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What is User Experience Design (UX Design)?

What is User Experience Design (UX Design)
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UX design is a field that looks at not just how a user interacts with a product, but the entire user journey. From the moment a user realizes they have a problem to the last time they get a product serviced, refer it to friends or discard it. 

Rather than telling people what they need, it’s about getting into the mindset of a user and really understanding them. Their pains, goals and motivations to then use these insights to optimize every touchpoint across the user journey. 

UX design is a truly interdisciplinary career for people who love to think outside the box. It lets them develop a wide range of skill sets as it draws on elements of interaction design, information architecture, visual design, usability, human-computer interaction and behavioural psychology.

All information that you’ll find in this guide

  1. The importance of UX Design
  2. UX Design vs. UI Design vs. Product Design
  3. UX Design goals
  4. The Design Thinking Process
  5. Things that successful UX Designers are great at
  6. Do the test: Is UX Design a great career option for you?
  7. How to start a career as a UX Designer?

Why UX Design is so important

Today customers expect a seamless experience. With so much competition out there, the moment a customer runs into a barrier during the selection or purchasing process, you’ve already lost them. With the transition to completely digital experiences, this has become an even bigger problem. It’s much easier for a customer to abandon a virtual shopping cart and jump to another website than to physically travel to a different store. 

A study by LinkedIn at the beginning of this year already cited UX design as a ‘Top skill companies need most in 2020’. But, in the COVID and post-COVID period, UX design has become an absolute must-have for companies. Especially those that want to stay competitive in the digital marketplace. In fact, a study by Forrester found companies that invest in better UX design can ‘increase conversion rates up to 400%’.

This means demand for UX design skills is at an all-time high. If you’ve been thinking about a career move, now is the time.

UX Design, UI Design, and Product Design. What’s the difference?

Apart from them all ending with ‘design’…

While demand for UX design skills is on the rise, there’s still a lot of confusion around the difference between UX, UI and product design. UX and UI especially are constantly being (mis)used interchangeably. Here’s a quick and dirty guide to help you tell the difference:

UI vs UX design

UI Design or User Interface design focuses on the interfaces or touchscreens, landing pages, keyboards, sounds, etc.. Interfaces that a user interacts with when using your product or service. What’s most important here is ensuring every interface is as intuitive as possible for users. The best UIs are those that everyone can easily navigate to find the information they need most. This includes, not just being user friendly, but also providing a positive overall experience by being clean and aesthetically pleasing. 

Consider your smartphone. Before Apple launched the first iPhones, no one knew how to use a touchscreen. Apps were unheard of and the main purpose of a phone was simply to call or text someone. They went through a huge learning curve to make it as intuitive and easy to use as possible. Now, even five-year-olds know how to tap their way to their favourite apps.

In comparison, UX Design goes beyond simply looking at a product’s interfaces. It thinks outside the box to consider how a user interacts with the product throughout their daily lives. UX designers don’t just consider how easy it is to use a smartphone, they also consider how the phone might fit into a user’s environment. 

A UX designer might ask: what size should a smartphone be so that it fits in someone’s pocket? What’s the most convenient way for a user to get the product serviced when there’s a problem? What new problems does a user have which could be solved with their phone (further integrating the product into their routine)?

Product design vs UX design

Product design is a bit more difficult to differentiate. UX focuses on improving the usability and accessibility of the product. Product designers, on the other hand, more broadly also focus on how the product can be designed based on business needs and branding.

For example, they might consider: how can we design the product in a way that meets customer needs but also reduces costs? Which features should we build in order to reach the company’s long-term goals? How can we differentiate our product branding from competitors?

What’s the goal of UX Design?

The end goal of UX design is, ultimately, to create experiences and products that people love. But humans are complex and don’t always react the way you expect them to. 

That’s why UX design isn’t just a career, it’s a mindset. A UX designer’s most important skill their empathy. The ability to put themselves into a user’s shoes and really understand their behaviours, needs, and motivations. Their goal is then to use these insights to optimize every aspect of the customer journey for the user. 

Some of the biggest product flops have come from a failure to understand what customers actually want. Think about Google Glass. Cool features and capabilities, but who would actually pay such a hefty price tag to surf the internet or take pictures on the go when they can already do that with their phone? Not to mention: they simply didn’t look cool and raised huge issues around privacy. 

It’s UX designers that help prevent companies from making expensive product fails. At the same time, they help develop more effective retention, referral, and other key growth strategies. All of that by understanding what actually motivates users. 

One of the best examples of this comes from the early years of DropBox. When the company first started, they offered 16 GB of free space to users who referred a friend. This helped them grow exponentially from 100,000 to 4,000,000 users in just 15 months. In this way DropBox was able to develop a simple value exchange, giving users something they really wanted (free space) in exchange for a referral without having to spend a fortune on a complex rewards system. 

This user-centric mindset makes UX designers essential in representing the user in internal decision-making processes. 

The Design Thinking Process

The Design Thinking Process in UX Design

The ability to step outside of oneself and see things from another’s perspective may sound like a superpower, but there are actually a number of strategies UX designers use to do just that. 

One of the most important tools in a UX designer’s toolbox is design thinking. Design thinking is a five-step process that helps teams create better products and strategies. They do that by throwing assumptions and preconceived notions out the window and instead encourages empathy with their audience.  

In today’s market, this is more important than ever. While businesses often rely on historical data to gain insights into customer behaviours and make decisions, data doesn’t always tell us everything. For example, the recent lockdown caused major changes in consumer behaviours which we couldn’t have predicted using data alone. 

Now companies need to reevaluate customer needs as society reacts to the new circumstances we find ourselves in. That’s where an empathy-based approach can really help.

The five steps to design thinking are:

  1. Empathize

During this stage, designers put their expectations aside to study, observe, and engage with users to find out what their biggest concerns and motivations are. They do this in a number of ways from sending surveys to directly cold calling customers to creating focus groups. 

  1. Define

With this information, designers can define the actual problems their customers are facing. Believe it or not, this is something companies often get wrong. CB Insights conducted a study into why startups fail with the number one reason being that there was simply no market need for the product they were selling. 

  1. Ideate

Once the problem(s) is identified, it becomes much easier to come up with ideas that will, not just benefit the company, but actually resonate with users. During this stage in the process, designers get together to brainstorm different user-centric solutions. 

  1. Prototype

Once a viable solution is chosen, it’s time to get to work on creating a low-cost, scaled-down version. If it’s a product or feature, they can also already begin testing the prototype internally with different teams. This allows designers to anticipate some potential barriers and challenges before the development of a final version. 

  1. Test

The final step is to test the idea with users. How easy is it to use? Do our users actually see themselves using it on a regular basis? Does it actually solve their problem in the best way possible? Does putting the time, resources, and effort into building a final product make sense? These are just a few of the questions designers will be looking to answer at this stage. 

But it doesn’t end here. Design thinking is a non-linear process that encourages teams to go back and keep generating ideas and testing solutions until they find the right fit.  

Things that successful UX Designers are great at

  • General User Research: setting up research to understand who the users of a given product are, what motivates them & what they’re trying to get done.
  • User Needs Evaluation: interpreting results to find out which specific pain-points a product solves for users and what are the psychological needs underlying those pain-points.
  • Usability Evaluation: evaluating how user-friendly and easy-to-navigate the product is in its various stages of development.
  • Behavioural Psychology: understanding why people do what they do, how behaviour can be learned or adapted, and applying those principles to the product.
  • Basic understanding of data: in order to make valuable changes to a product, understanding data, and being able to interpret it is a must.
  • Information Architecture: providing a positive user experience by arranging information in a way that is easy to understand – ideally based on usability tests, collected data, and user feedback. 
  • Prototyping: drafting versions of a product that allow you to explore ideas and show the intention behind a feature or the overall design concept to users. Ideally, before a company invests time and money into development.
  • Agile product development: a way of setting a product strategy and creating product roadmaps in an agile environment. It’s an adaptive approach to product planning and implementation so organizations can quickly respond to feedback and build products that customers love.
  • Interaction Design: understanding how to create products that enable the user to achieve their objective(s) in the best way possible.
  • Stakeholder Management: dealing with all managers involved in the process of making products and delivering them to users. That can get quite complex, so knowing how to listen, persuade, and navigate meetings like that is crucial.
  • Business and Strategy: UX Design is, of course, always part of a bigger picture. Understanding how UX Design related to business objectives and overarching strategies is, therefore, very important.

Find out: Is UX Design a good career option for you?

If you think UX design is the right career for you, but you don’t have any design experience – not to worry. UX design draws on so many different fields, but what will help you is the ability to easily learn how to use new tools and software, as well as an understanding of the internal dynamics of modern businesses, including who the key stakeholders are. As such, digital professionals (even from different fields) will have a leg up when switching to a career in UX design. 

So whether you’re a project manager, a marketer, a data analyst, or any other digital professional – learning more about UX design can be a great way to make a meaningful career move or simply acquire a truly customer-centric UX Design mindset.

Don’t believe me? Take our test: We created a quick and easy self-assessment tool to determine whether it’s a smart career move or not.

Here’s how to get started in UX Design – self-study vs. a structured (online) course

For very determined and self-driven individuals, self-study can definitely be an option. There are plenty of free videos and books out there, which can help along the way. At the same time, gaining hands-on experience, while using the latest tools, can be invaluable if you want to speed up your transition and find your dream entry job into the world of UX design. 

For people who like to learn in a more structured environment, taking a course can be an ideal solution. The 12 week UX Design course at Growth Tribe offers:

  • A personalized learning experience based on the skills and capabilities that you bring to the table
  • The chance to execute a UX design process end to end, solving a real-world problem, designing a new product or redesigning an existing one
  • The opportunity to build a personal portfolio with the help of a personal coach
  • Training by experts in the field who can share the latest practices and business insights
  • A UX design certification upon completion
  • Lifelong access to teaching materials and our online community of UX trainers and students
  • Many more perks…
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