What is User Experience (UX) Design?

One of the latest buzzwords (umm… buzzacronyms?) in the web industry is UX Design, aka User Experience Design.

When people just throw these terms around, sometimes the actual meaning can get lost. We’ve had people think UX Design is the same as Web Design, Graphic Design, Programming… you name it. It’s none of those things, but at the same time, it has a little bit of all of those things. So what is UX Design?

UX can and does comprise of:

Research

As a UX designer, I am constantly studying and researching. There are always new techniques coming out for how to present information to the user. Things fall out of style and come into style all the time.

In addition, when we get a client in a new industry that we haven’t worked with before, I set out to learn everything I can about that industry. Who are their competitors? What do their sites look like? What goal(s) do they want to accomplish with this website?

Creating Personas

Personas are fleshed-out hypothetical users. One persona might be a 31-year-old mother of two, who owns a Mac, uses Safari, lives in Gilbert, AZ, and works as a lawyer. A 67-year-old retired male who owns a 10-year-old Windows desktop running XP and uses Internet Explorer is another example. These people are going to approach a site from different perspectives.

Creating Scenarios & User Testing

Once you have personas created it’s time to run them through some scenarios and perform user testing. An example of a scenario: The user clicked on our site after searching for “Phoenix Web Designer” in Google. They want some way to contact us. Testers should run through your site pretending to be those personas you have created. Or if personas aren’t your style, you can do actual User Testing. This involves getting random people to go through your site while you are watching. That is a very basic explanation of user testing, but it’s more-or-less what happens.

Information Architecture

When starting a new website, I always like to go through the client’s old site, or if they don’t have one, I’ll discuss with the client what information they would like to convey on their site. From there I’ll construct, or architect, a decent map of the site. This site map consists of what pages will be on the site, how they will be connected, and what type of content will be on each page. At this stage, the content will be basic concepts, but it’s a great start for content writing.

Ensuring a good flow or, USER EXPERIENCE (See what I did there?), throughout the website is vital.

Talk the talk

If you want to sound like a UX Designer sprinkle in these words and phrases to your conversations…

  • wireframe
  • market research
  • persona
  • scenarios
  • performance
  • scalability
  • conversion-rate
  • site architecture
  • prototype
  • esthetics
  • empathy
  • usability
  • analytics
  • iterate

Wireframing

A wireframe is where we take everything from the site map and rough it out, either with pen and paper, or a program like Sketch, Balsamiq or Photoshop (photoshop usage in web design is on the downtick, though). This will give us a good sense of what content we’ll need to write and what images and/or videos we’ll need to produce or procure. If we’re on a tight deadline, we may start coding out the website based on just the wireframes, adding content and design flourishes later.

Copywriting

While I leave the majority of the copywriting to our dedicated copywriters, sometimes I like to step in when it comes to call-to-action content. These are the things like “Call Now!” or “Sign Up Below”. There’s actually a lot of thought and research behind what works and where it works!

Prototyping

Depending on how complex the project is that we’re working on, prototyping may be called for. A website prototype is similar to a wireframe except it is interactive. If there is a complicated workflow or a fancy animation, we may feel the need to see how it works in practice. Several tools exist for this: Proto.io, InVision… but usually what we do is just code out something simple in HTML, CSS, and javascript.

Interaction design

Interactive design is pretty much exactly what is sounds like: the process of the designing the elements that users interact with and how they interact with them.

An example would be a menu. Let’s say I have a dropdown menu, does the user access that menu by hovering over it? Or do they have to click to expand the menu? Is the entire menu hidden behind one of those “hamburger” icons? ( Meat the hamburger icon! Now you know what to call it.)

Visual design

Visual design is a bit of a blanket phrase. Branding, voice, design concepts, iconography, UI design, graphic design… all of these things are a part of visual design. In the visual design part of their job, the UX designer explains to the web designer the reasoning behind the design of the site and the concepts behind certain choices. This isn’t a one-way street, though, collaboration is an essential part of this process.

Usability

At Ivio we abide by the WCAG 2.0 standards whenever possible. The aim of these standards is to make the web accessible for everyone, whether they be blind, deaf, or otherwise disabled. WCAG isn’t a legal standard but it’s much more in depth than ADA standards and is kept up-to-date, unlike the decade-old ADA standards.

Coordination with programmers

More collaboration! Keeping your team in the loop while also staying in the loop yourself is vital, which brings me to…

Design culture evangelism

Preach what you practice! It’s all well and good to follow these principles yourself, but your whole team should be able to speak to them a little as well, and they should definitely be able to describe User Experience Design to a client. If a client comes in for a meeting and you’re not all on the same page then things can go sideways quickly.

Goal Setting and Analytics

Before a website is launched, we need to revisit step one: what does the client want from this website? If it’s something that we can record and/or measure (for instance, it’s hard to measure “I want a nicer looking website”) then we’ll do it. Does the client want a higher conversion rate on phone calls or contact forms? Do they want a longer average time on the site? Do they want a higher average cart purchase? All of these things can be measured and tweaked.

Iteration

If what we have designed for the client isn’t helping them reach their goals then it’s time to iterate on the design. Typically we won’t do massive tweaks to the design, preferring to start with changes to colors, fonts, or rearranging and renaming of pages. But we have been known to do radical changes to home page designs or condense an entire subsection of 20 pages into one page.


So, there it is! As you can tell a User Experience Designer doesn’t really do much. Most of the day I just twiddle my thumbs.