UX or User Experience — sometimes called UXD, for user experience design — is one of my biggest areas of focus in 2020, and we need it now more than ever. When developing an application or designing a service, creating the user experience is very important.
An important related discipline to UX is what the user sees, or user interface (UI). In that sense, you could think of UX as being both what the user clicks, and what happens when a user clicks. Both UI and UX are crucial to the success of any app or software and work closely together.
Despite that important interaction, however, the role of a UX designer is quite different from that of a UI designer, referring to very different aspects of the product development process and the design discipline. We won't go down the UI road, here, but just be aware that UI and UX are distinct and different.
What is UX?
Essentially, UX applies to anything that can be experienced. It can be it a website, an ice maker, or a visit to the supermarket. The user experience part refers to the interaction between the user and a product or service.
User experience design, then, considers all the different elements that shape this experience. A UX designer thinks about how the experience makes the user feel, and how easy it is for the user to accomplish their desired tasks.
For example: How easy is the checkout process when shopping online? How easy is it for you to grip that vegetable peeler? Does your online banking app make it easy for you to manage your money? The ultimate purpose of UX design is to create easy, efficient, relevant, and all-round pleasant experiences for the user.
For application development related to technology, the actual process of going into the app, not just the way the app looks is the entire UX. It includes the UI (user Interface) but it includes everything else as well. User experience design is the process of developing and improving the quality of interaction between a user and all facets of a product or service.
This requires working with a lot of different people and interacting with a lot of different departments. User experience design is, in theory, a non-digital (cognitive science) practice, but it is used and defined predominantly by digital industries.
That's a fancy way of saying it's not just applications that need or benefit from sound UX design. UX design is NOT about visuals; it focuses on the overall feel of the experience. Self-labeled UX designers are everywhere, especially on services like Fiver or Upwork, but a good one is very hard to find.
What do UX designers do?
There are a lot of ways a UX designer brings value to an organization, and an almost incalculable breadth of job duties. We do know, in rough terms, what the role of the UX designer includes — but how does this translate into everyday tasks?
Some of a UX designer's typical tasks and responsibilities include strategy and content — for instance, What we want to include in the UX? competitor analysis, customer analysis, user research, and product structure and strategy. Finding out what your customer wants (and what your competition is doing) is paramount for a successful UX design for any product or service.
Part of a UX designer's job is also to integrate UI into UX, and this includes wireframing and prototyping, testing and iteration, execution and analytics. If a UX designer is in charge of a department, then they will manage and coordinate UI designers and developers. Tracking goals and integration are paramount for success.
Hence, a UX designer is part marketer, part designer, and part project manager — the UX role is complex, challenging, and multifaceted. We've mentioned product iteration twice, as connected to analysis or testing, is indeed mentioned, but that actually happens between every other item on the list.
For example, connecting the business goals to a user's needs through a process of testing and refinement is iteration. Whatever satisfies both sides of the relationship, your business and the customer is part of that process.
The goal of UX design
Remember that design takes into account all aspects of a product or service and its interaction with the user. That includes not only the beauty and function (usability and accessibility) of a product, but also things like delight and emotion. A lot of companies work hard to integrate surprise and delight. These things are harder to engineer and achieve.
While a designer can create a toggle, a flow, or an interaction that is beautiful, unique, sexy, and functional, a UX designer extends those principles into all the disciplines that come together to form the entire user experience.
Yes, you have interaction designers, but you also have content strategists, information architects, user researchers, engineers, and product managers. All of these people contribute to the greater good and the end product. They share responsibility.
A UX designer embraces the theories of a varied array of disciplines such as user interface design, usability, accessibility, information architecture, and human computer Interaction. For example, a UX designer would take the principles that state how to make a product accessible, and actually embody those principles in the design process. A user experience (UX) designer is really an advocate for the user.
Since UX designers can work across a lot of industries — essentially all industries — their area of specialization is really related to their specific industry. In terms of education, design, graphics, and user experience are all areas you can actually get a degree in now.
No too long ago, companies looked to graphic designers and engineers to team up. I personally think that graphic designers make the best UX designers, and UX engineers are created from regular mechanical engineers. (Bear in mind that there will always be that black sheep of an individual who gets a degree in philosophy, yet becomes the best UX person you have ever seen.)
Preparing to enter the UX design field
UX design is an area without very many certifications, but there are actually a lot of boot camps and university-type educational opportunities available. These can help put a fine point on your skill set, but I personally think that a great UX designer is someone who is born, not made.
You must have a certain special something in order to be among the best. If you have a natural proclivity toward how and why things work well, toward what makes a product or experience appealing, then you may already have more going for you than people who go into UX cold. Either way, UX designers will be around for a long time to come and the job will only become more in demand.