First, terminology. You might have seen UXD, UED, or XD. While they may look like emoticons, they’re just (some) of the ways of describing UX design. And with this many acronyms, it’s no surprise even UX experts have trouble agreeing what UX means.
However, they all agree on one thing. You’re designing an experience that supports people to do what they need to do in a way that’s quick, simple, and frictionless. It’s about “the feel” of a product more than “the look”. It’s a user-centred way of working that touches all aspects of a project, including user interface (UI) design, content design, and development.
UX design has been around a long time
UX guru Don Norman coined the term “user experience design” in 1995. He describes UX as a user’s all-encompassing experience with a company, its services, and its products.
UX design may seem like a relatively new practice, but the concepts have been around for centuries. They’ve been lurking behind the scenes of marketing, engineering, architecture, and even urban planning.
The discipline has rapidly evolved as the web, apps, smartphones, and wearable devices have taken over our lives. UX is just the latest name for its current iteration.
A diverse skill-set for a variety-filled role
UX design is a broad church. The role of a UX designer may differ company-to-company, project-to-project. But they tend to have a common set of skills, and a highly collaborative approach to their work.
Gain understanding through research and testing
A UX designer seeks to understand a client’s (as well as their customers’) goals and pain points. Even ones they can’t articulate themselves. To gain this understanding, the first thing any UX designer will do is conduct research. It sets the foundation for the entire UX project and helps them avoid making assumptions about their users.
They’ll interview stakeholders and customer groups, carry out surveys, observational studies, and ethnographic studies. Based on the findings, they can tailor their design approach.
Devise personas, scenarios, and storyboards
Personas are fictitious identities based on customer research that reflect a product or service’s main user groups. They’re given names, personalities, occupations and take into account real user habits, living conditions, and aspirations. They help a designer remember who they’re designing for and consider design decisions from their users’ point of view.
While made-up, personas reflect the behaviours of real people. They can be further expanded into user stories, which are “day-in-the-life-of” scenarios that describe how what’s being designed fits into users’ lives. These user stories can be illustrated through storyboards, so it’s beneficial to be a skilled sketcher.
Establish an information architecture
An information architecture (IA) is the structure and hierarchy of a website or app’s content that lays the foundation for the design. It helps users understand where they are, and where they go to find the content they’re after.
An IA organises information logically and simplifies common user tasks. The designer will assess user flows, conduct interviews, and run card sorting sessions to understand how users categorise and describe content. These findings help create and refine content groupings and how they’re labelled in menus.
Sketch wireframes and prototypes
Wireframes are closely associated with UX design. They’re simple, low-fidelity designs of what each screen of a website or app might look like. They’re a guide in the early stages of development to page layout, and allow for stakeholders to give approval before making further UI or functionality decisions. As the layout progresses to a higher fidelity, it reflects that these decisions have been validated through testing and are justified.
Wireframes are usually developed further into an interactive prototype. This is a mid- to high-fidelity approximation of the final design which can be used for user testing. Although its UI may not be fully determined, it allows designers to test interactions and content as users will experience it in the final product.
Plan and conduct user testing
Using the interactive prototype, designers conduct user testing sessions to find out what common interaction problems their users run into. Testing sessions can be run in-person or remotely, but its best to test with people who represent users of the final product.
Users are guided through the prototype to complete simple navigation tasks, or find a piece of content. By asking questions, observing behaviour, and analysing verbal and non-verbal cues the UX designer can use real insight to improve the user experience.
Getting into UX design
Universities and design schools are increasingly offering courses that focus on UX design. In Wellington alone, there are at least three different avenues into the industry.
- Yoobee’s Diploma in Web and UX Design,
- Massey University’s Bachelor of Visual Communication Design,
- Victoria University’s Bachelor of Design Innovation, and
- Master of User Experience Design if you already hold a degree or have industry experience.
Tools of the trade include Sketch, Illustrator, Zeplin, InVision, and Adobe InDesign. A working knowledge of front-end languages such as HTML and CSS is hugely advantageous too. Finding a solution may involve working with data sets, so an analytical mind helps. That can involve using tools like Google Analytics, Mixpanel and Hotjar.
And there’s no better time to become one. Our increasing use of technology means UX is a massive growth area – in Wellington and globally.
Curious, empathetic, and collaborative problem-solvers
UX designers have an unstoppable desire to get to the heart of a problem. They typically have a genuine interest in helping people, are great listeners, and can keep a conversation flowing. For a small community, it’s a lively one, and people are motivated to share their learnings.
So if you thrive on having a good story to tell, sharing ideas with fellow designers, and providing meaningful experiences to users, a career in UX design could be for you.
Or, if you're ready to reap the rewards of putting people first, our team of UX experts can help. Just get in touch.