13 February 2018
What is User Experience Design?
Wikipedia begins with: “User experience design … is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product.”
Like any design practice, however, user experience (UX) design does not come with a fixed set of rules or tools. Instead, it is a series of ideas developed by designers and developers in the information technology industry – each of which can be used in appropriate circumstances to improve user experience.
What is a UX Designer?
UX designers come from differing background such as web developer or graphic designer. More recently, university qualifications have offered an alternative path. They all share a desire to continually improve a user’s experience by using a variety of tools specific to their background and knowledge.
A UX designer will need to be able to communicate ideas to a range of different people of different backgrounds, both technical and non-technical. They will drive the design process as a whole.
The Tools of a UX Designer
There are many tools available to a UX designer. Competitor research, user stories, personas, wireframing, prototypes and A/B testing are amongst the most well known. Each is a tool that can be used, but not necessarily should be used.
Likewise, each product and company, with differing levels of expertise and financial resources, requires a personalised approach. They require the a UX designer use their ability to select resources to achieve a stated goal – sometimes more of an art than a science.
Research: The Endless Resource
The difference between an artist and a designer is that a designer is focussed more on the needs and wants of others. Research is a tool that designers use to understand those needs and wants. Research may be done before an idea is fully developed, or during the mature stages.
Research could be asking the people around an office what their preferences are, or what each thinks of a particular design. It could be analysing government data, testing between two alternative designs or surveying a group of users.
Each type of research comes with a cost, and often cannot be measured in cost per benefit. Indeed, adding financial measurement to research can simply increase the cost of the research itself.
Choosing which research to use will depend on many factors within an organisation, including budgetary constraints.
Sketching, Wireframing & Prototyping
Going from initial thoughts to final design is not a single step – it may be as simple as passing a few sketches to a developer, or more likely it will involve some intermediary steps, like using a graphic designer.
To test interactions through a series of user testing experiments, prototypes will be required. These could be simple sketches asking thoughts around the available elements. Or it could be a fully functioning prototype. Again, cost benefit analysis, and logic, will decide which approach and technologies to use.
Prototypes can serve two purposes: helping to find solutions when one is not immediately obvious; and discovering problems in a design. It can also bring forward any issues there might be from a technical perspective, although it is important to be avoid being overly developer or technology driven.
Graphic Design & Development: Simplicity Over Ego
Although the graphic design of a product is important, it is also important to be aware that design can be a distraction. Simplicity and accessibility should be at the forefront of any graphic designer’s output.
Developers too, often have a tendency to want to do more than they are required. Again, just because a developer can do something, doesn’t mean they should.
A UX designer should work closely with both graphic designers and developers, and subsequently testers, to ensure that outputs match expectations.
Lean UX and UX Design
So far we have discussed various concepts such as research, graphic design and development. The reality is that any product requires that all of these elements work in harmony. Lean UX is a way of articulating this interdependence.
Lean UX also expresses the value in having a continuous evolution with all team members working together. In this way the knowledge of the group is far greater than the individual parts, as they are continually educating and checking each other’s work.
It is also an approach that allows a product to evolve in iterations rather than in large chunks, making adaptations to market conditions a part of the process, rather than a reactionary detour.
Minimising documentation, and thus minimising time to market, requires good communication between the team members. Therefore, a UX designer should facilitate this transmission of information.
To Sum Things Up
UX design is a holistic approach to product design and a UX designer possess a variety of tools to facilitate the design process.
A UX designer is more than just a designer. They are also the champion of the user.