What does a UX designer do, exactly?
Before we dive into what UX Designers do in their day to day job, let’s start by taking a step back to understand what UX is.
UX stands for User Experience. It encompasses the complete journey, including all of the related interactions that an individual has when they engage with a company and its products or services.
To understand the role of the UX designer, we will cover:
A brief history of UX
The term User Experience was coined by cognitive psychologist and designer Don Norman, the director of the Design Lab at the University of California and author of the bestselling The Design of Everyday Things. Norman joined Apple in the early 1990s as their ‘User Experience Architect’ – the first person to have a UX job title.
“I invented the term because I thought ‘human interface’ and ‘usability’ were too narrow: I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.” – Don Norman
Norman’s approach to design and the success of the innovations coming out of Apple’s (then) three-pronged approach to product design (user experience, engineering, and marketing), saw the UX process widely adopted in product design.
The rest is history.
What is UX design and the role of the designer?
UX Design is the process of creating a user friendly experience that is intuitive and empathetic to the users needs. Ultimately, the UX designer works toward improving the customer’s experience of a product or service by making it as satisfying and enjoyable as possible at every step they are engaging with it.
The UX design profession today has a focus on human-centred digital experiences and is often associated with designing for websites and apps. It’s important to note that designers work in emerging tech areas too, for example:
- Conversational UX (designing for Siri or Alexa)
- AI driven UX (bot design)
- Smart homes
- Wearable technologies
Regardless of the medium, the UX design process is geared toward improving the user experience and therefore their satisfaction through high quality, human centred design.
What is UI and what has it got to do with UX?
You may have heard the term UI used in connection with UX. UI stands for User Interface design and focuses on the aesthetics of the product or service – the visual elements that a customer engages with.
Think: colour palettes, animation, images, fonts and buttons.
A UI designer hones in on the visual aspects that allow the user to interact with the product.
In addition to User Interface, there’s also User Interaction, which is essentially how the user acts when using the system and how the system responds. Combined, interactions and interfaces provide an intuitive UX experience.
UX designers need to be capable in both areas – art (UI) and architecture (interactions) – of digital product design in order to take a project from user research through to wireframing and prototyping solutions, and handover to developers.
What is human centred design?
Human centred design is a mindset and toolkit developed by the design and innovation company IDEO that puts humans and their needs at the centre of the design process. They used the term ‘design thinking’ to describe the elements of the human centred design process they felt most learnable and teachable – empathy, optimism, creative confidence, experimentation and embracing ambiguity and failure.
UX UI design is simply research-driven human-centred design, applied to the digital space.
What kind of skills do UX designers need?
As you might be able to imagine by now, it’s a pretty wide scope of skill and responsibility for the UX Designer. Their remit covers all aspects of the product or service development, design, usability and function.
In order to give the UX design process a definite structure, various frameworks have been developed. The Double Diamond is one of the most common UX frameworks and provides clear, comprehensive and visual description of the design process.
The two diamonds alternate between exploring an issue (a ‘problem space’ or ‘design challenge’) widely and deeply – known as divergent thinking, and then taking focussed action, known as convergent thinking.
Within this framework a wide range of skills are required and fall into two categories known as applied and soft skills.
When someone has an applied skill, this refers to having knowledge of a specific area of competency, like being able to use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, for example. The following applied skills are just some of those worth any UX Designer mastering:
Understanding the target audience needs, wants and pain points is vital for a UX designer to effectively do their job. By using a mix of research methods, designers can plan, conduct and analyse their findings to discover how their market views the world. This analysis forms the foundation of the experience design, improves the understanding of the audience and makes the final outcome stronger.
Research is fundamental to the entire process and the analysis and outcomes from it underpin the overall design approach.
Research methods and techniques can include:
- Review of existing literature, data and analytics
- User testing
After completing your research, you need to bring it all together, generate insights and make sense of the problem space: what is the problem we are trying to solve? What is our real design challenge? UX Designers use a variety of techniques for synthesis, including:
- Affinity mapping
- Empathy mapping
- Customer Journeys
A wireframe is a mock-up diagram that represents what a user interface (UI) or website could look like. They outline the core functionality of the proposed product and allow the UX designer to define and plan the information hierarchy of the project. The wireframe also enables the designer to give the wider team a visual understanding of the proposed structure of the item that is being developed.
An experimental process, the prototype is a model or replica of the final product. Prototypes can be created at various stages of the design process to test on users. It is one of the most useful and powerful tools for UX designers. The feedback from the user testing allows the designer to adjust the product to better meet the needs of the user.
- Visual communication
Being competent with visual design concepts is key and at the core of UX design. Having an understanding of general design theory, along with concepts of layout, colour, typography, icons and image use benefits the overall design process. It will come as no surprise to learn that many UX designers have a graphic design background.
- Soft skills
Teamwork, time management, empathy and delegation are just some of the skills termed as ‘soft’ that you will need as a UX designer. Ultimately they are character traits and interpersonal skills that determine how a person will engage, work and interact with others.
You can have a portfolio of work that truly hits the ball out of the park, but it’s your soft skills that will set you apart from the pack. A quick look at the ‘three C’s’:
As well as killing the cat, curiosity is a creative force that drives innovation and new ideas. It urges the designer to ask great questions and engage with stakeholders and the design process in a meaningful way.
Design is never a one-person show. From the get-go you’ve got however many stakeholders, developers, product owners, marketing teams, users, CEOs, investors, the list goes on. By being able to collaborate effectively, you can get the information you need to do the job better and faster.
Now more than ever consistent communication is paramount with the design process. Being able to explain your thinking so those receiving your messages don’t have to do more work to understand it can make all the difference to the wider team you are working with.
What are the top tools used in UX and UI design?
There are many UX and UI design software applications. As a UX designer, what you end up using might come down to personal preference, what you are familiar with, price point, or what type of project you are working on. Here are our top picks:
Figma: great for those totally new to design software, Figma is browser-based and can take designs up to dynamic prototype or mock-up level, with usability testing and handover to developers capabilities.
Sketch: a very popular mac based UX and UI design tool. Sketch allows for universal changes through a symbols library, layer styles, or text styles, and is known for its resizing and alignment features.
InVision Studio: creates functional prototypes with dynamic elements and animations, with easy-to-use UI design, communication and collaboration tools. It also features a digital whiteboard that allows team members to brainstorm ideas.
Adobe XD: often the go-to UX tool for designers who are used to Adobe Creative Cloud products and interfaces. It allows for real-time collaboration, plus interactions and other dynamic elements for integration into prototypes or mockups.
Axure: smooth interface, documentation, and workflow tracking elements make Axure a popular prototyping tool, with designs that can be taken up to higher fidelity, both in detail and visuals.
How do I become a UX designer?
Any aspiring UX Designer should be working on building a portfolio. You can do pro-bono or freelance work to get work experience, or study a practical course.
Academy Xi offers industry tested training in UX UI Design and includes projects with real life clients to help build your professional portfolio before graduation.
If you’re interested in discovering more about the world of UX design, why not:
- try a Foundations course in UX as a hands-on introduction
- become a qualified UX UI Designer in 12 weeks, along with Career Support for graduates with 86% landing a role within 180 days of completing their training
- check out our graduate stories to learn about the experiences they’ve had studying UX UI Design with Academy Xi and where they are now
Contact our course advisor team to discuss your career objectives and establish if UX UI Design is the right path for you.