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What Is UX Design? From Definition To Necessary Skills

Do you wonder what UX design is? We’ve got you covered. Everything you need to know about the field and how to start your career as a UI/UX designer.

24 min read

What makes you buy a product or use a service and then keep coming back to it? When you’re navigating a website or using a mobile application, what makes you frustrated and never return to the website or app? These factors can include big concerns, such as an app, designed for listening to audiobooks, that doesn’t accept all the audio formats or extremely small things, such as the unavailability of the “Search” feature or a slow webpage that takes forever to load. In the case of concrete products, things can be a little more complicated. For example, you’re not going to like a door that can only be locked from the inside - it’s not too useful, is it? All of these small and big things fall under the purview of UX design.

In recent years, there’s been a significant increase in the demand and value of UX designers. As more and more companies realize the importance of design and user experience, it is not unusual for the field to get saturated and, hence, overwhelming. Many designers, researchers, and experts have tried to define and explain the concept of UX design. The term, however, still needs to be demystified. This article aims to address the key concerns regarding UX design and to answer some of the questions you might come across in your journey as a UX designer. Read along and you’ll get to know a lot about UX design, including:

  1. What is UX design?
  2. What does UX design consist of?
  3. The value of UX design
  4. Key principles of UX design
  5. The UX design process
  6. How to become a UX designer?

In this article, you’ll learn all that you need to know about UX design, the best practices, trends in the market, and where to begin. Let’s get your designer hats on and gather some fascinating information.

1. What is UX Design?

One of the most important goals of any product or service is to earn the trust of the end-users. This not only helps in generating more revenue but also widens the customer base. The best way to garner support from customers is to make their lives easier by providing them an overall pleasing and helpful experience. Your users are more likely to return to your products and stay loyal, if they find what they are looking for, have a good overall experience, and complete the tasks they want to, using your service. This is exactly what UX design aims to achieve.

UX Design

User Experience (UX) design is not just about adding or removing features to or from a product. It is also not only about the aesthetics of any website or app. UX design, in fact, covers everything from the first time a user hears about or interacts with your product to the long-lasting impacts that your service leaves on his/her life. It is a process of creating products and services (both in the digital and physical environments) that are useful, helpful, and usable for the target audience.

According to Nielsen Norman Group, UX is “a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines” which involve product development, engineering, promotion, content creation, and interface design.

There are numerous working definitions of UX design and industries often tailor the interpretations as per their needs, which is absolutely fine since UX is such a broad term encompassing a lot of processes and techniques. It is, in fact, this unique combination of strategies that makes UX such a popular discipline. In any organization, a UX designer brings the voice of the audience to the table, thus prioritizing their needs. This ensures that the end result is useful for the customers which, in turn, works for the benefit of the organization.

UX design is often misunderstood. Sometimes, it is confused with User Interface (UI) design while at others it might be mixed up with usability. Although UX overlaps with both UI and usability, it has its own identity and significance. To grasp the overall concept of User Experience, one must focus on the obvious (after all, UX design itself is a practice of simplifying tasks, ideas, and goals): “user” and “experience”. No UX designer can produce quality results unless he/she knows and understands the users and feels their experiences. Some of the key things to note about UX and UX design are as follows.

  • UX is different from UI: User Interface (UI) Design deals with the presentation, style, and appearance of any product or service. UX, on the other hand, takes a holistic approach which deals with much more than just the visual aspects.
  • UX is different from Usability: Usability is a subset of UX. While usability focuses on the effectiveness and efficiency of a product or service, UX broadens the concept by bringing all the emotional and aesthetic aspects to light.
  • User-centered approach: UX takes a user-centered approach in the design of any product or service. In other words, the needs and expectations of users take precedence in the process of UX design.
  • The journey of users: Arguably, one of the most important considerations in the process of UX design is that of the users’ journey. This also complements the user-centered approach, as the way users interact with a product or service forms a part of their journey.

Another important aspect of User Experience design is creativity. The entire design process will be reduced to nothing if the designer lacks creativity. It is true that the customers appreciate familiarity with products and services but they also love to try new things. It is the task of a designer to navigate these lines carefully where the end results are unique but also not overwhelming for the users. We’ll talk about this and other factors a little later. First, let us focus on the key components of UX design.

2. What does UX design consist of?

When it comes to UX design, it is easy to get lost in the amount of information you come across and the sub-disciplines you interact with. For beginners, the entire field can present a daunting picture, driving them away from the fascinating world of design. It is, therefore, important to draw attention to the constituents of UX design, both as a discipline and as a practice.

Key aspects of UX design

UX design is an interdisciplinary field where the designers need to develop a unique set of skills. From research and analysis to audience and competitor analysis and the actual design practice, UX covers it all. Some of the most important components of UX design are as follows.

Research and analysis

It might seem a little unusual to have research and analysis as one of the key elements of UX design. Upon closer inspection and after reading up a little bit on the design process, it gets clear that no UX designer can succeed if he/she is not a good researcher.

UX designers need to conduct a number of analyses to add value to their work. It all starts with user research and audience analysis. UX designers step into the real world to analyze the needs, expectations, and requirements of their target audience. This not only helps in getting quality feedback but also makes sure that the needs of users are met throughout the design process. Another important area of conducting research focuses more on the market. The designers need to understand the trends in the market and the practices followed by their competitors.

Research and analysis, therefore, can never be separated from the practice of UX design. The designers must possess some analytical skills to get valuable insights from real data.

Design and development

After comprehensive research and a detailed analysis of data, there comes the phase of design and development. This is one of the key components of the entire design process as this is where all the skills and knowledge are put to practice.

When it comes to the actual design of any product, service, website, or mobile application, the designers need to be both creative and considerate of the audience. Additionally, they must also focus on the marketing aspect, since a product or service, no matter how useful, will not function if it does not generate any revenue. The insights obtained from the audience and market analysis, help in outlining the principles for an effective design.

It is true that the end results and the steps followed to achieve those goals vary based on the product, audience, and market trends but some fundamental principles must always be followed. Along with industry-specific requirements, UX designers must focus on the following three aspects.

  • Empathy: Empathy is more than just an added skill for UX designers; it is a must-have value. If a designer does not feel closer to his/her audience and is unable to understand their needs, the product or service he/she creates will never succeed.
  • Creativity: As mentioned earlier, no new design can function well if it lacks creativity. To stand out in the market and to attract a bigger audience, the design should be thoughtful and useful at the same time. Sometimes, the very simplest of products and services can add loads of value to the lives of customers. This, in itself, is innovation where the tasks of the audience are made easier in a simple and understandable manner.
  • User Experience: No design can function well without giving due attention to the entire journey and experience of users. It is for this reason that designers prefer to map the users’ journey in order to test the efficacy of their design.
The User Experience Honeycomb

Peter Morville’s User Experience Honeycomb, arguably, serves as the best representation of UX, its key elements, and expectations from a UX designer.

UX Honeycomb

A design is efficient, effective, and impactful if it meets the criteria set in the honeycomb. The eight areas where a designer needs to focus are as follows.

  • Useful: The product or service helps the users in accomplishing some goals, no matter how big or small.
  • Usable: The final design should be easy to use and interact with.
  • Desirable: The design should be aesthetically pleasing and not frustrating in any way.
  • Findable: The users should be able to find their desired information without any hassle and with minimum errors.
  • Accessible: The product or service should consider the needs of different audience groups, irrespective of their physical needs.
  • Credible: The information provided to the users must be authentic and free of any misleading content.
  • Valuable: The design should add value to the life of its audience and provide them with a pleasurable experience.

Based on the discussion above, you must have had an idea of the nature of UX design and what to expect from the field once you start your journey. To explain the process and the design journey in a better way, let’s focus a little more on the role, duties, and responsibilities of a UX designer in the market.

What do UX designers do?

Given the countless applications of UX design and its interdisciplinary nature, designers possess a unique skill set. The skills also vary based on the industry a designer is working in or the line of products he/she is interacting with. For example, a UX designer working in a software organization will have a slightly different approach than that of another designer creating physical technological products. However, irrespective of the specific job descriptions and tasks of an individual, there are some skills necessary for any UX designer.

On a daily basis, a UX designer does more than just designing products and creating prototypes. There is a lot of planning and management involved. Also, a designer interacts and collaborates with other teams, such as marketing and software development. If we take a broad view of the activities of and expectations from a UX designer in the market, the following categories can sum it all up.

Planning and management

A UX designer is also a meticulous researcher and an impactful manager. The design process is rendered useless if all the steps and strategies are not clarified and followed effectively. When working on any project, a designer has to lay out all the specifications and expectations in an understandable manner. These steps, in the light of the audience and market research, are then used to devise a plan. This is where the designer has to use his/her project management skills.

When working in a bigger organization, with more than one designer, it is also important to communicate these goals so that there is no confusion in the process and the expected output. It is, therefore, safe to assume that a UX designer has to do a lot of planning, management, and communication.

Designing for different environments

In the modern world, where multiple platforms are used to generate content and the audience has a lot of options to interact with the same product or service, the designers have to work more than ever. Even for a simple design product, say a website, a UX designer has to make sure that the design is responsive on desktop and laptop computers, Android and iOS devices, multiple browsers, and devices with varying screen sizes.

In most cases, the considerations for digital and physical worlds are quite different. Usually, designers have to focus on both the digital and physical aspects of any design, making sure that the users get a familiar yet useful experience. One common example is that of physical and virtual debit cards. This is one case where the end goal for the users is the same but the design requirements are poles apart.

Collaboration with other teams

It is true that UX design is a whole world in itself. This discipline, however, is not isolated from other practical fields. A UX designer, on a daily basis, has to interact with other teams and departments to add value to his/her design and to make sure that the end results are consistent. Some of the ways in which a designer interacts with other teams are as follows.

  • Marketing and Branding: The design of all products and services needs to abide by the branding and promotional policies of any organization. It is, therefore, essential for UX designers to collaborate with the marketing, branding, and promotional teams on a regular basis.
  • Development: When it comes to creating a product or service - or putting the design to life - the designers need to work closely with the development teams to ensure that everything works out as it is supposed to. The development teams, based on the nature of the product or service, can include product development, web development, mobile app development, etc.
  • Support and Communication: UX designers have the end goal of making the lives of the audience easier. This is where effective communication and active support are important. To ensure that the users get the full understanding and are able to complete their tasks, the designers need to work with the support and communication teams. This is where they act as an advocate for the users, adding value to their overall experience.

In today’s market, the role of UX designers is of a multidisciplinary nature. This not only increases the expectations from the designers but also adds worth to their work. The value of UX design is on a constant rise with more and more industries taking a keen interest in the field.

3. The value of UX design

UI/UX design is one such position that you’ll find In almost all modern organizations. Irrespective of the product or service an organization is working on, there will be at least one designer on board. This is because all businesses have realized the importance of the field and are, therefore, willing to invest time, effort, and money in this area. It is also because of the fact that the value a UX designer brings to any organization is worth all the effort. From sales to the loyalty of customers, designers have a huge impact on the functioning of any modern organization. From a broader perspective, UX design serves an organization in the following four ways.

Sales and conversions

When an organization invests in improving the design of its products and services, it is, essentially, investing in its growth. If a product is easy to use and is meeting the customers’ needs, it will, indeed, have a stronger customer base. Additionally, better designs result in more recommendations and referrals, thus expanding the audience.

Another important thing to note here is that better design is not just restricted to the actual products. Whenever potential customers interact with your product or service, whether by chance or choice, and they have a pleasant experience, they are more likely to be converted into leads and end-users. According to Forrester Research, a better user experience for websites increases the likelihood of conversion up to 400%.

Customer satisfaction and retention

Customers are often impatient and ruthless when your product or service is not meeting their needs. Given the saturation in today’s market, the customers have a lot of options to switch to if your organization falters. This is exactly where UX design is vital. As customer satisfaction lies at the heart of UX design, it is impossible to rate a design as “good” or “effective” if it does not add value to the experience of customers.

All the designers strive to understand the pain points of their customers. They make sure that the functions of their product or service are aligned with the goals of the users. This intersects with the Design Thinking approach, making the end-users a part of the entire development process. When customers are actively involved in the design process and their feedback is valued, there is a better chance of retaining old customers and attracting new ones at the same time.

Brand image

In a world where multiple platforms are used to disseminate information, it is essential for an organization to maintain a consistent image on all the outlets. From social media platforms and websites to user guides and product catalogs, a strong brand image is necessary to leave an impression on the hearts and minds of the target audience.

This is where the more promotional and aesthetic aspects of UX come into play. UX designers, along with their focus on the overall interaction and journey of the users, also keep the consistency and brand image in check. Designers, by following a certain set of rules, can help in presenting and retaining an impactful voice in the market. Working with the marketing and communication teams, the designers make sure that the users get a unified message from all platforms, bringing them closer to the organization.

Brand Image and UX

Development and repair costs

Another important (and often ignored) way in which UX designers can add value to an organization is by the reduction of development and repair costs. At first glance, it might appear that such costs have not much to do with UX design but a little closer look can help in understanding the value added by design in this area. When professional UX designers work with product and service development teams, they make sure that most (if not all) needs of the users are taken care of.

Additionally, with a focus on the usability and usefulness of the product, the designers are in a better position to remove any roadblocks and errors that the users might run into. If these issues are taken care of during the development and testing phase, the product is likely to succeed in the real-world. Having designers on board also ensures that the product is thoroughly tested before hitting the shelves which can result in less troubleshooting and, thus, reduced costs.

The value of UX design in today’s world cannot be overstated. The field is very much alive today and is bound to get more attraction in the next few years.

4. Key principles of UX design

UX designers need to be both meticulous and creative while working on any project. It is this combination of skills that adds value to their work and also makes each designer a unique professional. However, the entire field of design heavily relies on certain rules and principles without which no product or service can guarantee success. The key design principles, followed by the leading UX design agencies and expert designers are as follows.

Design for the audience

In all design projects, the audience is what matters the most. Talk to any UI/UX designer and you’ll see how much they care about the needs and expectations of the audience. It makes sense to adopt the design thinking approach when working in the field of UX design. The end goal of any design project is to make things easier for the users and to value their feedback. It won’t be wrong to say that designing any product or service for the audience is, arguably, the most important principle of the UX design industry.

Design around the experience

When design projects get too complicated, it is often easy to lose sight of one of the fundamental principles that UX is about the entire experience. If organizations are looking for quick fixes or short-term results, the overall experience of users can be impacted in a bad way. This is where designers need to be the voice of reason by prioritizing the entire experience of users with the product or service. It is not about a single interaction or the completion of one task; UX goes way beyond one interaction. The impression created by a good (or bad) experience lasts way longer than the actual interaction of a user with any design element.

Clarity

UX designers also put a lot of emphasis on clarity and consistency when presenting any information to the audience. If the users cannot extract any valuable information or if they feel frustrated and overwhelmed by the content they are interacting with, the overall experience will get ruined, to say the least. It is for this reason that UX designers make sure that the users understand the information presented to them and are able to make the most out of it.

Aesthetics

Any design is incomplete without an attractive outlook. In all UX design projects, aesthetics might not sit at top of the ladder but it will not be wrong to say that without a pleasant appearance, no product or service will be able to get the attention it deserves. UX designers, therefore, cannot entirely bypass this principle. Along with the usefulness and usability of any product or service, they must ensure that the users like to interact with it. This will, indeed, make the overall experience pleasing and comforting.

Accessibility

Accessibility often gets neglected in the design process, particularly while working on digital products. The world of software and the internet is a little too complicated to be made accessible for everyone. However, there are certain principles and guidelines that can make this phase pretty easy and hassle-free. Accessibility standards set forth by W3C, for instance, can give a better idea of the key considerations for designing a website.

Along with these fundamental principles, designers may have their own work ethics and standards based on the nature of their projects and their approach toward UX. Following the aforementioned principles can ensure that the design is free of any big errors and can also help a designer stay on the right track.

5. The UX design process

All design projects, whether in the digital or the physical world, need a strong UX strategy. A comprehensive UX strategy is what makes a product or service stand out in the market. An effective UX strategy is one that takes the shape of a long-term plan and covers all the aspects of the relationship between a user and the design under consideration.

As discussed above, most organizations take the design thinking approach when it comes to projects involving UI/UX. The philosophy behind this approach is that the end-users are made an active part of the design process. This goal is achieved by conducting rigorous research, getting constant feedback from the audience, and evaluating the design frequently. The design thinking approach can be divided into the following steps.

Research

The first step in the process is to conduct thorough research. This includes surveys, questionnaires, and focus group studies. The primary goal of this step is to develop an understanding of the needs and expectations of the users prior to initiating the actual design phase.

Analyze

Once all the data is gathered, based on the various types of techniques employed in the research phase, the next step is to analyze the data so as to extract some actionable insights out of it. This step helps in setting the guiding principles for the design process, to ensure that the design meets the requirements of the audience.

Ideate

The creativity of a UX designer comes next where one has to formulate ideas, put his/her knowledge to practical use, and make the most out of the analyses conducted previously. In this phase, a designer has all the freedom to go back and forth between different drafts and come up with some ideas that can then be implemented.

Design

Once an idea has been shortlisted for the design, the UX designer then starts creating prototypes to fit the requirements of the project. The entire toolkit of a designer comes in handy during this phase. Based on the needs of a product or service, the UX designer then creates wireframes and prototypes which are ready to be tested.

Test

The design, once created, is then put to test. This can be done by conducting usability tests and focus group studies with real users or by running quality assurance tests on a machine. The end goal, in either case, is to make sure that the product is ready to be launched for the target audience.

The UI/UX design process can be tested at certain stages but it is this challenging nature of the job that is attractive in itself. UX designers are problem solvers as well as creative individuals, as is evident from the above discussion on the UX design process, thus bringing a unique set of skills to any project.

6. How to become a UX designer?

The demand of UX designers in the market and the challenging yet interesting nature of the job provide enough reasons for any creative individual to think of learning and stepping into the world of design. It can, however, be overwhelming given the amount of work being done in the UX industry and the varying demands of organizations. Let us outline some of the steps that you can adopt to start your career as a UX designer.

1. Gather adequate knowledge

There are numerous books written on UI/UX design and the best practices to follow. In order to be a part of the UX industry, it is imperative that you go through these masterpieces outlining the basic principles of UX design.

2. Be a part of the network

Listen to podcasts, read the blogs, participate on Reddit and other forums, and participate in the conversation. Even if you’re new to UX design, this will help you learn and grow as a professional.

3. Learn the basic principles

It is important to get acquainted with the basic principles and processes of UI/UX design. Taking academic courses and professional certifications is one way of doing that. Additionally, you can consult online resources such as edX, Coursera, and FutureLearn to learn free of cost.

4. Know your tools

UX designers use a number of software and applications to create quality design products. You will find numerous tutorials on Adobe XD, Figma, Adobe Photoshop, Sketch, and other tools online. Learning these tools can add a lot of value to your UX design journey.

5. Build your portfolio

Work on real-world projects to build your portfolio. Having a strong UX design portfolio can not only help you land a better job but will also ensure that your skills get tested and improved along the way.

These steps will help you get started as a UX designer. In order to really learn, it is important that you stay updated with the latest trends in the market since UX design is a discipline that changes rapidly.

Conclusion

From creativity to research, UX design is a field with all the flavors. It is a discipline that is on a constant rise and is expected to grow in the days to come. If you’re thinking to switch your career to UI/UX design or just adding some skills to your resume, now is the best time to get started.