UX in a Nutshell and What User Experience Designers Do

The context of our online interactions has dramatically changed lately, and in the recent years we have encountered a significant shift in the field of technology; Information Age has been replaced by the Experience Age.

In terms of web development, the most remarkable manifestation of this shift is the emergence of a new field—user experience (UX) design.

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User experience design grew out of web design, and while still too many people thinks it’s just a new shiny name for the same old thing, UX design does indeed need a different mindset, a broader methodology, and a handful of new tools.

As there’s a high demand for talented UX designers, in this article we’ll have a look at what UX design is, and what you need to know if you want to become one.

What’s UX?

There are three concepts that are frequently used interchangeably: user interface, usability, and user experience—however they’re not the same thing.

Probably the most important thing to know is that UX is not UI; on this website you can download a “UX is not UI” poster in different sizes, just to keep a reminder for yourself. Let’s quickly see a mini-glossary of these three terms.

User Interface (UI)

A set of visual elements that allow users to interact with a website or an application, such as buttons, icons, navigation elements, tooltips, user profiles, etc.

Usability

A qualitative measure of a UI that estimates its effectiveness. According to the Nielsen Norman Group it’s defined by 5 components: learnability, efficiency, memorability, user errors, and user satisfaction.

User Experience

The sum of the postive and negative emotions and attitudes a product invokes in a user. The goal of UX design is to create as good experience in users as it’s possible by making simultaneous use of multiple fields, such as visual design (UI design), business analysis, marketing, content strategy, user testing, engineering, and others.

User Experience Diagram
IMAGE: JotForm

If you are interested in how practicing UX professionals define user experience, the User Testing Blog has a great post in which they asked 15 professionals what UX design really means.

On the screenshot below you can see one of these definitions, but the others are also worth having a look at.

Tomer Sharon on what is Ux
So how UX design is different from web design?

Do you remember the time when most website were static? And then dynamic websites, offering a two-way communication, began to appear? The same thing has happened in the field of design.

Web design is more of a one-way communication channel, the artwork of the designer, if you will. UX design puts human-computer interaction into the focus, and makes designers regularly analyze and reevaluate their designs based on the measured success of this two-way communication.

Apart from creating visually appealing designs, UX designers are also supposed to take user needs and business goals into consideration. They need to be aware of the constantly changing context in which their design exists.

Job responsibilities & deliverables

The job responsibilites of a UX designer are not set in stone, and highly depend on the needs of the particular company.

Smaller organizations may look for someone who concurrently performs the tasks of an UI and an UX designer (usually advertised as a UI/UX designer), while bigger companies may further segment the field into the roles of UI designer, UX designer, interaction designer, customer experience (CX) designer, and others.

Generally, a UX designer is responsible for the operation of the UX process. According to UX Mastery, this process consists of the following 5 key phases:

  1. Strategy Phase – deliverables: documents detailing the priorities, long-term goals, and resources of the organization, and the measurements of success
  2. Research (Discovery) Phase – deliverables: user interviews, user surveys, competitor researches, etc.
  3. Analysis Phase – deliverables: personas, scenarios, storyboards, user flow, etc.
  4. Design Phase – deliverables: moodboards, wireframes, mockups, prototypes, etc.
  5. Production Phase – deliverables: high-fidelity design, content and digital assets

The phases can overlap, and as it’s the user who is at the core of UX design, each phase needs to be validated by relevant user feedback, such as usabilitiy testing, A/B testing, and others.

UX process
IMAGE: UX Mastery

Note that many organizations use the Agile workflow in UX design as well, so more often than not the UX process is implemented in an iterative way (with frequent beta releases).

In 2015, The Nielsen-Norman Group conducted an interesting research among UX designers about the deliverables they regularly ship, and they found a great variety. You can see the 11 most frequently produced UX deliverables on the chart below.

UX deliverables chart

Skills & qualifications

Although UX designers come from varying backgrounds, such as graphical design, product design, business, marketing, or psychology, there exist specific UX-related degrees as well.

Some job ads require bachelor (rarely master) degrees, especially for senior positions, but if you have the right skillset and some practice (and a good portfolio) as a designer, you secure a UX designer job without a degree as well.

In addition, you can choose from many UX-related online courses where you can also acquire the knowledge you need.

To be an UX designer, you need to be able to use different tools that are used in the UX process, most importantly design and prototyping applications, such as Sketch, Balsamiq, Axure, Omnigraffle, Invision, or Adobe Illustrator. You don’t need to know all of them, but it’s crucial to be proficient in a few.

Having a strong understanding of web technologies and principles, such as design principles, mobile and desktop usability, native app experiences, web accessibility, and others, is also an indispensable skill.

Whether UX designers should need to know to code or not is a debated topic, however most job ads do require a basic knowledge of front-end development, i.e. HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Finally, user experience design is a field where soft skills, such as problem-solving, communication and collaboration skills, are also a real asset.

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