You might hear the term UX a lot, but what does it really mean? UX stands for User Experience and refers to all efforts that go into creating products users want and need, and designing them in a way that is easy and joyful to use. It involves everything that affects users and their interactions with a product/service.

The user experience is everyone on the team’s responsibility. Simply having a UX department or UX title does not necessarily indicate you are practicing UX. To achieve good user experience, coordination across multiple disciplines must be achieved. Team members in product management, development, marketing, and design must work together to produce ideal user experiences. Every single team member is responsible for looking out for the user.

UX design stands on the shoulders of user research; and any research is better than none. User research has four main phases that include discovery, exploration, testing, and post-launch. Discovery phase involves researching the problem space and framing the problem(s) to be solved; common research methods include user interviews, field studies, stakeholder interviews, and workshops. Exploration phase uses the insights from the discovery phase and inspiration from elsewhere to create possible solutions. The testing phase involves testing out different solutions to find usability improvements, a common research method is usability testing. Lastly, the post launch phase involves gathering feedback by watching users use the solution in real-time, assessing UI usability with heatmaps, testing minor adjustments with A/B testing, and reviewing analytics for short sessions and conversions.

Research should begin as early as possible and continue on a regular basis throughout the product creation process. Maintaining frequent user research will significantly improve the impact of the research findings on the overall user experience.  

What is not UX Design?

Visual design / UI (User Interface) design is not UX design. Of course UX designers aim to make things visually appealing, but if that’s the only focus, the product/design may become unusable. Visual design only focuses on layouts, colors, and illustrations to have an overall aesthetically pleasing experience. UX focuses on improving the usability and making sure users reach their objective. Here at Levvel, we often combine the roles of visual designer and UX designer by ensuring all of our designers have the skills and knowledge for both UI design and UX design. UX designers are capable of UI / visual design, but not all visual designers practice UX Design.

Customer experience, while a part of UX, is the customer’s perception of the whole service/product, branding, pricing, advertising. This one can get blurry or be considered service design, which involves the entire customer experience design.

With your design intuition as your guide, user research and data collection should directly inform the creation of user personas, which are fictional representations of your ideal customers. From the personas, the UX designer then creates wireframes, user flows, and high fidelity prototype designs, all while receiving  user feedback via frequent usability testing. UX without user research is not true UX.

What does a UX Designer actually do?

UX designers bridge the gap between the user, development, and business stakeholders by observing, engaging, ideating, and testing. They advocate for the end user but also make sure solutions meet the needs of the business. Types of UX projects vary dramatically from company to company, so a designer could focus on designing websites, mobile apps, software, voice flows, and augmented or virtual reality.

Everyday tasks for a UX designer can include anything from:

  • planning and conducting user research
  • synthesizing and analyzing user research
  • creating user flows
  • analyzing competitors
  • helping with project management
  • creating design systems
  • wireframing
  • prototyping

What kind of career backgrounds can UX designers have?

There is a diversity of backgrounds that can lead someone into UX design. A formal educational background in UX does not matter as much anymore; All that matters is someone’s ability to understand and produce research methodologies, design fundamentals, and problem solve.

Graphic design / visual design is usually the most common education background for UX designers. An engineering and development background can also be helpful so a designer can better understand technical requirements. Content writers / those with English degrees are masters at consolidating huge amounts of information into short and digestible bites. Psychology majors also commonly make great UX designers, as so much of great design relates to the way users think. Math majors may be familiar with research and testing to help inform design decisions. People with an Industrial design / physical product design background were designing user experiences in the broader context before apps even existed. Also, other arts and creative backgrounds can transition to user experience design.

What are some traits a UX Designer should have?

UX designers should be inquisitive, curious, empathetic, personable, passionate, confident, collaborative, and enjoy both solving problems and creating solutions.

It’s also important that a UX designer takes ownership for mistakes and understands the UX process; a designer will have a deep appreciation for research, user testing, and feedback, and have an ability to understand context, know the medium they are designing for including which device and operating system, as they all have their own unique advantages and disadvantages.

A willingness to learn new things is also important, because software often changes frequently to create the best deliverables. UX Designers should actively try to learn and get better, and be able to give and receive feedback.

How do UX designers successfully work on cross-functional teams?

These designers listen a lot, then find ways to quickly ideate and validate concepts and ideas. A UX designer should aim to provide useful deliverables, to help everyone understand the designs, and to ask other team members how they prefer to work.

A good UX designer will advocate for the user across the project, not just in design reviews. Pushing back on technical limitations and working with technical team members will ensure a solution that puts the user first.