User experience, aka UX, is one of the more contentious terms in all of tech. Below, we’ll be discussing exactly what it means: what a UX designer does, what best-practice is, and how a UX designer influences the success (or failure) of a product.
What a UX Designer Does
To begin understanding what a UX designer does, we must first understand what UXD (sometimes known as UED or XD) means. UXD means ‘User Experience Design’ and is defined as the process of improving user satisfaction through usability, accessibility and appeal within a customer’s interaction with a product or service.
An “experience” can be anything and isn’t limited to the digital world. In any scenario where someone has an objective they want to achieve, the “experience” is the steps that are put in place to make it happen. Their user experience is the pathway they take, and where it takes them. UX is what’s happening client-side, and UXD is the development side—a customer has a good UX because your company practices good UXD. These two terms are often conflated, but prying them apart allows us to better understand both sides of the equation.
A UX Designer’s Role Within a Business
To understand best-practice, you first need to understand the different stages of UX design and where they come in your development pipeline.
Every good product provides a solution to something. The first priority of a UX designer is to understand what this solution is and why the solution is being provided.
To gain a clear understanding, a UX designer may want to consult with business owners, stakeholders, executives, marketing and financial departments. The amount of expertise a designer is able to talk to will depend on the size of the business and time constraints before preferred project start.
After thorough consulting, a UX designer should have a solid understanding of a business’s mission and the most important data that needs to be communicated within a user’s experience. Product understanding is not always done efficiently and this is often out of the control of the UX designer. No matter how good a designer is, they are not a mind reader! The better business leaders are at communicating their product purpose, vision and data, the easier it is for a UX designer to provide accurate results. To achieve this, all parties need to approach product understanding with an appreciation for UX design and a general empathy for all parties involved.
At the end of this phase a UX designer should be able to identify exactly what a product is, why it’s being created, what the requirements are for a product’s success and understand what differentiates from similar products provided by competitors.
Who are the expected users of your product? A hugely important questions that requires a UX designer’s full attention.
UX designers are trained to better understand what goes on in the mind of a user and of course, they need to be able to express the reasoning for design decisions. This research should have been started by an organization’s marketing team and be easily readable for a designer. Here’s a common technique UX designers can use to better understand user needs:
Defined User Personas
User personas are fictional profiles that represent expected user type for a product or service. They’re often written as I am a [person] who needs [product] for [reason]. The resulting personas help designers understand the needs, behaviours and goals of different users. Personas created from well-analyzed research will result in an accurate representation of the major audience segments, which helps you interpret how a user is likely to interact with a product.
User personas created from presumptuous, flaky research will result in an unsuccessful product launch and resources wasted. Spending more time on research often results in cost-efficiency long-term!
Understanding the features of competitors’ products and comparing them to yours is what’s known as a competitor analysis. Dissecting individual features of competitors’ products and comparing them with your project requirements helps you better understand the following aspects:
- Your market and your users
- Your competition and how you’d like to position your product
- How you want to focus your energy (in something your competitors aren’t offering)
- Contemporary design and industry standards
Information Architecture (IA)
At this point you understand the purpose of your product and its meaning to future users. You’ve gathered a critical amount of data that you’ve put to the test with UX design tools, yet all this information still needs to be structured within the user experience of your product.
The organization of relevant product information is known as information architecture and is a vital part of UX design. Many users don’t realize that each piece of information they consume on a website, product or service has been carefully planned to best serve them—and that’s exactly the sort of user experience you want to provide! The less effort users have to invest to carry out their objective, the better your IA is.
A wireframe is an incomplete version of your final product, displaying the hierarchy of information that aligns with user needs. Wireframes give graphic designers a basis for creating visual layouts that consider functional aspects (categories, buttons, toggles etc). User testing is made a lot easier with wireframing and makes any changes time-efficient.
You’ve established a structural layout, your wireframes have given you a clear visual representation of your product and how it will satisfy user objectives. Now it’s time to transition any wireframes into your actual design.
Remember wireframes are still very incomplete. To transition to the finished design of your product you still need to add the following:
- Brand colours
- Brand elements
- A design system
Typography transforms plain language into a decorative visual element. Typography concerns: headers, subheaders, body and captions. Although typography should be appealing aesthetically this should never come at the cost of readability—accessibility is also a critical part of good UX, and readability for those with visual impairments or other reading difficulties is a very important consideration.
Good typography is often a balancing act regarding UX: something like Comic Sans is extremely readable, but is visually very ugly and probably doesn’t fit with your branding. The perfect font is one that is highly readable, but also visually enhances your design.
A design system is useful for all parties of an organization. It acts as a focal point where all parties within an organization (developers, designers, researchers, managers and content producers) can understand the design aspects of a product. A design system will increase the efficiency of product development going forward.
On the home straight! A prototype is the finished version of a UI designer’s work.
A prototype readily displays all of the finished versions of product screens, which can be easily navigated and operated. This helps any stakeholders, developers or even users understand and test your product or service and give feedback.
Your prototype doesn’t have to show your entire project. For example, if you’re prototyping a website, you may only want to give navigation for the storefront and product pages.
Once happy with your prototypes there are a few different testing strategies you can use to better user experience.
Also known as A/B testing, split testing involves creating two variations of a website or page and sending half of your users to each version. The two variations are slightly different, for example the colour or position of a button is different. Whatever variation gains more leads, conversions or generally navigates users towards a preferred direction is deemed as better—this version should be used for the current version. Split testing should be constantly happening during all stages of business growth.
Testing With Real Users
This involves real people using different prototypes, then giving real-time feedback as to which prototype they think is best. With this method you’re paying for people’s time which can become cost-intensive if you need to cycle through a few different prototypes. However, feedback from real users is invaluable!
This is the same as user testing, except you’re using your own employees. It’s cheaper, but is prone to bias in its feedback.
Finding A Good UX Designer
Above is the process that experience UX designers will go through to ensure product success. However, finding these designers is not always easy!
Quality in UX designers varies greatly (especially if hiring freelancers), so you need to check a few aspects before considering hiring them:
Work Portfolio: A trustworthy UX designer should have an abundance of previous UX design projects to show, the more recent the better. Consider that some designers may not show all of their projects for privacy reasons, but will show you them on request!
Reviews: To back up their work they should have a range of positive client reviews and testimonials. Any reviews external to their personal profile, or compliments through word of mouth is a great sign.
Project Curiosity and Understanding: During initial consulting they must show an invested interest in your project and business. The better they can understand your project, the more accurate their work will be.
Communication and Empathy: As stated earlier UX designers need to be able to communicate with multiple areas of expertise within a business. work efficiently with them to create accurate outcomes. Furthermore, an empathetic approach to teamwork creates a strong base for a positive long-term relationship.
If looking to hire UX designers, my recommended company is CodeClouds. They are cost-effective and have designers working in four different time zones, so you are guaranteed to have a window for quality communication. They also provide development services, if you require implementation as well. Their dedicated developer package allows clients of all business sizes to gain designers and developers at a cost-efficient monthly rate.
I would like to reinforce one final point, UX designers are not mind readers! Sometimes the success or efficiency of a designers work is taken out of their hands by poor communication from clients. So make sure you are extra prepared to hire a UX designer and are ready to thoroughly communicate your business and relevant data. This will result in outstanding user experiences that encourage fast business growth.
If you’re also looking to hire a developer, we recommend CodeClouds. Furthermore, to get the best out of any hiring relationship with designers or developers—it’s well worth reading this article on ‘Better Managing Developer Productivity.‘