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What is UX?

I’ve had a lot of people asking what UX is recently. I can’t help sell UX as a service if people don’t know what it is, so maybe it’s about time we explain what UX is, how it’s intertwined into our daily lives, and why it’s one of the most important things to consider when creating and providing any product or service.
 

The basic outline

UX stands for User Experience, which is exactly what the UX Designer is the champion of, the user’s experience. A UX Designer attempts to make a product or service incredibly easy and simple to use and interact with to the point that it’s a joy to use. The User Experience is not limited to something’s user interface (UI), its engineering, graphics, industrial design, or other inner workings, but rather is a sum of all those parts working in harmony. Where usability is a quality attribute of the UI, covering whether the system is easy to learn, efficient to use, pleasant, and so forth, User Experience is actually a much broader term.

 
If that’s still confusing, check out this awesome video by Matthew Magain that walks you through, step by step, what UX is.

 

 

Okay, so what does a UX Designer actually do?

It’s all well enough to tell you that a User Experience Designer champions UX, ensuring harmony between disciplines with the ultimate goal of the user’s experience being the utmost best it could possibly be. But what the $#%& does a UX Designer actually do day to day to go about that?
 
The short answer:
the UX Designer does anything they can to make the business happy while ensuring the user gets the most enjoyable, efficient and engaging experience possible.
 
The long answer:
A User Experience Designer will often employ techniques in the following realms to help boost the overall user experience of a product/service

  1. Research, and lots of it.
    • Analysis
    • Profiling
    • Insight gathering
    • Planning
    • Comparisons
  2. Taxonomy
    • Grouping and organizing content
    • Hierarchies
    • Placements and orders
  3. Interaction designing (the part most people think of)
    • Prototyping
    • A tiny bit of visual design (if it’s interaction, research, taxonomy, etc related – this is where wireframing comes in)
    • Focus on creating interactions for the user
  4. Usability testing
    • Collecting data on current iterations
    • Implementing findings to maximize potential
    • Continuing this loop of iteration

 

How do they do that?

Those are all broad topics, but there are a few things that many User Experience specialists employ to help them.
 

  • Analytics
    While analytics has numerous roles unto itself, User Experience employs it for its own research purposes. Sometimes the UX Designer and Analytics person will collaborate, but a UX person may also access the data all on their own.
  • Prototyping/Wireframing
    Yes, if you’ve ever heard anything about UX, you knew this one was coming. The trouble is that most people think that UX is wireframing. Wireframes are what you do when you need to prototype something, or when you’ve needed to take special interactions into account. They do not represent the entirety of the UX process. A wireframe is essentially the bare bones, no paint added, look at how a product or service will work. It can be as simple as a few line drawings and notes. These drawings can also serve as an informal prototype that you can quickly test with people to gauge how well things will work.
  • User Flows
    A user flow is a simple documentation of how a user will travel through a product or service. In the case of a website, it can be as broad as how a user will travel from page to page, or as granular as also documenting exactly what buttons they click on and other steps they take to complete the desired actions.
  • Heuristic Reviews
    An heuristic review is a fancy term to basically state you’re reviewing something with best practice and your own knowledge in mind. They will often cite recent statistics or research, quickly documenting the good, the bad, and the ugly for a given product or service. Many of my web heuristics involve assessing usability, visual design, running page speed and SEO insight programs, and more. I then document my findings, whether good or bad, and group them into like areas for improvement or appreciation.
  • User Testing
    Literally sitting in a room with someone or over the phone/webcam as they use and interact with your product or service is one of the best ways to collect information. You ask them to complete an objective, like add an item to their cart and checkout, and see how easily they do so, where they get hung up or confused, and really start to build empathy with them. Less formal methods may include polling and surveys.
  • Test it yourself

 
If you want to get more granular and you want actual recommendations on which programs or services you should use for each of those, check out these UX tools.

 

Your business needs this

Hopefully you’ve gotten a bit of an overview of why UX is important. The main idea is that without strong research, testing and iteration, your product will either fail or not do as well as it could have. If the strongest product launch is the first one (which many of us know is true) then you know you should take special care of making sure you get things as close to right as possible and then improve on them for continued success.

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