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As the name implies, UX Designers are focused on user experience — how a product, like a website or app, makes you feel while you’re using it.
Figuring that out takes research, prototyping, and testing, with this high-level role working closely alongside other types of Designers and Product Managers to bring each vision to life in a way that resonates with end-users.
According to Tony Ho Tran in Inside Design, every modern, successful product or service needs UX design behind it.
“With it, customers will remain satisfied and (ideally) loyal to your business,” he writes. “Without it, your user can be left frustrated and bitter with your product… resulting in, ultimately, fewer users.”
Tran says the most effective UX design creates a positive experience for a company’s target audience by anticipating — and ultimately fulfilling — their needs.
So what’s the actual UX design process to make that happen?
Most UX Designers break the process down into a few key stages, which allows a team to figure out user needs, develop and test ideas, and refine a design so it has the maximum impact.
Understand the Problem
Remember the good old days of high school, when you were given math problems or essay topics to tackle? Step one, before hitting pen to paper, was always making sure you understood the question and the parameters.
And just like those school days, UX design process also requires gaining a thorough understanding of the issue at hand.
“Design solves a problem,” explains Saadia Minhas for UX Planet. “In order to provide a solution, you first need to understand the problem.”
In UX design, that can mean interviewing clients and brainstorming concepts together, determining what problem you’re trying to solve for your company, their company, and the end-users, and bringing together the project team to get everyone on the same page before the hard work really begins.
Research and Analyze
In-depth research is the backbone of UX design, long before you’re building prototypes or signing off on graphic design choices. Some of this means scoping out your competitors to get a sense of their product offerings, including their shortcomings and any potential sources of inspiration, while another chunk is focused on end-users.
“Your user research is going to be the lifeblood of your project,” explains Tran. “The things you discover and unearth during this stage lays the foundation for how your entire project will turn out.”
Be it through surveys, focus groups, or 1-on-1 meetings, you need to get a clear sense of what users want and need from the product you’re designing. That means focusing on questions like what they’re hoping for in a product, and what they struggle with when it comes to current market offerings.
“Not only do UX Designers want to know who their users are, but Designers want to dive deeper into their needs, fears, motivations, and behavior,” writes Nick Babich for Adobe’s design blog.
During this phase, it can be helpful to create user personas — as in, fictional representations of your target customers — to give you a clear guideline for what you’re trying to achieve.
Sketch and Design
This is the phase where you’re finally hashing out ideas — and while they don’t have to be perfect, they should be rooted in your research, with a laser-sharp focus on solving the problem at hand.
Whiteboard flows, wireframe prototypes, and often hand-drawn sketches can all be part of the process so you can share concepts with your team and other stakeholders.
As the process moves forward, you’ll start getting into the nitty-gritty of a final design, hammering out specifics like typography and style guidelines with your graphic and UI design team.
According to Babich, an effective design phase is both highly collaborative, requiring input from the whole product development team, and iterative, meaning that it cycles back upon itself to validate ideas and assumptions.
“You’ll have to design, redesign, scrap it, and design it all again,” Minhas echoes. “Hyperventilation and overconsumption of coffee are completely natural at this stage.”
Test, launch, repeat
Once you’ve finished building a final design, backed by research and analysis, you’re almost ready to send it into the world.
First, though, comes plenty of testing — ensuring every single piece of the product is usable and effective. Ultimately, you’re trying to figure out if it works well, resonates with customers, and if it solves your initial problem.
Doing so requires a few approaches, according to Tran: Internal testing, end-user testing, and potentially a beta launch. “This is a limited release of your product to a small number of people with the goal of finding issues and cleaning them up before you launch it to the world,” he explains.
In UX, tests can be as simple as observing customer-product interactions or as complex as presenting different versions of a product to the public to see which is better received, notes UsabilityGeek.com. “Developers may offer questionnaires and surveys or even do further interviews with customers to identify spots of difficulty or confusion.”
After this point, your team might decide it’s time to officially press the “launch” button. But, sorry to break it to you, that’s not where the process ends.
“The process goes on until the desired experience and customer satisfaction is achieved,” Minhas writes.
In other words, testing, re-launching, and then testing again — getting as close to an ideal product offering as possible.
“When it comes to UX design process, there’s no one fits all solution,” says Babich. “But whether your UX process lightweight or it’s full of a lot of activities, the goal of each UX design process is the same — create a great product for your users.”
Ready to pursue a career as a UX Designer? Take a look at our UX Design Diploma Program.