Whilst User Experience designers seem to be gaining more and more kudos lately, it’s still a bit of a mystery what they spend their time doing. What’s all this wireframing and whiteboard sketching all about?
So now, before they slowly start to take over the world (it’s predicted that we will see 18% growth of these job roles in next 10 years), I think it’s the perfect time to get your head around exactly what they do.
From what I’ve seen and heard and the research I’ve done, the roles and responsibilities for User Experience designers vary from workplace to workplace, particularly from small to large businesses. I’ve also learned that it’s not just about standing up at a whiteboard drawing or talking to a lot of people, they’re actually involved in a huge amount of things. In fact, they’re usually responsible for the implementation of a new product or a product change, from start to finish.
Here’s a brief ‘Day in the life’ of a User Experience (UX) designer, to help you see what value they can add to your business.
UX design is the art and science of solving a user’s problems. So before creating something, designers need to know what problem they’re solving and who for. This means research and a lot of it. Research is every UX designer’s starting point. It provides the foundation for great design and also allows designers to make informative business decisions based on real and relevant insight. A UX designers involvement in this side of things can vary greatly, from facilitating focus groups to simply receiving the feedback. Many companies employ external agencies for this part of the process.
Product and user research
As part of this research phase, UX designers look to gain a comprehensive understanding of the people they will be designing for. It’s extremely important they try to get into the heads of either potential or current users. What do they need, what are they looking for, what are they missing? If there is no product yet, they can speak to users of similar products and figuring out what they want. Common types of research includes questionnaires, focus group discussions and online surveys.
User research is generally done alongside market/competitor research, as it’s seen as the way to gain the most valuable and relevant insight. Competitor analysis helps UX designers understand industry standards and identify opportunities for the product in a given area. They will look for things such as, what similar products are already out there? How they can improve on this? Is there something that the competitors are doing wrong? Is there a gap in the market?
The main goal of research is to understand users’ thoughts, feelings and frustrations and translate them into requirements that will create a much loved product in the current market.
With UX, the design of the product is centred around the experience the user has with the product – how they will feel about using it, not just about how it looks.
Based on the research results and the client brief, the next step is for UX designers to identify key user groups for this product i.e. CEOs, farmers or students. This is a selection of the real audience, and should be potential users or users they already have.
UX designers also create personas for each of these groups. A persona is a fictitious identity that is nevertheless based on and reflects one of the user groups i.e. John the farmer and Karen the CEO.
Once a UX designer has identified these user groups, they then write scenarios for each one. A scenario is a narrative describing ‘a day in the life of’ one of their personas, including how the website or app fits into their user’s lives and will represent the behaviors of the user, i.e. why would a farmer be using your product, when they want to buy something what steps will they be taking on your app, or how will they be interacting with your website.
Information Architecture (IA)
Once these groups and scenarios are defined, UX designers then turn to working out the Information Architecture (IA). In most cases, especially at larger companies, UX designers work alongside content specialists/digital writers during this part of the process. The IA is the structure of your digital touchpoints (websites or apps) that helps people figure out where they are and find where they need to go. It includes things such as website navigation, hierarchies (most important content at the top) and categorising content (I.e. placing content into certains areas). It can be during this IA phase when you might see some UX designers sketching up diagrams on a whiteboard or on paper.
Once the IA has been decided, it’s time to get a little deeper and start to think about what the structure of the page may look like. This is where the famous wireframes come in. Wireframes are low fi representations of a design, for example the basic structure or layout of a web page. They’re normally created quickly, such as a quick sketch on a whiteboard or piece of paper, and include simple placeholders like image here and heading here. The focus here is on determining the flow and identifying which key features to keep in. The wireframes are a UX designers blueprint – the final wireframes will drive both development and visual design.
While wireframes are similar to building blueprints, prototyping is generally a more detailed representation of the final product. An extremely important part of a UX designer’s skill set, prototyping allows designers to communicate their ideas and turn them into something that people can understand and visualise easily. For example, creating a web page or app that looks distinctly like either the current product or a close version of what they want it to we. Modern software allows designers to make interactive prototypes, which allows you click on certain areas of the design and move through as you would do on a live web page.
During this phase, UX designers would again work closely (especially in larger companies)with a content specialist/digital writer to ensure things like page headings and button labels are on point.
The aim of a prototype is to give the user a taste on how to interact with a product.
Testing is one of the most vital parts of a UX designers role. Testing, especially with your users, not only helps UX designers to validate some of their assumptions, but it lets them find out the problems or they joys they may experience interacting with the prototypes. Like the research phase, a UX designers involvement varies, from facilitating testing to simply receiving the feedback. Many companies employ external agencies for this part of the process.
To gain the most comprehensive and relevant insight, you need to test potential or existing users from your target groups. This helps you understand things such as whether or not a design outcome satisfies the intended goal, where users get confused and what things users like about the app.
Although there are various testing methods, pne of the most common ways is in-person user tests where you can observe their behaviour. Other methods include doing online tests (such as A/B testing or multi-variate testing), online surveys, remote user testing or even sending out an interactive prototype to another area of the business to get feedback.
UX designers use the knowledge and feedback from these sessions to transform their design into a launch ready product.
UX is all about using user feedback to help optimise a product, which means you look at insight on a regular basis – not just before or after the launch of a new website.
This means that for UX designers, a job is never really complete. They’re often making small fixes and refinements or large changes to ensure the product is constantly up-to-date and as user friendly as can be.
Harnessing the power of this feedback loop gives businesses comprehensive and relevant market feedback, enabling them to make bolder and better business decisions, faster.
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