Guide to being a UX designer in 2021
UX design is relatively a newer concept. In the world where digital products are higher than they’ve ever been, the need for having great UX for the products is on the rise. There’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the field, which is why, as a UX designer, you’ll often find that your first task in a new job is to clearly explain the value you’ll be bringing to the company and how you’ll do so.
What is UX Design?
User experience (UX) refers to any interaction a user has with a product or service. UX design considers each and every element that shapes this experience, how it makes the user feel, and how easy it is for the user to accomplish their desired tasks. This could be anything from how a physical product feels in your hand, to how straightforward the checkout process is when buying something online. The goal of UX design is to create easy, efficient, relevant and all-round pleasant experiences for the user.
“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” — Don Norman, Cognitive Scientist & User Experience Architect
UX designers combine market research, product development, strategy and design to create seamless user experiences for products, services and processes. They build a bridge to the customer, helping the company to better understand — and fulfil — their needs and expectations.
What does a UX Designer do?
If you’re considering a career as a UX designer, you’ll want to know how UX designers work on a day-to-day basis. What kinds of projects can you expect to work on? What is your role within a company? What does a UX designer actually do?
“How do I explain what I do at a party? The short version is that I say I humanize technology.” — Fred Beecher, Director of UX, The Nerdery
Fred Beecher sums up the role of the UX designer rather nicely. As a UX designer, you’re there to make products and technology usable, enjoyable, and accessible for humans. UX designers tend to work as part of a wider product team, and will often find themselves bridging the gap between the user, the development team, and key business stakeholders. As a UX designer, it’s your job first and foremost to advocate for the end user or customer. Whether you’re designing a brand new product, coming up with a new feature, or making changes to an existing product or service—the UX designer must consider what’s best for the user and the overall user experience. At the same time, you are also responsible for making sure that the product or service meets the needs of the business. Does it align with the CEO’s vision? Will it help to increase revenue or retain loyal customers?
Tasks and processes of a UX Designer
Conducting user research
Personas and information architecture
User flows and wireframes
Prototyping and user testing
Conducting User Research
The initial stage in the UX design process 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 you because they want to design 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 identify opportunities and pain-points, and doing competitor research to see what else is out there.
In a nutshell, the user research phase is when you scope out the project, identifying exactly who you’re designing for and what the users’ goals and challenges are in relation to the product. You can learn more about the importance of user research and how to do it in this guide or explore this set of free UX research tutorials.
Personas and Information Architecture
Based on extensive user research, UX designers might then create user personas. This is where you delve deeper into what tasks each persona wants to perform and why. A typical persona for Foodies might be Samantha, a go-getting 20-something who likes eating artisan salads on her lunch break.
Next, you’ll start thinking about the kind of content needed and how it will be structured across the website or app. This is what’s known as information architecture; working out the most logical layout and organization of the content. A good information architecture makes sure that the user can easily find what they’re looking for and intuitively navigate from one page to the next without too much thought.
User flows and wireframes
UX designers use a range of tools to map out the user’s journey through a product, including user flows and wireframes. User flows are basic flowcharts which visualize the complete path a user takes when using a product, from entry point right through to the final interaction. You can learn more in this introductory guide to user flows. While user flows map out the entire user journey, wireframes provide a two-dimensional outline of a single screen or page. We’ve covered the wireframing process in more detail here—and if you’re keen to get started, you can find a guide to the best free wireframing tools here.
Prototyping and user testing
With the product layout mapped out, the UX designer will then create prototypes and run some user tests. A prototype is simply a scaled-down version of your product; a simulation which enables you to test your designs before they get developed. Prototypes range from the simplest of paper models to the more realistic, high-fidelity interactive prototypes which closely mimic the final product.
Testing your prototypes on real users helps to highlight any design flaws before you create the final product. 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.
You’ll notice that none of the above tasks are concerned with the visual design of the product. While some UX designers will also specialize in visual design, it tends to fall under user interface (UI) design. So, the final imagery, color schemes, icons, and typography will usually be taken care of by a UI designer. If you’re confused about the difference between the two roles, here’s a great guide explaining the differences between UX and UI design.
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. The UX design process is highly iterative, and a career in UX is as much about collaboration and coordination as it is about design.
As you can see, UX is a fascinating, varied, and highly satisfying career path which could take you in many directions. Hopefully you now have a good idea of what a UX designer actually does, and how to explain it to anyone who asks!