What is a UX designer?
It has been my experience that the role of a UX designer is still unclear to many both in and outside of the industry. Wikipedia defines it as “The process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product.” In essence, every time you interact with a product, a software, or an object, you are experiencing that as a user of that product. While I think this is a well-articulated explanation, the role of a UX designer is actually a much more simple concept. At its core, User Experience Design is about people. It’s about truly getting to know them, whether they’re stakeholders or end-users. The more you know about someone’s digital preferences and behaviors, the better you’ll be able to design for them.
01: Client Industry & Research
Often referred to as the Discovery phase, UX research serves many purposes throughout the design process. We learn what sets their products or services apart from their competitors’ and listen to their ideal success story. In addition, we detect pain points and other issues that need to be addressed through the software product. To accomplish this, we gather and analyze all the information that the client may have available, such as metrics, previous tests, mission and vision statements, requirements and features, among others. Complex projects will comprise significant user and competitor research activities, while small startup websites may skip all research activities other than some informal interviews and a survey.
02: User Research & Personas
User research is every UX designer’s starting point for a product design. Research teaches us about the users, their behavior, goals, motivations, and needs. It also shows us how they currently navigate a particular system (or similar systems), where they come up against any difficulties and, most importantly, how they feel when interacting with this kind of product. So how is user research carried out? We always want to start with usability tests on the current site or app based on existing pain points. By conducting working sessions with users, we can establish their goals, needs, and behaviors. We can then develop personas that share many of the same traits as our users and with all the information gathered, begin to develop user journey maps to identify ideal scenarios for completing critical and/or complex tasks.
03: Information Architecture
From user behavior to future-proofing, there are lots of things to take into account, beyond organizing the information in a logical way. In other words, information architecture is the creation of a structure for a website, application, or other project, that allows us to understand where we are as users, and where the information we want is in relation to our position. Information architecture results in the creation of site maps, hierarchies, categorizations, navigation, and metadata. When a content strategist begins separating content and dividing it into categories, she is practicing information architecture. When a designer sketches a top level menu to help users understand where they are on a site, he is also practicing information architecture. Check out the sample sitemap below I created for the IA of this website.
Wireframes are an indispensable part of the website creation process. They provide a quick and easy means of communicating aspects of the site, ranging from information architecture to page layout, and they allow everyone involved to consider and, hopefully, agree upon all the fundamental aspects of the design. Wireframes typically go through many stages and there is no right or wrong way of doing them. Without the distractions of colors, typeface choices or text, wireframing lets you plan the layout and interaction of your interface. A commonly-used argument for wireframing is that if a user doesn’t know where to go on a plain hand-drawn diagram of your site page, then it is irrelevant what colors or fancy text eventually get used.
05: Visual Design
Next comes the visual design where wireframes are converted into mock ups. Mock ups include the final imagery, color, and typography. The main focus is the look and feel- they should be pixel perfect and show exactly what the design will look like when brought to life so they can be used as a guide when development starts. As a UX and UI designer, I am able to do the visual design myself as well as provide the client with a style guide for standardizing all components and redlining to get the design just right!
5c. Style Guides & Redlines
06: Site Analytics & Usability Testing
With the visual design in place, there is a working prototype of the product which can be fully usability tested by participants who match the identified personas. Several rounds of testing could take place before the design is completely right- once it is, the new product is finally ready to go into development. UX designers also attend sprint meetings, overseeing product development to make sure there aren’t any feature creeps (which often happens in my experience!) and helping to make small refinements to the design as and when necessary. UX designers test because it allows them to improve upon the original product or site design and to see if the changes they made during the Design phase stand up to scrutiny.
One final point to make is that a UX designer’s work is rarely finished after the product launch. There will be refinements, small changes, new releases, feedback to gather and analytics to discuss with the team. Technology is constantly evolving and it is essential to to keep up-to-date with the latest developments or get left behind.