In recent years we’ve seen the words “UX Designer" been thrown around carelessly without the true comprehension of what a UX Designer does.
Even so, if you in some way work with technology or design, you probably might have felt compelled to hire one. Let me tell you that you are not alone.
That’s why in this article I’m going to shine a light on, not just what UX actually is, but also on what a UX designer actually does and how they can help you achieve a better and functional product.
This is Experience. User Experience.
To better understand what a UX designer does, first you have to understand what UX is. UX stands for User Experience. The term was first coined in the 90’s by cognitive scientist Donald Norman, at the time working for Apple.
User Experience “it’s the way you experience the world, it’s the way you experience your life, it’s the way you experience a service, or, yeah, an app…”.
In fact, User Experience focuses on how the user feels regarding a product, taking into account all the elements present in the interaction between user and product.
When someone uses a product they are experiencing it. The experience may be good or bad, depending on a lot of factors. But to keep it simple and brief, let's put it this way:
It goes without saying that Product X is performing better than Product Y. In short, a great user experience, or, the lack thereof is crucial to determine how successful a product will be amongst users.
Contrary to popular belief, a beautiful looking product doesn't automatically transform into a successful product. The look and feel of a product may lure users into giving it a go. But if the experience is bad, there’s no amount of “good design” that can save it.
There’s a lot more involved in a good product that just its look and feel.
User Experience goes beyond the field of technology and digital products. In fact, many UX designers choose to focus only on service design. However, in this post, I will be only focusing on the role of a UX designer in the context of digital products.
Introducing the UX Designer
Putting it very simply, the job of a UX designer is to create the best user experience possible for a product. The UX designer aims to make the products and services not only usable, but also enjoyable and accessible, while humanizing technology.
They also serve as an advocate for the user, bridging the gap between the users' needs and all the other parties involved in the project like the development team and business stakeholders, while guaranteeing that the business needs are also met.
The UX designer serves as a negotiator and also, with all the rapid evolution of technology, a reminder that these products are being made for people to use, so a humane factor is key.
WHAT DOES A UX DESIGNER ACTUALLY DO?
This question is not a simple question to answer. The roles of a UX designer vary, not only depending on the company for but also from project to project.
Nonetheless, there are some key roles that are expected for a UX designer to perform. From user research, creation of user personas, outline the information architecture, design of flows and wireframes, creation of prototypes and conduction of usability tests, are some of the core responsabilities.
User Experience is a User-Centered field. This means that the user’s needs are always at the center of the design.
“User-centered design is an iterative process where you take an understanding of the user as and their context as a starting point for all design and development.”
The focus of the UX designer is the user journey, usability and function.
How can a UX designer help you develop a better product?
Now that you have a better understanding of what User Experience is and what a UX designer is, I'll name some of the ways a UX designer can be of big help in the development of a successful product. There’s a lot of them but I’m only going to present three - the ones that I think have a bigger overall positive impact on the development of a great product.
1. UX designers are experiential guides that will get you through the design process.
As you may have noticed, until now we have yet to mention the visual design, or graphic user interface design, of a product. The reason for this is because the visual design is usually not a responsibility of the UX designer. That’s the role of the User Interface (UI) designer. Also, in order for a product to be really good, there are some steps that have to be taken in consideration before thinking about the visual style or design.
Here at Imaginary Cloud we strongly believe that “Software should improve people’s lives”, this is our mantra.
We’ve spent the last years developing and perfecting our own
Product Design Process (PDP), based on existing techniques that have been developed in recent years, alongside field experience and feedback.
“The PDP structure contemplates four different phases — research, ideation, execution, and technical assessment - that are then split into several steps. ”
Following the PDP can reduce the time and cost spent on product design and development, it enables the planning of realistic schedules and will also lead to a higher quality product.
Every step of the PDP has a purpose. It’s important to maintain the order of the steps since, some outputs generated by the steps in previous phases, are required to the phases that follow. You are always building on top of previous steps, with that being said, there are some steps that can be done at the same time in order to save some time.
Creating a product is a team effort and everybody must be on the same page, so understanding the process and what to expect at each phase from each of all the involved parties is of vital importance in order to achieve the ultimate goal: a successful product.
2. UX designers will bring you down to earth when you try to jump ahead of key steps.
It’s normal for product owners to be excited about their products. They want to see their idea come to life and getting a shape. After all, they are the ones who are investing in this product and the ones with more to lose in case anything goes south. Therefore, it is also normal that, with all this excitement, they would want to skip ahead to the fun part where they can see the design of the product (where UX and UI comes in). However, like with everything in life, you need to learn how to walk before you can run, and you can always count on the UX designer to remind you of this.
Every step in the process will lead you to a better product because every step will serve as a foundation for the next and to support decisions that will be made along the way.
Let’s focus on the first two phases, not only because those are the ones where the UX designer is involved, but also because those are the ones that usually the product owners have trouble in understanding their importance and, therefore, feel the urge to skip them.
In short, here is a summarized list with the key purpose and importance of each of the phases and steps.
PHASE 1 - RESEARCH
The main purpose of this phase is to identify both the business model and user needs.
STEP 1. BRIEFING
A good design brief is a necessary condition for achieving a good design.
It assures that the whole team is working on the same page and with all the relevant information to start the project.
STEP 2. USER RESEARCH
Guarantees product usefulness and effectiveness from the user's point of view.
STEP 3. DESIGN BENCHMARK
Allows to leverage the knowledge and skills of existing players and assure feature/design differentiation.
PHASE 2 - IDEATION
Ideation is the core of the creative process and it's where the concept of the product will be formulated based on the user’s needs and the business model, both identified in the Research phase. Here, the UX designer, the visual designer, and the product owner should work closely together.
STEP 4. USER JOURNEY
Provides a vision of the global user experience, ensuring its consistency and fluidity. Serves as a base to establish the product requirements.
STEP 5. DECISION MATRIX
Provides an indispensable basis for the project development plan ensuring that, even under time and cost constraints, a viable product can be developed.
STEP 6. WIREFRAMES
Improves interface usability and reduces design time by baselining the core information architecture.
STEP 7. MOOD BOARD
Assures that the product’s look & feel conveys the desired user experience and is aligned with the user profile and market strategy.
3. UX designers know how important and crucial it is to understand who the user target is and to remind everyone that we’re designing for them.
As mentioned before, UX design is a User-Centered discipline so naturally understanding the users and their needs is crucial. This understanding is achieved in the user research step.
I know that I said that all the steps really matter, but this one is of extreme importance. This is where all the biases are deconstructed and where we’ll gather solid data to determine the product requirements instead of basing them on assumptions. There is no point in trying to fight this, we all have biases. No matter how well we think we know the target user we usually assume so on the base of our biases. In this way, we guarantee that our product decisions are based on research, and that represents a big risk reduction.
You have to keep in mind that we’re working on a product for the target user, not for us, so personal preferences and biases should stay at the door and all decisions should be taken based on data and information.
So, is a UX designer really necessary?
Keep in mind that, if you’re about to start building a new product, the UX designer is the most reliable professional to guide you on a product design process and to help you get your web or mobile app off the ground.
A project should always follow a process to keep all the necessary steps on track and to avoid skipping important stages. This way, you can be sure to see the full picture and not just focus on your own assumptions or product features and neglect the most important: what your users need and value.
Here at Imaginary Cloud we developed our own Product Design Process. Depending on the project's scope and stage, our UI/UX designers try to understand if a re-evaluation is needed or from which part they can start working on. Having this in mind, we can ensure that all usability questions are analysed in an early stage, reducing the risk of issues triggered later during rollout or customer adoption phases.