Every digital experience you encounter has been thoughtfully crafted by UX designers. Your rideshare app, Twitter feed and favorite e-commerce site have all been carefully handled by a UX design team with the goal of getting you to use their product in the easiest and most appealing way possible. The job of each UX designer is to optimize your digital experience to keep you coming back to the product.
Think about it in terms of the Lyft app. Amidst the bold pink and white visuals are items like ride options, wait time estimates and total prices. The main screen isn’t bogged down by auxiliary steps that don’t get you to convert, and that’s deliberate. UX designers, through thousands of hours of careful research and testing, have determined that customers efficiently and happily use their service with this easy-to-use, informational and visually-appealing layout.
“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating” – Donald A. Norman, User Experience Architect
The above quote from one of the foremost leaders on design really says it all when it comes to UX. A well-researched design communicates and connects with a user in a way that makes them feel comfortable and understood. In a sense, quality design makes a user believe that the product is catered directly towards them. More often than not, the first goal of a UX designer is to figure out how to best communicate with a user (What is going to keep a user on the site? What are important features? What will convert them into a customer?).
To communicate properly, UX designers must strike a balance between being creative and analytical. Designers must use the data they gathered from countless research sessions and interviews to inform the design of the page. Then, they work with other members of the UX teams to incorporate brilliant visual designs that seamlessly lead users down a conversion funnel.
UX Design Process
UX professionals must methodically follow a process to successfully execute one of their designs. Below is an example of the steps UX designers may follow to bring their ideas to fruition.
1. Understand Problems Through User Research
UX designers are problem solvers. To do their job, and to provide an accurate solution, designers must first understand the underlying problems.
Designers regularly conduct brainstorming sessions with clients to get their feedback. A UX team frequently lets users test out new or existing company products or sites to give the team unbiased feedback on what works and what doesn’t. From there, UX teams will identify user personas (what types of users will spend the most time with this product) and then will draft strategies based off of these personas.
User feedback, plus the team’s own personal digging, discovers the underlying problems of a product, and establishes a solid starting point for UX designers. Both user and team-generated data are vitally important to the overall success of the user experience process.
2. Designing the Product
Designing the product is a lot more taxing than it sounds. UX teams spend weeks or months taking a product from concept to production. The teams use all of the user and team-generated data to start planning their product. First, they involve user interface (UI) practices, like sketching, white board flowcharts and wireframing to share and communicate ideas with stakeholders.
Then, the design team will create mockups based off of the initial design meetings. These mockups are essentially prototypes of the finished product (i.e. they don’t have the full functionality, but they get the look and feel across). Once the user flow, visuals and wireframes are complete, it’s time for styling. This is where the images, colors, typography, etc. get added to the product.
Software engineers and product managers get involved early on in the design aspect of each product because they’re the people who make the product execute its tasks. Engineers and product teams work side-by-side with the design team to communicate progress, ask questions and voice concerns. Communication between these parties is key to a successful product launch.
As soon as the user experience product is done with the design phase, it rolls to more testing. Because nobody wants to launch a broken product to the world, each product goes through vigorous testing to ensure that it’s running smoothly and up to a user’s standards. Sometimes, it even goes to consumer review groups that use and critique it. Other times, testing is done internally. Is it usable? How easy is it to use? Does it fix the user’s original problem? How efficient are we making the process? These questions (and many, many more) need to be answered before a product can be released to the general public.
4. Product Release
As soon as all stakeholders sign off on the new product, it’s time to ship it out to the world. The UX design team takes in a few moments to appreciate all of the effort they put into creating a revolutionary product; then they get back to work fielding consumer feedback for the product and gathering more information for future ideas.
Difference Between UX and UI
One of the biggest questions from the tech community is “what is the difference between UX and UI?” These terms are often used interchangeably, but actually mean different things. While UX refers to “user experience design,” UI refers to “user interface design.”
In short, UX design encompasses any interaction between a customer and a company’s products. The user experience aspect refers to how a user truly experiences a certain product, whether that’s software, a website, a car, etc. The ultimate purpose is to make it easy, efficient and an overall worthwhile experience for the user.
UI is more of a subset or complement to UX. Unlike UX, UI is strictly a digital term. A user interface is the point of interaction between a user and a digital product, like a phone screen or tablet. UI designers consider the interactivity of a digital product, and strategize on how to make it as intuitive as possible. These designers specialize in developing the visuals and interactive elements for everything from app icons to buttons and color schemes.
As co-founder of Foster.fm, Rahul Varshney, eloquently puts it:
“User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) are some of the most confused and misused terms in our field. A UI without UX is like a painter slapping paint onto a canvas without thought; while UX without UI is like the frame of a sculpture with no paper mache on it. A great product experience starts with UX followed by UI. Both are essential for the product’s success.”