User experience design, also known as UX design, is a process that focuses on users and their overall experience with products, systems, or services. Therefore, the ultimate goal of this process is a product that can be enjoyed by users on a daily basis. In its design process, research and well thought out ideas all have to come together to create a pleasurable and engaging experience for a wide range of users.
Why User Experience Matters?
People are drawn to things they feel most comfortable with, and they’ll want to keep doing the things they find pleasant. Hence, if users experience a product in a positive way, they are more likely to keep using it in the future. After using the product for some time, those users would feel a sense of satisfaction, and this can lead to them being willing to pay almost any price for it. This is exactly the type of business model that Apple uses to attract and retain its customer loyalty.
Unsurprisingly, the term “UX design” (user experience design) was coined by one of Apple’s VPs, Donald Norman. At that point in time, no other company has made such tremendous progress in anticipating and fulfilling user needs, which is why Apple products came at a premium – one that users are willing to pay. Every company will have a slightly different UX design process but ultimately, they are all a core part of the product development cycle.
The ideal UX design process is one that avoids user frustration and increases user loyalty. To achieve both of these goals at the same time, it requires creating a product that is:
- Simple – hard to misinterpret
- Intuitive – requires no training
- Clean – with minimal visual clutter
- Flexible – adapts to the user
- Engaging – readily responds to user input
Essentially, impressing the user will play a role in benefiting the overall user experience and make the product stand out. However, this will be optional. As long as you make sure to check all the items from the list above, you are good to go!
UX design follows a series of simple steps that are designed to involve all relevant parties so that a product can be built in the most efficient manner. For example, the legal team can be involved in just one or a couple of steps to evaluate whether the product satisfies legal requirements.
Nonetheless, from start to finish, the UX design product development cycle typically involves the following steps:
In this step, the design is narrowed down to reach a product that is beneficial to both the user and the brand. What initial problem does the user have and how does the product help the user solve this problem? Does the product align with the brand?
Brainstorming sessions are perfect for this step. During these sessions, participants share and discuss whatever crosses their mind and all of it is written down and evaluated without judgement. Typical users are also interviewed in order to gain better insights about their opinions on the product. As designers will receive differing opinions about the product, both good and bad, they will all be taken into consideration to form a more complete picture of what the product should look like.
Furthermore, user personas are developed in this step to help designers imagine and understand users’ needs, behaviors, and motivation. By thoroughly observing the users and conducting interviews in this stage, this will help immensely as we prepare for the next step of the UX design process – research.
Your ability to gather and independently evaluate data can either make or break any given design process. Therefore, to ensure optimal user experience, you must be prepared to challenge all your assumptions, keeping in mind that you should not make any conclusions that aren’t 100% supported by data.
For research purposes, one-on-one interviews are considered to be a great approach to better understand users. While you may sit down with a user chosen based on the user persona established from the previous step, you may also conduct video or phone calls if that is more convenient for you. Ideally, you would want to carefully watch and listen to their non-verbal nuances, as these are the signs that can reveal what the user really thinks.
Focus groups and surveys are two equally amazing research methods that can be conducted to gain insights on user needs, habits, and behaviors. Some users prefer this approach as it allows them to vent their frustration, and that’s perfectly understandable as that can also act as valuable user feedback.
Lastly, usability testing is another approach that can be used for user research. It involves actually watching how the typical user would use the product, how they behave and react to certain functions. Competitors’ products can also be analyzed at the same time as well as overall design trends concerning similar products.
The sketch is basically the outline or rough draft of your product. Papers and whiteboards are filled out with rough schematics, wireframes, and mockups. Note that there’s no need to be obsessed with perfection at this stage since you’ll be making and scrapping hundreds of versions later on in the process anyway. However, the idea still needs to be presentable in some sense.
What’s most important is that during this stage, the product should be conceptualized to its final form. In other words, you should be able to explain to an outsider what the product does and how it works. Moreover, a large “X” is commonly used as a placeholder for images, so don’t worry about graphical fidelity.
The main advantage of this step is in its fast turnaround. Both paper and whiteboard sketches are cheap and easy to produce, therefore you should take advantage of them. Being able to quickly change and go through hundreds or thousands of versions at this stage will allow you to cut down on the time and money spent to make the final product design.
In this step, you’ll simply be designing a usable prototype of your product. Hence, all the ideas that you’ve gathered through the three previous steps come together in this step. All the X placeholders have to be replaced with legitimate visuals, while sketches and wireframes are turned into what should look like proper marketing material. In case you come up with any new ideas during this step, you should go all the way back to step one to properly implement them.
Icons will also be designed in this step. In short, icons should be scalable and color-neutral so that they can be recognized even without colors. If several color or icon schemes are found to be equally useful, then they can all be included in the final product. For example, browsers and operating systems will have themes that give interface elements a different tint.
So far, most of the work in the user experience design process has been executed by the designers themselves. However, in this step, technical teams are meant to get involved in order to implement the design ideas. This means that they will need to connect the design with the backend.
Having constant input from the technical team will help a lot during the design process. While they don’t necessarily have to give complex feedback, they can always assess if something will be doable or not. With their advice, this can cut down on the number of iterations needed to reach the final design.
Once the design is implemented, it is now time for testing. If the company has enough employees willing to participate, product testing can easily be tested internally. If not, it can be also beta tested, meaning that the product is released to a small number of users whose feedback is then collected.
This is the final step of the user experience design process but also a starting point for the next round of designing. Everything that’s been done so far in the product development cycle is put together and evaluated on its own merits. What could have been done better and are the users’ needs served by the product? These are the crucial questions you should be thinking of when evaluating.
Ideally, all of those who were closely involved with the design cycle would give their feedback. Although one piece of feedback doesn’t have to mean anything in particular, it’s more so that when you make a cross-section of the feedback, you’ll find common themes that reveal the hidden design truths.
Once you’re finished with the evaluation, it will be time for another round of designing. Products and their designs aren’t meant to sit still. Markets, users and trends slowly change and businesses that seek success will have to adapt to them. Ultimately, user experience design is all about adaptability, and those who make the most usable, flexible, and engaging design can be considered as a master of UX design.
Besides having grown up in the design Industry, Christiaan has advised some of the world’s largest companies on their branding & packaging designs. Has been the resident judge for design awards, and has spoken at numerous global design & marketing events. Christiaan founded the London office of the award-winning Cartils agency, and has founded the DesignBro.com platform.