What is UX Design?
‘UX’ is an industry abbreviation for User Experience. Users are the beating heart of the modern digital economy, and a successful digital product or service must be harmonised with the needs, desires, and capabilities of its target users. UX designers achieve this harmonisation within digital products by ensuring that users can navigate through them implicitly and without confusion, thus providing a smooth and enjoyable experience. UX design, however, goes beyond the requirements of more focused web-design sub disciplines like Information Architecture. As a holistic exercise, effective UX requires a team that can effectively integrate multiple different elements of the web design process, like interface design, web engineering and development, and marketing strategies. When work from these various sub disciplines is pulled together and then implemented effectively and according to UX design best practices (which we will discuss in more detail shortly), UX designers can create products and services that feel familiar, intuitive, and most importantly, user-friendly.
UX design, as we already mentioned, has become something of a buzzword in web design circles. This is so for a reason. At Studio Vi, we firmly believe that user experience has always been and will continue to be an integral part of any successful product. To put things in perspective, we can all think of situations where we have spent hours on end immersing ourselves in a website, at the expense of our work or other responsibilities. We can also remember instances where a poor user experience or other annoying design choices forced us to give up on a purchase despite desperately needing what the website or app was offering. These instances and the elements that separate good and bad user experiences are at the heart of UX design.
Why UX Design can make a difference
Good UX design is something that we believe any digital offering should strive towards. The opposite can be said about bad UX design. But what is it that separates the two? And what benefits does good UX design bring to the digital business owner?
Broadly speaking, we can say that a digital product with good UX design is one that users can intuitively employ to achieve their goals and satisfy their requirements. UX designers are also always concerned about user enjoyment when designing products. Digital products can, and should, spark joy in their users, and this is a task that very much sits at the centre of UX design. On the other hand, digital products with poor user experience design are those that appear complicated and illegible to the user. Users who encounter products with bad UX design are more likely to get lost when navigating through a website or app, will find it more difficult to make important decisions related to relevant content, and are more likely to seek out competing offers. These results inevitably lead to negative emotions in the user that drive them away from an offered product or service. In the worst case, poor UX design can prevent a user from accessing a product that they are in desperate need of. Think of a fire extinguisher with extremely confusing instructions – a ‘user’ who goes to use that product in case of a fire has a desperate need of it but could potentially be prevented from utilising it due to poor choices made by the design team behind the product. Or, to give a more digital example, imagine that you are filing your taxes online and an error message appears that prevents you from moving forward without telling you exactly what you have done wrong.
As a business owner, the choice between happy, engaged customers and alienated, frustrated customers is an obvious one. A product or service that regularly delights users is far more likely to retain old customers and convert new ones (with the converse obviously being true of products with a badly designed user experience). Offerings with good UX design also tend to have superior SEO rankings, and thus provide an added bonus to the marketing efforts of most web enterprises. In other words, UX design clearly makes a difference. In what follows, we will investigate how exactly UX designers work to achieve that effect.
How designers create successful UX Design
We spoke earlier of UX design best practices. While these practices vary from firm to firm, at Studio Vi we approach UX design in 4 distinct stages that structure the design process:
- Know the Product: By far the most important facet of UX design is having detailed knowledge about the ideal user (or target audience) of a product or service. However, before a UX designer can gather this knowledge, they must first fully understand the target product or service that a client is offering. Doing so allows us to start “getting closer” to users and helps us better understand why those users might be looking for a particular service or product in the first place.
- Know the User: A common mantra often repeated in UX design is: “Listen, Observe, Question”. These three words define how UX designers seek to ‘get close’ to their users. When trying to obtain the fullest understanding of their target users, we ask:
- Why do people use the product?
- What is their initial need, problem, or desire for the product?
- What purpose do they seek to fulfil with the product?
- What means do they use to access information about the product? Do they use phones, apps, websites, or other tools?
- How exactly does the user employ these tools (apps, websites, search engines, etc) that lead them to information about the product they need or desire? Do they search for services or products using broad or narrow terms? Are they searching for products on personal devices or through enterprise level tools?
The answers to these questions, which UX designers obtain through tools such as user surveys and interface testing, allow for the creation of user profiles, otherwise known as user personas. These semi-fictitious characterisations of users give us a baseline to work from while simultaneously allowing them to build an offering around the specific needs and desires of an ‘ideal user’.
- Know the System: It is also important that UX designers remain aware of the wider context that user product decisions take place in and are shaped by. Users encounter products and services as they journey throughout a larger ecosystem. Understanding this journey, and the way in which different parts of the ecosystem connect with each other and signpost routes for users, is an important aspect of UX design. Such understanding allows designers to make user’s lives easier, find new zones in the product journey for innovation, and prevent negative user experiences.
- Build and Iterate: UX designers collect research about their product, user and target system to create a product that is as suitable as possible. In theory, perfect research would lead to a perfect product. In the real world, however, time constraints often prevent us from doing the extensive research needed to perfect a product on the first pass. That’s why we create prototypes during the design process that we can send to users and watch as they interact with them. This prototyping allows us to focus on the parts of a product that make users happy and the parts that users find frustrating or alienating. The information collected from this prototyping process allows us to continuously improve both the product and the user journey that leads to it. This process, we must stress, is ongoing and cumulative. Ask a UX designer what their motto is and they will likely tell you: iterate, iterate, iterate!
A good user experience is a crucial part of any successful product or service. UX designers should always consider what their specific product or service is supposed to do, who will use it, the broader system in which their product exists, and the real-world evolution of that product as it is employed by users. Building around these variables through a process of iterative prototyping is the key to creating products and services that are intuitive, easy to use, and enjoyable. As designers, we obviously care about good UX design for its own sake. But the online business owner would be wrong to discount UX design as simply an artistic pursuit. Products that spark joy in users and are easy to use are the same products that users return to time-and-time again. These products drive conversions, increase user retention, and act as marketing tools in-of-themselves.