Have you ever been so frustrated by a website’s poor design that you decided to ditch it for another site? Or, maybe you poured hours into a project, only to lose all of your progress because your program glitched out and didn't autosave your work.
As a brand, these user experience failures are the exact thing that you want to prevent from happening. Instead, you want to create products and services that are simple yet powerful enough to meet your customers’ needs.
To do so, you have to turn to your ease-of-use extraordinaire: the UX designer.
What is UX design?
User experience (UX) design focuses on the ways that people will use or interact with a product. The product developer might envision it being used one way, but customers may instinctively use it another way.
UX design aims to strike the balance between the two to keep customers happy and to ensure that they use the product to its fullest extent.
For example, think about an IKEA desk. After the builder manufactures the desk, the UX designer has to make sure that the average person knows how to recreate it from a pile of parts. If the desk requires too many pieces or steps to build, customers may get frustrated and think poorly of the product.
UX design is important for all types of products and services, including websites, appliances, and streaming platforms (just to name a few). It’s an essential step that grounds product ideas and design to the reality of how customers will use and perceive them.
What is UI design?
Before we move on, let’s touch on the difference between UX design and UI design. Though they are often used interchangeably, user interface (UI) design is a subset of UX design.
UX design is a broader process that includes every effort to make a product or service usable. A UX designer will likely influence the design of a product (physical or digital), communicate how features meet customer needs, and advise on how to fix simple problems. In a nutshell, they investigate the entire user journey.
UI design covers the aesthetic part or construction of a product (usually digital). It includes the typography, animations, colors, buttons, and images that shape a product’s usability.
As an example, think about the last time you deleted an app on an iPhone. A UX designer was the mastermind who decided that holding an app down and getting haptic feedback was the best way to initiate the process. Meanwhile, a UI designer likely chose the vibrating animation of the apps and the bubbles that show you where to click to remove the app.
What do UX designers do?
A UX designer uses his/her knowledge about a company’s customers and products to make the finished product as easy to use as possible. They are expected to…
Be experts of the brand and audience
As a UX designer, you act as an advocate of the end user. That means you’ll need to know your customer base inside and out. You’ll have to evaluate the product through the eyes of the end user, asking yourself, “If I was the customer…”
- …how would I try to use X function?
- …how would I feel about the suggested design elements?
- …would I find this process or feature confusing, frustrating, or off-putting?
- …would I be able to figure out how to use the product without help?
- …how long would it take to accomplish desired goals?
Develop the user flow
Once you understand how users think, you’ll be responsible for mapping out the user flow, i.e., the ways that they will realistically use the product from start to finish. A flowchart can reveal:
- Gaps or problems in the product
- Overly complicated user flows
- Opportunities for improvement
Optimize the product design
Taking everything you’ve learned and predicted about the user flow, you can now help to create the best product design.
As your team prototypes, wireframes, and moves forward with production, you’ll have to check for any potential issues and help to resolve them before the product gets put out on the market. At this stage, you’ll likely work with UI designers to develop the visual elements of the product.
Conduct user testing
User testing helps to validate product ideas and user flows. These early users won’t have the same bias and familiarity with the product that you or your team inevitably have.
As a UX designer, you’ll need to carry out these user tests and help to resolve any flaws you may have missed and get your product ready for release.
5 essential skills for becoming a successful UX designer
UX designers need the soft skills that allow them to understand users, plus the technical skills to understand product design. If you master the skills below you’ll be ready to help create products that are not just usable and accessible, but enjoyable too.
1. Impeccable research and user interviewing skills
Learning how your users think will require two things from you: research and empathy.
During your research, you will use surveys, interviews, customer insights, and observation to learn from your audience. This process should reveal:
- Your audience’s pain points and how they currently solve them
- The behaviors that are relevant to your product
- Your audience’s goals
- What they need from your product
This data alone isn’t enough to create the best solution. You additionally need to understand why your audience feels the way they do. This is where empathy comes in. Actively listening to users will reveal what is driving their needs and feelings. You can then combine this understanding with your data to develop the ideal product design.
2. Familiarity with information architecture
In your role, you will determine how users access certain information and features. The way you organize these steps is known as information architecture. Along with making sure that users see “step one” before “step two,” information architecture ensures that users will automatically follow the process as you imagined it.
It’s important to understand why people intuitively do things in a certain way and order—and how you can apply that to your design. The more you understand about information architecture, the better user experiences you can create.
3. Wireframing and prototyping
In order to communicate your suggestions, you’ll need to know how to create clear wireframes. You can physically sketch wireframes by hand or use tools like Adobe XD, Illustrator, Figma, InVision Studio, Axure, and more.
Wireframing is also where you’ll start to design the elements that users will see at each stage of their journey. This includes any buttons on the screen, such as settings, profile, and help buttons. So, you’ll need to practice visualizing your thoughts on paper.
4. Problem solving and critical thinking
No matter how much research and planning you pour into a project, you’ll inevitably run into questions or flukes that you didn’t initially think of. In anticipation of this, you’ll need to develop a critical eye for identifying, investigating, and adapting to issues that come up. You may have to figure out how to code a tricky feature, or perhaps simplify a process that was too confusing for users.
Your team will rely on you to create solutions that are both realistic and cost-effective. If you’re willing to think outside of the box and listen to good suggestions, you’ll have an easier time finding solutions to problems while staying true to your product’s design.
5. Accepting feedback
Your design will likely go through multiple iterations. Even the first version of a finished product often has issues (remember the exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7?).
It’s natural to feel protective of your work, but it’s important to know how to accept feedback with grace, and discern good ideas from non-critical ones. If you’re willing to see your design’s flaws and use suggestions to make the end products better, you will go far in your role.
Design your own business processes
As a freelance UX designer, how you choose to run your business is just as important as how you do the work.
Hectic can help you design the ideal processes for your freelance business. Find better ways to invoice, create contracts and proposals, manage your projects and clients, and so much more.
Start your free account to get all the tools you need today.