A broad and wide-reaching multidisciplinary field, user experience (UX) design plays an enormous role in the production of the services and products we use each day. It has the power to shape everything from branding and design to usability and function – the four key areas that go onto define whether or not end-users have an enjoyable interaction with a business, its services, and its products. For this reason, it can make or break a brand.
In this blog post, we explore the craft of user experience design, from what it actually looks like and how it impacts web design, to how to actually design a user experience and what specialist processes are used in this specialist field.
What is user experience design?
In business and IT parlance, user experience refers to any interaction a potential end-user has with a product or service. With this in mind, in its simplest form, UX design is the process of creating products and/or services that provide meaningful, memorable and truly relevant experiences for those who will go on to use them.
In order to develop and create successful products and services that deliver, UX designers must consider every element that shapes user experience. This can include physical elements, such as how a product looks, feels and functions, to psychological elements, including how a product or service makes the user feel when they are using it. Naturally, the ultimate aim of UX design is to develop and create simple, relevant, efficient and, most importantly of all, user-friendly experiences for end-users.
To achieve this, UX designers must combine a selection of different disciplines including market research, product development, product life-cycle strategy and graphic, product and web design, in order to better understand – and ultimately help to build products and services that fulfill – the needs, wants and expectations of potential customers and clients.
What is user experience in web design?
As the name suggests, user experience in web design refers to the work that goes into making websites and other online tools as easy to use, relevant and user-friendly as possible in order to create a memorable and positive experience for users.
In this day and age, user experience design for websites is crucial. With digital presence now more important in the eyes of consumers than ever before, brands can be made or destroyed on the back of how their online presence is perceived. From creating websites that make use of the right visuals, engaging content and an easy-to-navigate site structure, UX web designers have the power to create a positive and meaningful experience for users from the very first time they interact with a brand.
UX web designers, therefore, concern themselves with the motivations and expectations of potential end-users. By asking questions like ‘why would a user visit this site?’, ‘what would they be looking for?’ and ‘is what they are looking for easy, and even enjoyable, to find on this site?’, they can attempt to build a website that is as tailored to the needs and wants of the targeted user as is possible.
Naturally, in doing this, UX design does overlap in places with user interface (UI) design. However, while UI only refers to the actual aesthetic elements of a website or other digital tool, UX encompasses the entire experience a product, service or, in this case, website can provide.
How to design a user experience
In order to successfully design a product, service or website that provides a meaningful and positive user experience, the UX design process should be implemented.
What is the user experience design process?
Typically consisting of six stages, the UX design process provides a set of guidelines that can be used to steer each design project a brand carries out, with the ultimate goal of ensuring products and services provide the best experience possible for the end-user. The stages of this process are:
1. Understanding the problem
If you are launching a new product or service, it is likely you are looking to provide a solution to a specific problem a user may be facing or to fulfill a certain need or want. Therefore, before anything else, when it comes to creating exceptional user experiences, you need to understand users’ goals, pain points, and what they like and dislike about similar products/services.
Once the user problem(s) have been pinned down, it’s time to conduct primary research. Through interviews, focus groups, surveys and workshops, gather information directly from end-users relating to their likes, dislikes, needs and wants and assess how these link to your product/service’s fundamentals and functionalities.
3. Wireframing and prototyping
The third stage involves creating visual prototypes such as initial product/service sketches, interactive graphics and/or digital wireframes. If you are designing a website, for example, a mocked-up wireframe site could be created in order to test customer journey pathways and navigational ease. These prototypes should be shared with all stakeholders and a select number of target users in order for feedback data to be gathered.
4. Design work
This is where the product or service is actually designed, using the research and prototypes to aid with key style, function and visual choices. It’s worth noting that this stage is often long-winded and can produce a series of unforeseen problems. You may need to go back to previous stages and conduct more research or build more prototypes if this occurs.
5. Implementation of designs
At this stage your designed product/service is ready to be built. Your design team should be part of this stage, helping developers and other members of the implementation team to understand certain aspects of the designs. For things like websites and other ‘live’ services, designers can also make tweaks and other minor changes that may be needed at this stage.
6. Testing and validation
When the first version of the product/service has been built, it’s time to roll it out to a select number of test users to validate its design. This involves monitoring how users find the experience of actually using the product/service by asking them what they think of it and monitoring if it fulfills their needs, wants and expectations. If it fails to reach the UX standards you are aiming for, it is important to find out why.
Based on your findings here, you may need to go back and restart the UX design process to perfect your product/service before officially launching it. Additionally, this process may need to be repeated numerous times throughout your product/service’s lifecycle to ensure it is as up-to-date and relevant as possible in terms of UX.