What is UX design, and what is the UX design process?
If you’re asking these questions, then you’re in the right place!
Don’t you just hate those doors that say PULL but then have a horizontal bar that is normally used to PUSH? Have you ever accidentally pushed instead?
That is what’s called a bad user experience, or bad UX for short.
Understanding the process of UX design will help you in creating practically any product that other people will use…from the design of a sleek chair to the design of a robust website.
Great UX design will give you happier customers, save your business lots of money, and prevent time consuming mistakes.
By the end of this article, you should be able to answer anyone who asks you, “What is UX design?”
Nice To Meet You 👋
Once upon a distant time, I was born in New York…just kidding, I won’t go into that much detail.
I was first introduced to the world of UX in 2014 (yes, the above picture is from my college days).
I was a humble student at the University of Michigan attending computer science classes. I liked the challenge of coming up with code to solve creative problems. It’s a really rewarding experience when you design a program from scratch, like the game euchre, and it runs the way you intended. It almost feels like magic!
But I felt like something was missing.
Programming is fun, but I’m also a creative person; I’m multi-faceted. I needed some visual design in my life, but I didn’t want to commit to only that.
That’s when I was introduced to the UX design program.
One late night while grinding away at a programming project, a good friend passed a pamphlet to me about a program on…UX design? It was a completely new program (much to my luck). It was part research, part design, part development (or at least required some knowledge of coding)…
…a siren went off in my head.
This was exactly what I wanted to do.
Long story short, I graduated from the program some years ago and have been a UX designer ever since! I’ve worked at different companies, from the small startup scene to large, well-established companies.
I’ve passionate about UX design, so much so that I’ve started this website and blog with Lydia, my co-creator and good friend.
It’s my way of giving back to the UX community and anyone who wants to join after I received so much support when I first started.
Hello everyone! I’m the other face behind this blog.
My story of UX is like Zander’s – except I started in the world of fine arts. I’ve always pursued creative endeavors (both in the coding world and visual arts) but I never truly found something that melded these two worlds together in a way that satisfied me.
In college, I was in the school of Art & Design, but attempted to dual major in Computer Science since I had been dabbling in HTML, CSS, and Visual Basic in High School. Needless to say – it didn’t stick. Programming languages at its core was too far removed from my visual arts side – so I quickly moved on to Front-End Web design within my program.
Well, even then, it felt one step removed. But sure enough I was surrounded by other students pursuing Interaction Design – at the time, it was my first insight into the larger world of UX Design, and I was completely taken!
I could utilize my basic knowledge of backend and front-end coding, yet, not have to write any code at all… wow, amazing 🙂
Combining the worlds of technology, design, and most importantly, the human element – well, I’ve been doing it ever since.
I’m proud of my artistic background, and the winding road it took me to get to UX Design – and I believe no matter where you come from, you have something to offer to the field.
Now that you know a bit about us and why we’re here writing this, let’s get started on the reason you came here: what is UX design?
1. What Is UX Design?
UX Design Definition
UX design (or user experience design) is the process of improving the experience users have with a product.
This includes the usability, accessibility, desirability, and value that the product provides.
UX Design Goals
Now that we’ve defined what is UX design, let’s talk about some common UX goals.
UX design is focused on creating value for a specified group of users.
Broadly speaking, you will find the term “UX designer” associated with designing digital products. However, the concept is not limited to digital products.
The kind of value UX design looks to provide ranges from how comfortable a chair feels to how easy it is to navigate a website.
Some example questions you might ask when it comes to improving your product’s experience are:
- Is my product meeting my users’ needs?
- Do users find my product intuitive?
- Can potential users easily access my product?
- Is my product able to meet a handicap user’s needs?
- Are my competitors’ products meeting my targeted users’ needs better than my own?
However, experienced UX designers don’t only focus on the product itself. They also keep in mind what a user is doing before using a product and after using a product. This is to understand the whole context of what motivates a user and why they look to use your product.
Now, you might be asking, “What is UX design doing to help the business?” You might think user experience designers are only focused on users due to the name, but good UX designers represent the user for the business while keeping in mind the business’ technical, logical, financial, and emotional goals.
What disciplines are involved in UX design?
One reason I get the question what is UX design so often is because it’s not just one discipline.
UX design is both a science and an art. It’s a broad field that involves many disciplines, including aspects of:
However, the disciplines you need to understand vary from project to project.
For example, a UX designer creating a legal-aiding website will need to do their research on legal rules and collaborate with legal experts for help. Meanwhile, a UX designer creating a clothing website will need to do their research on clothing brands and the psychology of shopping online.
The disciplines a UX designer needs to know also vary from role to role.
For example, a UX designer at a large corporation might only need to do visual designing of a product while working with a UX researcher that focuses on the testing with users and usability of a product. Conversely, a UX designer at a small startup might wear multiple hats, having to help with front-end coding, doing research, and designing the product.
I’ve worked in a range of companies, from large corporations to tiny startups, so I can definitively tell you that you’ll be able to find a UX job that is as narrow or broad as you’d like.
What's the difference between UX design, UI design, and other related names?
There are many terms related to UX that it’s almost intimidating trying to understand them. That’s why we’ve defined some commonly used terms below.
I’d like to note that you will often find job roles and titles that overlap with these fields, like a UI/UX designer.
UI Design (User Interface Design)
UI designers are responsible for making the visual design of a website appealing to users while following a business’ brand guidelines.
UI designers need to follow a company’s style guide to design an interface that both pleases the user but also meets the business’ visual brand (i.e. they need to make it look consistent).
That means knowing the sizing of buttons, the colors used to highlight elements on a page, what graphics to use, which font types and sizes are needed, how the business uses icon assets, etc.
You can find some fun designs for inspiration in this post.
IxD (Interaction Design)
Interaction designers make it their goal to make sure that any interactions a user has with a product are simple and smooth.
The interfaces these designers create are logically thought out. All behaviors and actions are intentionally designed specifically so that the product is simple for the user to use. That means that the actions allowed by the product need to be intuitive and have a defined purpose. In other words, interaction designers design the flow through the application.
An interaction designer might also have the duties of a UI designer because designing the flow of a user interface, or UI, usually includes designing the UI itself as well.
IA Design (Information Architecture Design)
Information architects make sure the product’s content is logically structured and organized.
Information architects tend to be organized individuals. They need to make vast, complex information/content easy for users to navigate through. Basically, if the user is at sea, IA designers would be the compass.
That means being able to predict what a user might search for. IA designers often do this by doing an audit of an application. They will break down all the content on a website first, group similar information, create categories and subcategories, make hierarchies of information, and design menus. Organization and logic are key here.
UX Design (User Experience Design)
UX designers try to make the best experience possible for users that interact with their products.
If you think the goal definition above is broad, you would be correct. A UX designer tends to be a combination of UI design, interaction design, and information architecture. That’s why it’s hard to answer what is UX design in one simple sentence (believe me, all UX folks know the struggle).
If you want more information on the differences between these fields, you can learn more in our article dedicated to this topic.
2. Common UX and UI Tools
Mockup and Prototyping Tools
When I started in UX/UI design, I used Photoshop to make my designs. However, Photoshop was not built for us. It has a lot of complicated features that UI designers don’t really need.
Eventually, I turned to Sketch as my main tool to design mockups.
Sketch has a ton of great features specifically made for UI designers. You can create and see multiple artboards in one file, which is imperative when designing a product.
But my favorite feature is the ability to create “symbols,” which are assets you create when you want to make duplications of the same thing in multiple places. You just create the symbol, put it in different parts of a page (or even in different artboards), then you can edit the symbol once and it will change all the assets in the different locations simultaneously.
But if Sketch doesn’t tickle your fancy, or if you don’t own a Mac (because Sketch requires a Mac), there are other tools teams use use to design mockups. Here are some of the most common tools:
- Sketch: most common tools for designing mockups (Mac only)
- Figma: collaborative tool that lets teams edit a project together in real-time
- InVision: prototyping tools that makes mockups interact-able
- InVision Studio: mockup tool similar to Sketch
- Axure: great for making complex prototypes
- Balsamiq: good tool for making simple prototypes
- Principle: prototyping tool made specially for mobile apps
- Adobe XD: useful for UI design and prototyping (and non-Mac friendly)
Data Analytics Tools
3. What Is the UX Design Process?
So we’ve gone over what is UX design at a high level and looked at some common UX and UI tools, but what are some common methods and steps?
Let’s go into more detail on the process UX designers tend to follow.
Note: this is still a general process. Projects don’t always go through all of these exact steps. However, I still want to cover some common methodologies.
One of the first things you learn as a UX designer is that you CAN’T just jump straight into designing a mockup for your product.
You need to set the foundation of what you’re looking to do.
During this very first step, you need to:
- Define the goals of your product
- Define the goals of the business
- Write who you think your initial users are (your idea of them might change as you do more research)
- Form a general plan and schedule on what methodologies you want to use in the coming steps (but this is more for those who are familiar with UX design processes)
For more articles, tools, and videos on these steps, click here.
Now that you have defined the basic assumptions of the project you’ll be working on, you need to go out and find if these initial assumptions are true
During this second step, you should do:
- Competitive Analysis: Research what your competitors are doing; be sure to note what they’re not doing too. Learn more
- Data Analysis: If you have existing data (from an existing product you’re working on), try to find insights on how your users use your product.
- Interviews: Interview your existing or potential users. No one knows what problems your users have better than your users.
- Initial A/B Testing: If you have an existing website, try doing an initial A/B test to find what users respond better too.
- Observational studies: Consider observing your users in their normal environment to see where there is room for improvement with their everyday tasks.
- Forms and Surveys: This is a quick and easy way to gather data on your users. Great for getting their opinion on things.
For articles, tools, and videos for these steps, click here
With the research done, you can now plan confidently using the factual evidence you gathered.
Build a plan on top of the research with:
- User Flows: Map out how your user should navigate through your product before creating the visuals. Learn more
- Personas: Create profiles on common characteristics of your users as they relate to your product, such as their goals, frustrations, and motivations. Learn more
- User Stories: Frame the features you want to create in the perspective of your users. This gives a clear reason for why the feature should be added.
- Journey Maps: Customer journeys and user journeys will give you a high level, visual overview of the journey your users will take with your product. Learn more
- Priority Matrix: See which of your proposed features should be pursued based on the user value and effort by your organization. Learn more
- Site Maps: Set the hierarchy/structure of your product.
For articles, tools, and videos for these steps, click here.
You want to set up the bare-bone structure of each page through wireframes.
You’ll be ignoring colors, fonts, and pixel-perfect designing during this step. It’s most important to get the layout of the information just right before looking at them.
Because you have planned out the structure of all your pages, you will be able to lay out how one page connects to another on each page.
If you notice that the steps taken from one page to another don’t make much sense while wireframing, feel free to change the flow of pages as needed. Having this done right before the mockup step will save you a lot of time.
We go more into detail on this in our article How to Make Amazing UX Wireframes.
FINALLY you can make those pixel-perfect mockups you were tempted to make since the beginning.
Some of the elements you’ll be adding to the page include:
- Fonts (font-families, font-sizes, bolding, italics, etc.)
You need to make sure that everything added in this step is clear and easy for the user to see. For example, don’t put a dark grey paragraph on top of a black background. This would be difficult for a user to read.
As another example, don’t add constantly flashing, hyper-active animations to a button. Yes, we know you want them to press it, but it will come off as obnoxious and totally distracting.
Because of all the steps you took before making the mockups, you can rest assure that all the elements and features in the mockup are there for a reason.
For articles, tools, and videos on designing mockups, click here.
You need to make something interactive for your users to test in the step after this, so you’ll be making a prototype.
What’s most important is that users can go from page to page, action to action, similarly to how they would with your (perceived) finished product. This will help you get real insights from users into how they will realistically interact with your product.
For articles, tools, and videos on making prototypes, click here.
Arguably, one of the most important steps in the UX process is ACTUALLY TESTING the product or prototype with your users early-on and often.
This is what ends up saving companies lots of money and time—if done correctly.
Some things to keep in mind during this step:
- Make it clear what you want to test.
- Don’t test too many things at once. It’s better to focus on a few things and go in-depth with them than focusing on many things and only hitting the surface of the problems.
- Testing a commonly done task or action is a good starting place for a first-time test.
- Test users who represent your personas, or the users you believe will most use your product.
- Try not to give hints to your testers when they can’t figure something out, otherwise your results will be tainted. Simply ask them to move on if they can’t complete the task.
- The users you test with are human. Don’t expect them to focus on a task for an entire hour without losing focus. Try your best to limit the test to 30 minutes.
- Give your testers a reward for helping you during their busy schedules!
We go more into detail on this in our article Conquer Usability Testing with This Complete Beginner’s Guide.
For articles, tools, and videos on testing users, click here.
It’s time to analyze your results.
Some of the questions you should be asking yourself at this point are:
- Did you meet the goals you set at step 1?
- Was there any bias in your results?
- What do you need to improve in your product based on your test results?
- How can you update your process (steps 1-7) for the next time?
For articles, tools, and videos on analyzing results, click here.
Steps 1-8 are just the first round. You’ll likely go through multiple iterations of your design, oftentimes jumping back into various parts of the process.
Unless your product is perfect, you’ll be iterating and updating through these steps again and again. One reason for this is because your users are always changing and technology is always evolving.
Design never stands still—so neither will your product.
For articles and tools on iterating through designs, click here.
4. Visual Design Concepts You Should Master
Most digital products have a visual element to them. They often involve users looking at and interacting with a screen, which is why you need to learn some basic visual design concepts to be an affective UI and/or UX designer.
Here are 6 basic visual design principles you should learn:
Typography is the visual style and appearance of words.
It’s one of the methods designers and writers use to represent the tone of their work. From looking authoritative to appearing friendly, you can communicate a great deal of this often overlooked visual principle.
Google’s Material Design website explains typography in great detail:
Understanding Typography (external link)
Just like typography, the colors you use can elicit emotions and reactions from your users. If you can use it correctly, you can create a truly beautiful work of art with your designs.
Here’s a great article from Cameron Chapman that explains color theory for designers:
Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color (external link)
Contrast helps differentiate elements on a page. It’s one of many indicators that tells your users what’s important on a page.
Wojciech Zieliñski gives very easy-to-understand examples of how to use contrast in your UI:
How to Use Contrast in UI Design (external link)
Making elements on a page different sizes help users know what to look for first, second, third, etc.. And just like with contrast, it can communicate to users the hierarchy of information.
Steven Bradley explains scale well here:
How to Use Size, Scale, and Proportion in Web Design (external link)
If you want to gain a user’s attention, you can always use repetition. By repeating the look of an element, you can both gather attention as well as let the user know they have more than one option.
Interaction Design Foundation go into more detail in this article:
Repetition, Pattern, and Rhythm (external link)
As humans, we’re naturally attracted to balance. Visual balance is no exception. From balancing an element to balancing many elements on a page, this principle ties many of the earlier principles together.
Steven Bradley talks about difference types of balance in his post here:
5. Who Can Be a UX Designer?
This is a question I’ve been asked a few times, and my answer tends to be the same. Anyone can become a UX designer with time and discipline.
We’ve covered what is UX design and what is the UX design process. Now I’ll start covering useful information for if you want to get into the field.
How much can I make as a UX designer?
This depends on where you work. It varies from company to company, state to state, and country to country.
What I can say is that UX designers get paid a very good starting salary that’s above the average (in the United States).
We go into more quantified salary details in this post.
Do certain personality traits help you as a UX designer?
I personally believe that every “personality trait” brings something unique to the table.
Some people are more analytical, others are more creative thinkers, but UX involves both creative and analytical skills because it’s multi-disciplinary.
If you’re an extrovert, you might enjoy conducting usability tests with users. If you’re an introvert, you might prefer focusing on designing the information architecture of a product (although I encourage you to still try and talk to users once in a while).
Some UX positions are more narrow and require you to do a specific subset of UX, like only research, so just know what you want to do and you’ll probably find a position best suited for you.
If you want to dive deeper into personality traits, we wrote about it in this post.
6. How to Become a UX Designer
Thankfully, there isn’t only one path to becoming a UX designer.
I’ve known freelance graphic designers who’ve become UX designers, but I’ve also known developers who have switched to UX.
If you’re in school, the steps you need to take might differ from someone who’s in the mid-level of their current career, but my advice is generally the steps below.
1. Get an Education
Our passion with this blog is to teach people: what is UX design, is it for you, and how to get started. However, it’s difficult (although not impossible) to get hired as a UX designer without a more formal education. This can be through a university degree (like what I went through) or a UX bootcamp (which I’ve only heard of, but I’ve heard good things).
2. Start Designing Something
It’s kind of a roundabout thing where a job or internship requires previous experience…but you need the job or internship to get experience. I experienced this dilemma when I first started. My recommendation is to do a case study using the UX design process and write about it in order to show your skills and understanding of UX. For example, write a case study on why Apple’s Music app does or doesn’t provide a good user experience.
3. Build an Online Portfolio
It’s expected nowadays to have an online portfolio to share with employers. You need to show the projects you’ve worked on and experiences you’ve had in internships (if you have any). You can find our favorite web hosts in this post. We also share 5 tips on making your portfolio stand out in this post.
4. Network, Network, Network
Reach out to UX designers working in the places you aspire to work. It’s much easier to get a job there if you have a connection on the inside who can explain the role and what the company is looking for. LinkedIn is probably the easiest way to get in contact with…well, anyone.
7. Helpful UI and UX Resources
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention other helpful resources, so here’s a list of some of the websites I go to for UI and UX resources.
Did We Miss Anything?
Now that we’ve covered what is UX design, what is the UX design process, and who can be a UX designer, I’d like to hear from you:
When it comes to UX design, what is your next burning question that we didn’t cover here?
We’re always looking to improve this post to help people learn about UX, so let us know in the comments below!
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