What is UX Design (User Experience)? Career in UX Design

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What is UX Design
What is UX Design

What is User Experience (UX) Design?

User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function.

User experience design is a concept that has many dimensions, and it includes a bunch of different disciplines—such as interaction design, information architecture, visual design, usability, and human-computer interaction.

What Does A UX Designer Actually Do?

There’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the field, which is why, as a UX designer, you’ll often find your first task in a new job is clearly explaining the value you’ll be bringing to the company and how you’ll bring that about.

The purpose of this post is two-fold. If you’re a UX designer, it aims to equip you with a clear and concise answer to the question—What does a UX Designer do?

And for those of you who are genuinely still unsure what a UX designer does, you will definitely know by the end of this post!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. The foundations of UX design
  2. The initial stages of UX design
  3. Personas and information architecture
  4. Wireframes and user testing
  5. Visual design
  6. Usability testing and beyond
  7. What skills does a UX designer need?
  8. Conclusion

1. The foundations of UX design

Before we dive right into what a UX designer actually does, let’s first take a look at how UX design came about.

UX is not new; in fact, the term has been around since the early nineties. The term has been credited to Donald Norman who joined Apple as a cognitive scientist. His desire was to explore all aspects of a user’s experience; including industrial design, graphics, the interface, and physical manual interaction.

Since then, the term has evolved and demand for UX designers has radically increased. With the development of mobile and wearable technologies, apps and increased internet usage worldwide, UX designers are in increasing demand.

Companies are realizing the value UX designers bring to both the customer and their business. UX design salaries are rewarding, and they predict an 18% growth in positions opening up in the next ten years.

The foundations of UX design
The foundations of UX design

It’s a booming industry, but how do UX designers work on a day to day basis? If you’re thinking of a career in the field, what can you expect to be doing?

Your projects will differ dramatically from company to company, as will the size of your team, and your priorities. My experience of working in UX has involved elements of research, testing, business analysis, project management and psychology as well as wireframing.

Despite the variety the role offers, there are some general functions a UX designer can be expected to perform irrespective of the company they work at.

In the next section, I’ll run through these general functions. I’ve also added a video of recently qualified UX designer Ryan’s typical working day at the end of the section – I recommend watching it to get a feel of what it’s like to work as a UX designer today.

2. The initial stages of UX design

This is where the research (magic) happens. Generally a UX designer will get a brief from the client or their manager asking them to do some project research.

Let’s use the fictitious fast food chain Foodies as an example: Imagine Foodies approach the company you work for wanting a new app.

Firstly, it would be the UX designer’s role to combine desk-based and field research to get a full picture of who they are designing for. This might include reviewing what the current website has to offer, interviewing existing users to look for opportunities and pain points, and doing competitor research to see what else is out there.

These tasks will enable the UX designer to pinpoint the core features needed for the Minimum Viable Product and start drafting some initial personas. For Foodies the core features might be a menu, ability to make online reservations and a branch finder.

3. Personas and information architecture

With the core features decided on, it is time to delve deeper into what tasks each persona wants to perform and why.

One of Foodies’ personas might be Samantha, a go-getting 20-something who likes eating artisan salads on her lunch break. An example task for her would be:

‘Samantha likes to pre-order the Moroccan Lamb Salad via the app on the phone as it saves her time between meetings.’

Once this process has been completed for each persona, it is then possible to refine the content needed, working out the information architecture and site map and beginning paper prototypes. Paper prototypes are very rough sketches which can be shown to colleagues and quickly and easily improved.

ux-designer-discussing-a-b-testing-1
ux-designer-discussing-a-b-testing-1

4. Wireframes and user testing

After paper prototypes come wireframes, user testing and plenty of iterating. Wireframes typically go through many stages and there is no right or wrong way of doing them.

They often start as very basic black and white designs, moving on to interactive designs where users can navigate between the different pages like they will with the final product, to high-resolution designs which give the user a really clear idea of what the final product could look like. Each stage is punctuated with user testing and iterations.

ux-designer-making-paper-wireframes-1
ux-designer-making-paper-wireframes-1

5. Visual design

Next comes the visual design where wireframes are converted into mockups. Mockups include the final imagery, colour, 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.

Some UX designers do the visual design themselves using programs such as Photoshop. However, visual design tends to fall under UI design, so this will normally be done by a UI designer.

what-does-a-ux-ui-designer-do-1
what-does-a-ux-ui-designer-do-1

6. Usability testing and beyond

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.

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, just as Ryan describes in the video below. Technology is constantly evolving and it is essential to to keep up-to-date with the latest developments or get left behind.

7. What skills does a UX designer need?

With such a varied range of tasks, UX designers need to have a very diverse skillset. Besides technical and design skills like wireframing, prototyping and interpreting data and feedback, UX designers also need certain “soft” skills.

Adaptability, communication, problem-solving and teamwork are all essential soft skills. As a UX designer, it’s important that you can collaborate effectively with those around you — from clients and stakeholders to developers and fellow designers, all the way through to the end user.

Business knowledge also goes a long way in the UX design industry. It’s important to understand both the goals of the company and the needs of the target audience, and to align these when coming up with design solutions.

8. Conclusion

UX is a fascinating, varied and satisfying career path which could take you in many directions, and hopefully this article gives a good taste of that. A course such as the CareerFoundry UX Design Course gives a really solid grounding for any sort of career in UX and, as a former student, I really recommend it.

Steps to become a UI/UX designer

There are many areas of design: UI, UX, product designers, graphic designers, interaction designers, information architect, and the list goes on. Start by figuring out which specialty interest you more.
For now, let’s focus on the most common type: a mix of interface and experience: UI/UX designer.

1. Familiarize yourself with UI principles.

Before practicing design, the first thing you need to do is learn some design principles. From this, you’ll be able to enter the design world and start thinking “creatively”. You will learn the psychological aspects of design: why it can look good and why it can fail.

Here are some basic principles you should know about.

1. Color

Color vocabulary, fundamentals and the psychology of colors.
Principles of design: Color

2. Balance

Symmetry and assymetry.
Principles of design: Balance

3. Contrast

Using contrast to organize information, build hierarchy and create focus.
Principles of design: contrast

4. Typography

Choosing fonts and creating readable text on the web.
10 Principles Of Readability And Web Typography

5. Consistency

The most important principle, creating intuitive and usable designs starts here.
Design principle: Consistency

Here are some great do’s and don’ts to design a good UI.

2. Learn the creative UX process.

The next thing is to understand the creative process. UI/UX design is a process of specific phases that every creative person goes through.

the creative UX process
the creative UX process

Divided into four distinct phases — Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver — the Double Diamond is a simple visual map of the design process.

Discover

This is the start of the project. Designers start researching, getting inspired, and gathering ideas.

Define

This is the definition stage, where designers define an idea extracted from the Discover phase. From this, a clear creative brief is created.

Develop

This is where solutions or concepts are created, prototyped, tested and iterated. This process of trial and error helps designers to improve and refine their ideas.

Delivery

The final phase is the delivery stage, where the final project is finalised, produced and launched.

3. Develop your eye for design

Knowing design principles is great, but sometimes it’s not enough, you also have to train your eye to see good design and bad design and to identify strengths and weaknesses in designs.

The most effective way to train your eye for design is through inspiration.
Before opening a blank canvas and staring at it for half an hour, know that the only way to be creative is through research. Sometimes the mind can’t create ideas on its own, you have to first look at other designs to start creating your own, especially when you’re a beginner.

4. Read design articles everyday

To make ourselves get familiar with design, the best way is to read a few articles each day.

Make reading design news and blog an everyday habit. There are millions of articles available online for us to discover about new trends, use cases and tutorials. All we have to do is find them. There’s nothing better than learning from other people’s experiences.

So start your day with a cup of coffee and a few inspirational articles on Medium or Smashing Magazine. Learning new things in the morning will broaden your mind and will make room for creativity during the day.

Then, every now and then during your day, take a few breaks to read more. Taking breaks is very important for creativity, especially when you get stuck and feel unproductive. Bookmark the website you like as your browser homepage or subscribe to a design newsletter.

5. Design fake projects.

Practice makes perfect. And we all know we can’t get clients/jobs without experience. But without a job or projects, we can’t practice, right?

But we can break this cycle by practicing on our own, by creating fake projects for fun! Dribbble is full of it.

Make time to pick a website or app you already use and redesign it. It could be anything you think it can be better. You can also design your own app idea.

From this, you’ll build your design portfolio and you’ll practice design.

6. Learn the latest web design tools.

There are tons of design tools out there, but you don’t need to know all of them. Get to know the best ones out there, choose your favorites and stay updated with the newest features and trends.

Here are the latest tools that I use in my design process:

  • Sketch for interface design
  • Figma for collaborative interface design
  • Balsamiq for low fidelity wireframing
  • Adobe XD for interface design and prototyping
  • Marvel App for making mockups interactive
  • Invision App for prototyping and collaboration

7. Mentor and get mentored.

Another great way to learn design is to find a design mentor or designer friend who is willing to help. They will help you speed up your learning process.

The designer would review your work and give their comments whenever possible. It’s like a shortcut. They would also give you tips and tricks they learned from their experience. So go ahead and e-mail a designer, ask questions and discuss your concerns.

Also, from the few years that I taught design and front-end, I learned more than I taught. When you’re ready to start talking about design with people, you can mentor or educate someone about design. You will learn to see it from a different perspective and you will get feedback and questions that you might’ve never thought about.

Whenever you’re talking about design with other people, your mind will be in “brainstorm” mode all the time and you will find yourself getting interested in design more and more.

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