What the Heck is UX Design?


Everyone has been on a website. Even my grandmother who refused to own a computer has seen one via my smartphone. Most of us are online for a large portion of our day. But have you ever taken the time to consider why these websites look and act the way they do?

In previous posts we’ve written about Front-end developers and the work they and other programmers do to build these online pages.

But it’s not enough to just build a website these days. According to WorldWideWebSize.com there are at least 3.9 billion indexed web pages. That means for most websites, there is some fierce competition to get people to use them over others.

That’s where user experience (UX) comes in.

What is UX design exactly?

Jacob Gube in his post “What is User Experience Design? Overview, Tools, and Resources,” defines user experience as “how a person feels when interfacing with a system. A system could be a website, a web application, or desktop software and, in modern contexts, is generally denoted by some form of human-computer interaction (HCI).”

He also points out that when a visitor uses a system, even if they aren’t aware of it, they are asking themselves if it is easy to use, fun to use, and if what it does brings value to their lives. Gube says that “user experience design is all about striving to make them answer ‘Yes’ to all of those questions.”

There are a LOT of different things that go into this process. Matthew Magain explains a little more in his video “What the #$%@ is UX Design?

In an interview with Brian Solis, “Why Top Execs are Starting to Care About UX Design,” Jesse James Garrett, a leading force in UX design, talks about how his company Adaptive Path didn’t start out with UX design. It began with User Interface (UI) designers who discovered that even if the UI design was well done it did not determine the success of the software.

Steve Psomas breaks UX design into five different competencies in his post, “The Five Competencies of User Experience Design.” UX design is the culmination of all five of these disciplines. They are mutually exclusive. A successful UX design could not exist without any one of these competencies, but standing alone, these practices cannot create the right user experience.

What’s a button got to do with UX design?

To better explain this, let’s use a hypothetical example from Dain Miller. I love his obsession with buttons in his post, “UI vs UX: what’s the difference?

He creates a system in which almost all the elements are working. User Interface (UI) designers understand the brand. They know what their users want from the product. They have created a button that will take them to the next phase of the system.

Interaction Designers have made sure the user sees all of the most important information first. They have positioned the button in the right place so that the user’s intuition leads them right to it.

When the user moves the cursor over to the button and presses down, that motion sends them easily to the next phase of the site. The usability of the site is working wonderfully.

Visual designers have made sure that the button looks beautiful and clickable. There is a wonderful shadow to give it a 3D effect. It’s jumping out of the page at the user. It looks like the perfect button.

Does this mean the UX design is complete?

Almost, but not quite.

Everything is working fine, but when the user moves the cursor over to the button and presses it, there is no visual of it clicking down. There goes the satisfying feeling of actually using a button to transport yourself to the next page. It may seem silly because the button is available and functioning, but a user wants it to react as a real button would. Understanding and anticipating this is what creates UX design.

Another example that really brings the point home is Chuck Longanecker’s post “Give Your Website Soul With Emotionally Intelligent Interactions.” This post gives real examples of websites that not only do their jobs, but add a little humor and personality to their tools.

A UX designer must also have communication skills.

In order to create these functioning, emotionally intelligent interactions, UX designers must do research on their audience. They can’t just design for themselves or their client; they have to design for the user.

The UX designer has to also be able to work with developers to make the research-based ideas they designed a reality. The designer has to take into account the goals of the company, technology’s limits, and the user’s needs.

Patrick Neeman says in his post “Five Things You Should Do to Be a Great UX Designer” that “There is no one true process for User Experience, just a framework. That framework is the intersection between people, business, and technology and our job is to understand all three so they work in harmony.”

So what companies are doing UX design well?

Jesse James Garrett gives his explanation for why Apple is so successful. He argues that Steve Jobs was not solely responsible.

He says that it is the way that the company approaches its products. User Experience is what drives all of Apple’s decisions for their technology and not the other way around. Instead of deciding what type of technology they want to create and then trying to figure out how to make it into something the user wants, they look at what the user needs and then create the technology to match that.

Garrett’s definition of UX design is “a way of thinking about an approach to the design of products and services that really looks beyond the design of the artifact itself to the experience that it creates for the people who use it. It’s a suite of methods that we have to incorporate an understanding of human psychology and human behavior into the products and services we create.”

Also, Amazon introducing its “One-Click Checkout” button has done wonders for their product.

UX Designers are in high demand.

Christian Vasile writes in his post “Why Now is the Right Time to Become a UX Designer,” that companies are starting to notice that UX design works. Apple and Amazon are raising the bar for many products with the user experience they provide. Competing companies can either sink or swim. Many are choosing to swim and are investing in UX design.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a UX designer in the United States is $80,000.

Are you an aspiring UX designer? Here are a few essential resources.

UX designer Kenny Chen gives advice about how to showcase and backup your skills as a UX designer in his interview on the Zerply Team Blog, “UX Designers Guide to Getting Hired.”

Patrick Neeman is chock-full of resources for aspiring UX designers. He even has a post titled “The Usability Counts UX Resume Template and Career Guide.

Creating a user experience that will have people coming back is becoming increasingly important for many companies. As a UX designer, you have to be creative, aware, and able to communicate with a variety of different people. It’s an industry in which standards are always changing and that can be challenging, but working to bring a system to life can also be a lot of fun.

Homework time! Interested in becoming a UX designer? We’ve given you a few resources to start with. Now it’s your turn to explore the ins and outs of UX design. Are there certain parts that interest you more than others? Do you know of some websites that are more appealing than others? Take some time to visit and interact with different systems. What is it about these sites that provides a positive user experience? Try to picture yourself as the UX designer of that site.


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