So, what exactly is UX design? What is the value of a UX design process in software development? In this article, we take a closer look at the field of UX and, in particular, the UX design process, to show you what UX is all about, step-by-step.
What is UX design?
Before we delve into the problem of the UX design process, let’s define the user experience first. The official definition of user experience states that it’s a person’s perception and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system, or service.
In its essence, UX design is about making the user’s experience with the product as pleasant and efficient as possible. It’s thanks to good UX design that customers become attracted to products, and once they use them, they easily complete the journey from the homepage to purchasing the product. The job of a UX designer to make this journey easy, fun, and fast.
What is UX design in detail?
The design aspect of user experience focuses on improving the efficiency, ease-of-use, and utility of the user interaction with the product. It’s key that we differentiate UX design from a visual design that focuses only on how the product looks. Contrary to visual design, UX design concentrates on how the product feels and works.
What is usability?
Usability and user experience are often confused, so let’s clear it up before moving on to discuss the UX design process. Usability refers to the ease-of-use and learnability of a human-made object. This concept directly links to UX design because it’s about the improvement of the experience the user has with a product. The easier the product is to learn and use, the better the user experience.
However, a product also needs to actually solve a user’s problem. Most of the time, this forms the other spectrum of the job of a UX designer: figuring out what users actually need and want.
Benefits of UX design
There are many benefits to implementing UX design while building digital products.
First of all, UX design improves the experience of the product’s user, and a great user experience increases the adoption of the product, boosts loyalty, and results in higher purchases.
That’s why it’s so important to deepen our understanding of the goals and context of the use of potential users and to translate this understanding to design. To put it simply, great UX design keeps customers happy and increases sales, all within the constraints of the available technology and business requirements.
The key goal of a UX designer is creating a product that is useful, usable, and delightful:
- Useful – this means that it solves the problem that users actually experience.
- Usable – the product’s usability needs to be clear so that customers can easily understand how the product works.
- Delightful – this point is all about ensuring that the user enjoys using the product.
For example, if the user’s goal is getting more information, the business goal will be to provide quality information that inspires trust and provide helpful sales assistants who can explain things to the user. A happy and well-informed user will become a returning customer.
Key qualities of successful UX designers
Empathy – UX designers need to understand why people behave in the way they do. That’s why empathy is the most important attribute in the field of UX design. A designer who knows how to put themselves in other people’s shoes will be successful in designing accessible and usable products.
Curiosity – UX designers need to be curious to know why people behave the way they do and where their needs or preferences originate. Without this curiosity, user research (a critical part of the UX design process) will become a boring chore.
Communication – this is a very important trait of successful UX designers. The ability to express complicated concepts clearly to those who have little to no prior knowledge in the field.
Ultimately, UX designers are the ones who care about people and their comfort. They aim to make people’s lives better while they’re using products.
The UX design process – a step-by-step guide
The UX design process can be divided into four key phases:
Most of the time, a UX design process takes place in this order. However, UX is an iterative process. Many UX designers believe that design is never actually finished. That’s because throughout the design process, new insights that might lead them to change their design decisions. Moreover, customer needs and expectations change over time, so a product that stays the same might not fulfill their needs anymore.
That’s why it’s common for designers to revisit and repeat certain steps in the UX design process to continuously optimize and improve the product’s design.
Here’s a detailed explanation of the four different phases of the UX design process and its core elements.
Phase 1: User research
This step focuses on understanding the users: their behavior, needs, goals, motivations, and preferences. It’s the starting point for every UX design project. Whether a UX designer works for a large corporation or small startup, they will always start here.
During this phase, designers work with groups of users who come from different backgrounds and bring different experiences to the table. The primary goal here is to understand why users are behaving the way they are – it’s not about trying to change the behavior or influence it. Instead, a UX designer accommodates it within the product. This is also how user research helps to crystallize the unique design proposition for the project.
Why is user research important in the UX design process?
When working solely on the basis of our assumptions and experiences, we might fail to see what the user experience could be like for other people – and, specifically, for our users. Without a UX design process, we might miss out on the opportunities to improve our product so that it meets the user needs.
Moreover, while you might find your system easy to navigate, the same might not be true for other users. After all, you already have a history with the system and a lot of prior knowledge of it. Your users don’t have the benefit of this knowledge and experience.
Mastering the UX design process is all about assuming the perspective of the user – and you can do that only through user research.
User research methods
User interviews – this is an in-depth one-to-one discussion between an interviewer and a user from the target demographic. The idea is to discover the underlying needs and requirements of the user related to the product.
Online surveys – an online survey is a questionnaire that includes precise questions for the target audience. The form and length of an online survey can vary from project to project, but the important thing is that all the data is compiled in a database to be reviewed later.
Persona creation – personas are not ideal customers, but the customers a business actually has or ones who are already out there. A persona is a fictional representative selection of the real audience and lists their needs and behaviors in detail. Personas are built using qualitative and quantitative user research, as well as web analytics. A persona will only be effective if it’s truly representative of real people and their motivations, includes universal features and functionalities, offers an accurate picture of user expectations, and shows how users interact with the product.
User testing – the question of testing will come up later, but UX designers turn to it already at the point of user research. That’s because testing can become a valuable research tool for uncovering where exactly users are struggling to use the product.
Phase 2: Design
This step of the UX design process focuses on creating wireframes and prototypes that offer something tangible to test on potential users. That’s why it’s so important to make these designs as usable as possible.
Designing a great user experience involves planning the customer journey for users and helping them find exactly what they’re looking for via an intuitive process. The idea is to craft the journey for customers to follow, considering their previous experiences with other products, goals, expectations, and many other factors.
The job of UX designers in this stage is to consider how the product can accommodate what the customer already knows and how the customer already behaves. The initial designs of a product should revolve around functionality and usability, not the color palette or pictures.
Here are the most common elements of UX design:
Poor user experience often stems from the user becoming overwhelmed by too much information or getting lost while navigating through a product. To avoid such scenarios, UX designers use a tool called information architecture.
The goal of information architecture is structuring, labeling, and organizing the content on the site to help users find exactly what they need and achieve their goals. It’s not only about figuring out how each piece of the product fits together but also how everything relates to other items in the structure.
The benefits of information architecture include:
increased customer self-sufficiency,
more satisfied customers,
reduced support costs,
lower dropout rates.
The most popular method for organizing the hierarchy of content is card sorting. During card sorting sessions, users organize topics into groups that make sense to them and then label each group in a way that describes the content most accurately.
A wireframe is an illustration or diagram of software, application page, or website. The most important aspect of wireframing is the distribution of images and content, content prioritization, showing available functionalities, allocation of blank space, and accommodating the intended behavior.
Their primary goal of wireframing is to help designers to establish the relationships among the different elements of the product. Wireframes allow connecting the visual design of the site with the established information architecture. A wireframe can be as simple as a pencil sketch on paper. Later on, the designer can digitize the created prototypes and add more details. The key advantages of wireframes are that they are cheap, simple, and quick to execute.
A prototype is a draft version of a product that takes users as close as possible to the presentation of its user interface before any coding begins. Prototypes allow designers to explore and experiment with different ideas and verify the functionality and usability of the product before spending a lot of money on full development.
Prototyping also helps designers to:
-address any inconsistencies or errors early on,
-try new ideas and test them with users,
-develop and improve upon the original idea,
-demonstrate the product to the management, client, and other stakeholders.
Designers looking to create a digital prototype usually turn to tools Adobe XD, InVision, or Proto.io. Mastering these tools critical for creating usable prototypes.
Phase 3: User testing
Just like user research, testing is a fundamental part of a UX designer’s responsibility. Testing allows teams to improve upon the original product, spot problems with user difficulties early on, and validate products.
Testing can start with paper prototypes, simple wireframes, or sketches that demonstrate the product to potential users. Designers can choose from different methods of testing:
- In-person usability testing – helps to identify the problems on the user interface and shows why these issues arise. This type of testing can be carried out through different methods, such as surveys, interviews, questioners, or observations.
- Remote user testing – this is an excellent option for designers who can’t reach users from their target audience. However, the inability to interact with users face-to-face means that this form of testing loses accuracy.
- A/B testing – this is a form of quantitative testing where designers compare two versions of the product, website application, or others. The idea to apply those changes that produce a significant difference in the user action (for example, subscription to the mailing list) and then check which version performs better.
Phase 4: Implementation
This step is all about the UX designer’s place in the development team. Most of the time, this depends on the nature of the company they are working for. Different organizational settings come with completely different ranges of responsibilities.
In a startup, a UX designer might be responsible for every single part of the process because of the small budgets, small teams, and limited resources. Designers are likely to supervise the project from beginning to end, and actively take part in processes such as testing, user research, and design.
In a large enterprise, a UX designer might have a team of user researchers, supervise testing, and perform a more managerial role. The UX designer oversees the entire process from the beginning to the end but is much less involved in its hands-on.
There are pros and cons to each of these roles, but whatever company the UX designer end up in, they have one common job – direct the UX design process in the right order and become its creator, advocate, and moderator.
Note that working with software developers is a critical part of UX design. And it requires a degree of honesty, transparency, and excellent communication to get buy-in from the programming team.
We hope that this article helps you to understand what the UX design process is and the role of the UX designer with a company. If you’d like to get more insights about the tech industry, keep a close eye on our blog where experts share their knowledge to help people become successful in IT.