer.
This generation of the internet was a read-only experience, where users would access webpages through specific links, via non-virtual, offline campaigns.
Moreover, uploading content to the web was quite complex, making this a task for webmasters with the right technical expertise. The regular user was just a passive user.
THE UX OF WEB 1.0
The UX of Web 1.0 was characterised by content-based layouts, with very cluttered visuals.
Limitations on the bandwidth would put the efficiency of loading at top priority in the way landing pages would show their relevant content first.
Websites were very cluttered with information, to minimise the amount of requests to the network. We have to remember, in the 90s the average loading speed was just 15-30 kb/s.
Although email services, chatrooms and forums were already in place, they were the exception to a web dominated by company-owned content websites that provided information services around specific knowledge areas – news, catalogues, sports results, instruction manuals, etc.
Web 2.0 – 2005 to 2015
Almost 20 years after the mass adoption of the internet, with the development of the smartphone – the internet became not only an information source but also a communication tool – entering its read-write era.
Quickly, tools to democratise the publishing of content started to appear, making it easy for the common user with no tech background to publish content. This exponentially fuelled the availability of more customised content for specific communities.
Hence, Web 2.0 is very much around the idea of community and social interaction. From read-only users, it became a read-write space. Companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon made everyone become a contributor without the need for technical skills.
THE UX OF WEB 2.0
On the UX front, this required great innovation in terms of catering experiences with user content being produced.
Also, the rapid growth of mobile users and the emergence of “mobile first UX” philosophies, quickly transformed every product into dynamic software.
Innovations like infinite scroll, timeline views, swiping and so on brought new ways of conceptualising new ways of using these tools.
Web 3.0 – 2015-2021
With the need to re-think the financial system and its currencies, the emergence of cryptocurrency brought a new paradigm to the web.
Its underlying technology, Blockchain, brought the concept of decentralisation and data ownership.
What was once in the hands of the big tech corporations started shifting into the hands of each user. Thus making communication and transactions user-verifiable – providing a level of security and transparency that wasn’t possible in the centralised model of Web 2.0.
THE UX OF WEB 3.0
In terms of UX, there was a need for software to be independent of the big App stores (Apple and Google). This development greatly accelerated the widespread adoption of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), enabling them to operate directly through the browser.
The inherent trustworthiness of these new PWAs heightened the imperative to convey a sense of security and confidence to users. This involved ensuring rapidity, transparency, verifiability, and robust security in their functionality.
A Summary of the Evolution of UX Across Web 1.0, 2.0 & 3.0
What Comes Next? Generative Web? Web 4.0?
Although it’s still unclear if generative AI will coin its own generation of the Web, it’s clear that it’s no minor happening when defining the current paradigm. And as such, its implication on our UX approach must be taken into account.
This new paradigm of read-write-create will have implications on how users perceive new products.
We are entering a time of hyper-customisation, where curation is not the only differentiator for brands… it’s the capacity to make the users’ vision a reality.
The UX Implications of Generative Web
In terms of UX, the possibilities of flow when interacting with a Generative AI system are so big, that the information flow will have to be re-thought.
The creative, problem-solving, design and production processes are being challenged by the arrival of these powerful algorithms that can emulate human creation.
The distinction between real and fake will play a key role in the development of successful products in this space. The ethical concerns of this new technology are still in the early stages. The world is still adapting and rethinking the new role of the human mind when adopting this new powerful tool.
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UX Audit – a Cost-Efficient Path to Innovation
Given what I’ve explored above, it is paramount that companies prepare themselves for the upcoming shift. It’s not enough to have a good product, it needs to stay relevant through time. And here the UX Audit comes into play.
What is a UX Audit?
A UX audit is an assessment done by an external party that evaluates various aspects of the product, including design consistency, usability heuristics, branding, and more. The outcome is a prescription of potential issues, backed by usability data and user feedback.
Having a third party performing this assessment brings an unbiased evaluation and expertise of the market that is transversal to your industry. The result of this assessment will give you a list of insights and action points to address.
Most of the time, these action points have a low cost of implementation and the results might be defining in your revenue. A simple improvement in your UI can truly shift the usability of your product.
Why Should You Consider a UX Audit Now?
2024 will be a year of many paradigm shifts, and if you do not address your customers’ constantly evolving needs – someone will.
So the faster you create these assessment routines, the faster you will see the results in your product.
A UX audit will increase your brand reputation because you’re investing in your users’ satisfaction. Addressing the insights highlighted by an audit will increase your user conversion (purchases, clicks, usability, visits, etc) and user loyalty over time.
All in all, it’s an investment that quickly pays off in many distinct ways – but above all, it makes you more resistant to an ever more competitive landscape.
The Positive Impact of a UX Audit
To better understand the true impact of a UX audit, it’s important to explore case studies of brands that highly benefited from this assessment.
- Pre-Audit Scenario: Originally, Spotify users had a standard music streaming experience without personalized insights.
- UX Audit Insights: The audit revealed opportunities for personalized engagement, tapping into users’ desire for unique content.
- Post-Audit Implementation: Spotify introduced ‘Wrapped’, a feature that compiles a user’s listening habits over the year into a shareable summary.
- Impact: This feature turned users into brand ambassadors, as they eagerly shared their Wrapped reports on social media, effectively advertising Spotify. It created a sense of community and personalized experience, boosting user engagement and attracting new subscribers.
- Pre-Audit Scenario: Users often spent a long time browsing titles, leading to decision fatigue and frustration.
- UX Audit Insights: The audit highlighted the need for a more seamless and engaging browsing experience.
- Post-Audit Implementation: Netflix introduced the ‘autoplay preview’ feature, where trailers play automatically when users hover over a title.
- Impact: This reduced the time spent selecting a movie or show, cutting down on user frustration and enhancing the overall experience. The feature kept users engaged and reduced the likelihood of them switching to a different streaming service.
AMAZON’S ONE-CLICK ORDERING
- Pre-Audit Scenario: The conventional multi-step checkout process was time-consuming, especially for repeat customers.
- UX Audit Insights: A need for a quicker, more streamlined purchasing process was identified, particularly for regular customers.
- Post-Audit Implementation: Amazon implemented one-click ordering, allowing users to make purchases with a single click, bypassing the cart and checkout pages.
- Impact: This simplified the buying process drastically, leading to increased usage and repeat purchases. The convenience of one-click ordering significantly improved customer retention and satisfaction, solidifying Amazon’s position as a leader in e-commerce user experience.
These examples showcase how targeted improvements, stemming from a thorough UX audit, can greatly enhance user interaction and satisfaction, leading to tangible business growth.
It’s about understanding and addressing the specific needs and pain points of users. In doing so, you can create more efficient, engaging, and enjoyable experiences.
How to Conduct a UX Audit for Your Product
Before diving in and doing a UX Audit for yourself, I recommend tapping into your network and asking around if someone knows a good agency to help you. Then, go to some directories like Clutch and read some reviews to help you find the right fit.
That said, it’s still important that you understand the process you should be looking for in the external partner you choose to help you with your UX audit.
As a product house, we’ve shipped around 80 MVPs for founders – as well as helped business leaders build innovative satellite products for their corporations. This has created an industry knowledge base that traverses multiple verticals and gives us insights into the overall trends in technology.
And when it comes to completing a UX Audit, I wanted to share our process.
It’s based on heuristics, which deliver quick results backed by data and intuition. It consists of four stages -starting with an evaluation of where your product stands.
Step #1: Evaluation
The journey starts with a deep evaluation of the product from a business perspective.
Understanding the product’s intended direction is crucial, as many issues are often rooted in a disconnect between what the product offers and the business’s core proposition.
This stage involves gathering a wealth of data, conducting insightful interviews, and synthesising team insights, all of which lay the groundwork for the steps ahead.
Step #2: Design
Next, the focus shifts to a “problem-solution” mindset.
Here, the goal is to link each insight to a specific action plan. It’s a phase where prioritisation is key, often managed through a priority matrix to decide what issues to tackle first and when.
An important part of this phase is documenting hypotheses. These hypotheses are not just speculative; they’re the foundation for understanding the impact of future implementations and how to measure their success.
Step #3: Build
This stage is all about bringing the planned solutions to life. It involves the actual implementation of the changes and setting up all the necessary mechanisms to measure the success against the previously stated hypotheses.
Step #4: Test
Once the changes are live, the focus is on monitoring their impact on the overall usage of the product. It’s a time to compare real results against the initial hypotheses. The process is cyclical, using the accrued insights to begin a new cycle of evaluation, design, and build.
UX Audit vs. Product Discovery
As you can see, this process emulates that of a product discovery. Both are grounded in understanding user needs and enhancing product value. However, their approaches and focuses differ significantly.
In product discovery, the emphasis is on conceptualising and shaping a product that still needs to be created.
It’s an exploratory phase, where ideas are generated, tested, and validated. The aim is to ensure that the right product is being built for the right audience, even before any concrete development begins.
This phase is all about potential and possibilities, envisioning what could be, rather than what is.
On the other hand, a UX audit deals with a product that’s already in the market.
Here, the focus is on optimisation and refinement. It’s an evaluative process, delving into the existing user interactions and experiences to identify areas for improvement.
The goal is to fine-tune and enhance a product that’s already being used, based on real-world feedback and data. It’s about making something good even better, ensuring it continues to meet evolving user needs and business goals.
The challenge at this stage is to learn the most from what your existing users are telling you.
The digital landscape continually evolves, with each web generation bringing new challenges and opportunities for user experience (UX) design.
From the structured simplicity of Web 1.0 to the dynamic interactivity of Web 2.0, and the decentralized innovation of Web 3.0, we are now potentially on the cusp of a Generative Web era.
This new phase, propelled by Generative AI, is poised to redefine our interactions with technology, emphasizing hyper-customization and user-driven content creation.
In this ever-changing environment, the significance of a UX audit cannot be overstated.
It serves as a vital tool for businesses to adapt, remain relevant, and excel.
By embracing these audits, companies can ensure that their products not only meet but anticipate and shape the evolving needs and expectations of their users.
As we navigate through these transformative times, staying attuned to user feedback and technological advancements will be key in crafting experiences that resonate.
Thanks for reading.