To explain what UX design is we should first start with “what is UX?”.
What Is “UX” in UX Design?
UX means user experience.
Here’s what Nielsen Norman Group says about UX:
“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.
Here’s what Wikipedia says about UX:
In commerce, user experience (UX) is a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service.
But it seems like those two definitions are not enough, because literally thousands of people explain what UX is in their blogs, in their tweets, in memes, and on job applications.
When people try to explain what UX is, they usually use a whole bunch of metaphors.
Wait, it gets worse:
Ok, the last one is actually a joke.
The thing is, it’s a bit complicated to explain what user experience is because it seems like most people base their explanation on a gut feeling.
And seeing that it’s been explained countless times, it’s probably better that you do the same. Just understand that user experience is the experience of using something, anything.
What Is UX Design?
Let’s talk about something specific, your phone. Can you think of every experience that you had with it? Here are a few that come to mind:
- Filming your friend who’s about to fall flat doing a backflip
- Showing your girlfriend this funny video of your friend falling flat
- Being too busy filming more backflips when your girlfriend calls you on your phone
- Breaking up with your girlfriend over the phone
- Drunk dialing your ex-girlfriend
Sure you’ve had a lot of experiences that were directly or indirectly connected with your phone.
Most of these experiences cannot be designed. They are spontaneous, unpredictable, and sometimes plain fun.
The thing is, some of the experiences can be designed. And that’s exactly what user experience design is about – designing user experiences.
You can’t design the experience of your friend failing spectacularly (and maybe painfully) while doing backflips, but you can design a camera that is activated with a one-second tap so that you don’t miss that moment.
After the video is captured, you can design how easily it can be shared with another group of friends and then later found among other videos you saved in your phone so that you can show it to your girlfriend.
You can’t design experience of missing a girlfriend’s calls, but you can design how the phone behaves when someone is calling you when the camera is on so that you won’t miss them.
So user experience can be designed. What goes into that? Well, let’s look at it through 3 different perspectives: business, users and designers.
UX for Business
Put simply, a good UX design can make more money for your business.
Back to the phone example. The more positive experiences associated with your phone, the larger the chance that you’ll recommend this phone or the brand to your friends, or buy it yourself when yours gets old. More sales, more revenue, you get the idea.
There are a number of examples of how improved user experience directly increases company profits, worker productivity, and even can double your yearly traffic.
There are even calculators for measuring the ROI of UX.
From a business perspective, UX design is a profitable investment. But what do users think of UX?
UX for People
There are millions of people using the same products, and yet everyone has a unique experience.
Someone can use their phone exclusively for calling their grandkids, while someone else might manage their whole startup via phone and its apps. Both people are using the same product, yet have completely different experiences.
Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why there are so many definitions of UX — it’s different for everyone.
Of course, you can’t manage such diverse and chaotic data when you have thousands of users. That’s why user experience designers create user personas and customer personas that represent segments of the user database in the form of fictional characters with certain defining characteristics.
Of course, users don’t even think about their experience, they are just experiencing it. Even the most complex interaction they have with your product will most often result in the classic binary “I like it” or “I don’t like it” verdict.
How do you make sense of all of it and connect business needs with those of the user?
There are trained people doing that.
UX for Designers
If user experiences can be designed, then someone should be designing them. That’s exactly what a user experience designer, or UX designer, does.
In short, they perform a wide array of activities (conduct user testing sessions, design wireframes, analyze user journeys, etc.) to understand the user’s experience with your product and then improve it.
UX Designers try hard to see things from the user’s perspective, but at the same time, to see the bigger picture. This helps make sure that the product is not only satisfying, but also useful, credible, usable, and so on.
In fact, there’s a UX honeycomb that shows seven aspects of valuable user experience.
A UX Designer’s job is so multi-faceted and versatile that we should talk about it in a separate section.
What Does a UX Designer Do?
A UX designer makes sure that the user’s experience with a product is as good as possible.
This is how they do it: unravel as many experiences associated with a product as possible and improve them.
For example, before you even start using a physical product, it comes with a package. I’m sure you’ve had great experiences removing things from the packaging when everything came out smoothly and even the texture of the package felt pleasant. It was a clean and smooth process and had a “Thank you note” inside.
On the other hand, there are horrible unpackaging experiences: you can’t open the package with your hands, you have to cut it with a knife. There are no notes inside, the smell is terrible, and the material is cheap. So before you even start using a product, you already had a bad experience with it. That’s not what you want for your customers.
If it’s a digital product, then the user’s experience can start with a poorly-organized login form or a confusing landing page.
It’s the UX Designer’s job to make these experiences better. UX designers can improve existing experiences, but engineering valuable experiences even before the development of the product is started is where they really shine.
For example, developers can save up to 50% of their time they waste on issues that could have been avoided if UX tests were conducted before the development started.
Fixing a problem in development can cost 10 times as much as fixing it in design.
UX Designer’s Responsibilities
Here are common UX designer responsibilities:
- Develops intuitive, usable, and engaging interactions and visual designs for mobile
- Collaborates with cross-functional teams (research, engineering, product, marketing) throughout the design process to ensure the effective execution of designs and release of high-quality products
- Illustrates and articulates design ideas using process flows, wireframes, and prototypes
- Break any design problem down into viable, actionable stories and solve them with clarity and precision
- Participates in the development process from definition, through design, build, test, release, and maintenance
- Researches and tracks advancements in mobile application design patterns
UX designer develops:
- User Personas
- Static Wireframes
- Customer Journey Maps
- User Flows
- Low-Fidelity Prototypes
- Usability Reports
- High-Fidelity Interactive Prototypes
Then there are mood boards, competitive analysis reports, style guides, and the list goes on.
The goal is to develop as much useful documentation as possible so that developers and UI designers were able to create a product that users like and use.
A Typical UX Designer Background
UX Designers come from any background. The most common are:
- Computer science (human-computer interaction is at the basis of digital UX design)
- Psychology (anything related to human behavior helps the researcher to better understand user patterns)
- Analytics (right now we’re observing a great shift into BigData solutions and A.I.-powered services so specialists can objectively interpret data to benefit the user)
- Any branch that has something to do with the product (e.g. finance majors and ex-workers will have an edge researching how users interact with a finance-related app)
Although there are many courses and universities that teach UX design, it’s still a rapidly growing and changing field. So if you’re willing to become a UX design expert your experience will outweigh any formal education.
How Much a UX Designer Can Make?
The average UX Designer salary across 106 countries is $53,280. The highest is in Switzerland, $101,613. U.S is a close second with $97,183.
While beginner UX Designers can make around $77,000 a year, a UX Designer with four to seven years of experience can make 20% more, or around $98,000 a year.
Senior UX Designers with eight to twelve years of experience can make around $111,000 a year.
User Experience Design Certifications
Below is a list of the most prestigious and relevant UX Designer certifications to date:
- Nielsen Norman Group UX Certification
- Human Factors International Certification
- CareerFoundry’s Certified UX Designer
- University of Washington User-Centered Design Certificate
- General Assembly’s UX Design Immersive
- Interaction Design Foundation UX Designer Course
- UX Research & Design Certification by the University of Michigan
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