Understanding UX Design
User Experience Design (UX), is a term coined by Don Norman in the 1990s while he was Apple’s Vice President of Advanced Technology group. While UX is a tech industry buzz word, there’s growing confusion of what UX Design actually is. First, we should define what UX is not:
UX design is commonly mistaken, or interchangeably talked about, as User Interface Design (UI). These two disciplines, UX and UI, tend to work together but produce different outputs. User Interface design is certainly vital during project development, however, it is more focused on the visual layout of a product than it is functional from the user’s perspective. Also, UX design is certainly not visual design, usability testing, or graphic design.
So what really is UX design? User Experience Design, in the words of Don Norman, “encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” UX design is a human-first approach to solving problems. This approach involves designing with the end-user in mind throughout the entire development process with the goal of making the product easy to use, understand, and learn.
Before a UX designer can get into what I call “a user experience design process”, they must first understand the business goals and technical specifications of a product. Understanding the business goal shapes the user experience design process and its key to determining what the users can expect. Now here are some fundamental responsibilities of a UX designer:
Product and User Research
After identifying and understanding the business goals, the UX designer performs extensive product research in order to understand the user of the application and how they would interact with the product. This process clarifies questions about industry standards and what users may already have as a mental model in that specific industry. Some of the research may include Interviews with Users and Stakeholders which allows the UX designer to be able to align user needs with the business goals.
This process allows the UX designer to gauge what is already available out there, possibly go through reviews, sign up on those platforms, and rate the user experience on those existing product platforms.
Creating Scenarios and Personas
At this stage, the UX designer would create personas to represent the various categories of users found during User research and would group these personas into various scenarios. Think of a persona as a representative of a user group.
Information Architecture/Site Map
After all the scenarios and personas are setup, next is the information architecture or the sitemap. The Information Architecture, IA, allows the user to easily identify the flow of the application. As an end-user, I can easily identify where I am currently in the application, where I came from, and a clear guide to where I can go next. In this stage, hierarchies and information categories are created like the navigation menu.
At this stage, a low level, visual representation of all the research, scenarios, IA/Site map is created. Wireframes should be created easily and quickly to showcase the product idea. Wireframes are not meant to be aesthetically pleasing which allows the stakeholders to focus on the core usability of the product.
This is usually the next step after wireframes. They provide an almost realistic look and feel of the final product. These prototypes will often times be presented to real users for validation before investing in an actual implementation.
At this point, you would think the job is done, but it’s not. The next step (my favorite part) is to get user and stakeholder feedback on your design. Ideally, you would get feedback from users throughout the entire process, but at a minimum, it needs to happen at the end of the design cycle.
As a UX designer, your work does not end when the product is developed. It is an ongoing effort to keep enhancing the user experience of the product, keep finding pain points, and keep making the user experience of the application pleasant, easy to use, and understand.