UX Basics

What does a User Experience Designer do?

You’ve probably heard the term ‘UX Designer’ thrown around but until you understand the full context, it probably doesn’t hold much meaning.  In a world wide web of specialized skills, the digital user experience designer is more of a generalist.  They need to know a whole lot about a whole lot.

Mostly, a user experience designer makes an experience usable.  Some people spend more time with their smart phones than with their best friends.  This creates a moral obligation for designers to make this time enjoyable.   They take an idea and turn into into a tangible design while uncovering and solving all the little usability problems that come up along the way.

This image breaks down the various skills a bit more from the image above.

Top ten areas of expertise for a UX Designer

There are obvious soft skills that every succesful software professional needs to have, like communication skills, team work and ability to take initiative.  They also need to know enough about writing code to know what is easy and what is difficult to code.  But mostly they need to hold the creative overview and the entire concept of the website, software or application in their vision.

If you’re looking to build a digital experience, here is my list of top ten job skills a user experience designer needs to have:

1) Strategist.  Market research skills come in handy here.  What is the SWOT analysis of your idea for a website, software or application?  Who else is building something like this?  How will ours be different?  Better?  What are the business rules and requirements?

2) User research.  To design the user’s experience you gotta know the user.  What human problem is this software, app or website solving?  What are the people like who will be using your product?  How will people use this service to solve their problem?  What are their common frustrations with the competition (or your current product)?

3) Information Architect. This area of expertise draws on organization and pattern recognition skills.  Yes, content is king, but if the user can’t navigate their way through the content, or it’s poorly organized – your website won’t be useable.

4) Navigation Design.  Once the content is organized into a site map, you’ll want to figure out how to navigate around through this content.  You’ll need to know how it will collapse on a mobile device and expand on a massive monitor.

5) Interaction Design is one of the heftiest proficiencies in the UX tool belt.  The designer must be up on all standards of usability, human computer interaction and current micro-interactions within a site.  They create user flow diagrams and system flow diagrams.  Wireframes are made to capture the skeleton of the application once the user flows are identified.

6) Interface Design – formerly known as the Graphical User Interface (GUI) uses the latest design trends and sets the interaction design standards.   Button size and placement, form design, error handling, and functional specification all fall into this area.  Wireframes are turned into working prototypes which can be presented and tested before coding begins.

7) Information Design or hierarchy design determines the way the user will consume the information you are giving them.  What is the salient purpose of each page?  What elements need the greatest real estate on the screen?

8) Visual Design often determines much of the emotional response a user will have.  Colour, fonts, visual guidelines, spacing, and much more are often the only thing a novice will notice when looking at a new site.

9) Interface Copywriting is not normally recognized as an important skill for the user experience designer.  But in my practise the right call to action or headline can make or break an opinion of a page.  Certainly, this part of the experience can be polished by committee later, but initially – it’s the UXD who chooses the words to clarify a pages purpose.

10) User testing can be an eye opening experience.  You must be personable, patient and unbiased.  Test cases are written, test participants recruited and observed.  Tests are recorded, reviewed and results are ranked.  This phase can be catastrophic or totally life affirming.  The most important thing to know about testing is that testing once is better than never testing at all.

Did I miss anything?  Thoughts, opinions and comments are always welcomed.



3 thoughts on “UX Basics

  1. Such an informative read. I had somewhat of an idea, but nothing like this!

  2. I like it when e-commerce sites use user experience to establish relationships with their customers. User experience could provide clue as to whether customers are adapting to the dynamics and the attributes of a website, and could possibly help bring ideas that will make people respond well. I found a very interesting information about creating the best UX experience in e-commerce and I think things like analytics reporting may be necessary to bring their ideas into effect.

    Check it out: http://www.slideshare.net/somethingdigitl/creating-the-best-ecommerce-user-experience-ux-something-digital

    • EComm sites depend on making sales, I wonder if they were the first to lay the foundation of the science behind user testing. I can just imagine them saying, “Since we made this one change, sales went up by X%”, what else can we do to increase sales?”

      This approach is a conversion-based experience mixed with user-centric design. User experience design gets more sophisticated when you determine the user’s problem which requires solving, and then create a product or service to solve that need.

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