UX design—an abbreviation of “user experience design”—involves the interaction between users and a product or service, usually (but not always) in the digital space. In other words, UX design is the craft of making the user’s experience when interacting with a digital product as effective, efficient, and pleasant as possible: the process of building products with the user in mind.
This sweeping definition covers a wide range of considerations, including accessibility, ease of use and navigability, brand coherence and positioning, and general aesthetics. It also covers the users’ moment-to-moment reactions and how these add up to create the overall experience—both within a single product and across interactions with the company behind it, from initial intent to purchase through to product maintenance.
What is the meaning of UX Design?
At its core, UX design is the process of designing products and services that are easy to use and beneficial to the user, making the overall experience with your product enjoyable.
The term “user-centered design” was coined by Don Norman (the first person to hold the title of User Experience Architect at Apple) in his 1988 book The Design of Everyday Things. Norman defines UX as encompassing “all aspects of the end user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” Given its overarching influence on the way consumers interact with brands, UX design has become an essential component of today’s business world, and is already changing the way organizations create their products and services.
What is the role of a UX Designer?
A UX Designer has to consider the “why,” the “what,” and the “how”:
Why would someone need this product?
What can they do with it?
How simple is it to use?
The “why” explains a user’s needs for a particular product. The “what” takes into consideration what a user can do with the product—that is, its features and functionality. And finally, the “how” primarily considers the experience: how customers will use the product, and what a UX Designer can do to ensure that the overall experience is as intuitive as possible. It’s not just about how a product, app, or website looks, although that is an important aspect—it’s about how customers experience it, which also comprises usability and feel.
That makes UX design a “human-first” approach that often requires layers of research, prototyping, and testing, and a UX Designer role often stretches far beyond the scope of an individual project. “A given design problem has no single right answer,” writes Designer Farhan Khan. “UX Designers explore many different approaches to solving a specific user problem.”
With so many factors that UX design touches on—from branding to web and product design to usability—it should come as no surprise that UX Designers work closely with other related design fields, including:
User interface (UI) design
UI design concerns the stylization of the interface screens and touchpoints that a user encounters. As such, UI design involves specific visual design choices around typography; layout, images, and other visual elements; and micro-interactions, such as whether to provide a toggle or a button. Graphic design is nested in here as well; Graphic Designers’ contribution of visual elements—say, an illustration or newly redesigned corporate logo—is yet another piece of the bigger picture that UX Designers consider.
Interaction design (IxD)
IxD overlaps with both UI and UX design, and some consider it something of a bridge between the two. IxD’s scope is broader than UI, as it involves the functionality and process flow of interface elements, so Interaction Designers typically lean heavily on front-end web development skills. Although UX design and IxD are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a distinction: IxD focuses squarely on the moments of direct interaction between user and product, while UX Designers see those moments as individual steps on a much longer journey of brand interaction.
In this way, a UX design role often incorporates many elements of UI design and IxD, but ultimately includes a broader scope of considerations, including those before and after a user interacts with a product. For this reason, UX Designers are often directly involved very early in the ideation phase of product development, and continue to consult right up until the product launches.
All that being said, there can be quite a bit of lateral movement between Graphic Designers, UI Designers, Interaction Designers, and UX Designers—especially for experienced Designers who have had the opportunity to build out their expertise in different areas—since many of the requisite skills are the same.
What Is the UX Design Process?
As the name implies, UX Designers are focused on user experience — how a product, like a website or app, makes you feel while you’re using it.
Figuring that out takes research, prototyping, and testing, with this high-level role working closely alongside other types of Designers and Product Managers to bring each vision to life in a way that resonates with end-users. According to Tony Ho Tran in Inside Design, every modern, successful product or service needs UX design behind it.
“With it, customers will remain satisfied and (ideally) loyal to your business,” he writes. “Without it, your user can be left frustrated and bitter with your product… resulting in, ultimately, fewer users.” Tran says the most effective UX design creates a positive experience for a company’s target audience by anticipating — and ultimately fulfilling — their needs.
So what’s the actual UX design process to make that happen?
Most UX Designers break the process down into a few key stages, which allows a team to figure out user needs, develop and test ideas, and refine a design so it has the maximum impact.
Understand the problem
Remember the good old days of high school, when you were given math problems or essay topics to tackle? Step one, before hitting pen to paper, was always making sure you understood the question and the parameters.
And just like those school days, the UX design process also requires gaining a thorough understanding of the issue at hand. “Design solves a problem,” explains Saadia Minhas for UX Planet. “In order to provide a solution, you first need to understand the problem.”
In UX design, that can mean interviewing clients and brainstorming concepts together, determining what problem you’re trying to solve for your company, their company, and the end-users, and bringing together the project team to get everyone on the same page before the hard work really begins.
Research and analyze
In-depth research is the backbone of UX design, long before you’re building prototypes or signing off on graphic design choices. Some of this means scoping out your competitors to get a sense of their product offerings, including their shortcomings and any potential sources of inspiration, while another chunk is focused on end-users.
“Your user research is going to be the lifeblood of your project,” explains Tran. “The things you discover and unearth during this stage lays the foundation for how your entire project will turn out.”
Be it through surveys, focus groups, or 1-on-1 meetings, you need to get a clear sense of what users want and need from the product you’re designing. That means focusing on questions like what they’re hoping for in a product, and what they struggle with when it comes to current market offerings.
“Not only do UX Designers want to know who their users are, but Designers want to dive deeper into their needs, fears, motivations, and behavior,” writes Nick Babich for Adobe’s design blog.
During this phase, it can be helpful to create user personas — as in, fictional representations of your target customers — to give you a clear guideline for what you’re trying to achieve.
Sketch and design
This is the phase where you’re finally hashing out ideas — and while they don’t have to be perfect, they should be rooted in your research, with a laser-sharp focus on solving the problem at hand.
Whiteboard flows, wireframe prototypes, and often hand-drawn sketches can all be part of the process so you can share concepts with your team and other stakeholders.
As the process moves forward, you’ll start getting into the nitty-gritty of a final design, hammering out specifics like typography and style guidelines with your graphic and UI design team.
According to Babich, an effective design phase is both highly collaborative, requiring input from the whole product development team, and iterative, meaning that it cycles back upon itself to validate ideas and assumptions. “You’ll have to design, redesign, scrap it, and design it all again,” Minhas echoes. “Hyperventilation and overconsumption of coffee are completely natural at this stage.”
Test, launch, repeat
Once you’ve finished building a final design, backed by research and analysis, you’re almost ready to send it into the world.
First, though, comes plenty of testing — ensuring every single piece of the product is usable and effective. Ultimately, you’re trying to figure out if it works well, resonates with customers, and if it solves your initial problem. Doing so requires a few approaches, according to Tran: Internal testing, end-user testing, and potentially a beta launch. “This is a limited release of your product to a small number of people with the goal of finding issues and cleaning them up before you launch it to the world,” he explains.
In UX, tests can be as simple as observing customer-product interactions or as complex as presenting different versions of a product to the public to see which is better received, notes UsabilityGeek.com. “Developers may offer questionnaires and surveys or even do further interviews with customers to identify spots of difficulty or confusion.”
After this point, your team might decide it’s time to officially press the “launch” button. But, sorry to break it to you, that’s not where the process ends.
“The process goes on until the desired experience and customer satisfaction is achieved,” Minhas writes. In other words, testing, re-launching, and then testing again — getting as close to an ideal product offering as possible.
“When it comes to the UX design process, there’s no one fits all solution,” says Babich. “But whether your UX process is lightweight or it’s full of a lot of activities, the goal of each UX design process is the same — create a great product for your users.”
UX Design Basics
From color and mood to typography and research, there’s a lot to cover in the broad and ever-growing user experience (UX) design field. To get a better sense of the essential components, we spoke to Ann-Marie Sebastian, a Lead Educator in BrainStation’s User Experience Design Bootcamp.
So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at some UX design basics.
How UX Designers Use Color
Primary and secondary colors
When crafting your design, it’s standard to select sets of primary colors and secondary colors that will act as the dominant and accent colors of your design. These can all be complemented by a neutral or grayscale color selection.
“Color is what many students struggle with the most during the UI phase. In order to fully understand color, you need to dive into theory, however today there are many color generators and online resources that make the process much easier.
If you’re having difficulty, the 60-30-10 rule is a good place to start. Choose a dominant color and use it 60 percent of the time, then use a secondary color that matches the dominant one. Use an accent color (the 10 percent) sparingly, or in situations where you want to highlight content. It also helps to choose a light background (white) or dark background (dark grey) to keep things simple,” Sebastian said.
When starting a design, Sebastien suggests that you create a mood board that experiments with the feeling you want your product to instil in the viewer or user.
How to choose the right font
When selecting a font, pay attention to sizes, height, and whether you’re using serif or sans serif. Each element has a different effect on the feel of the content.
Google has an extensive Font Library which provides a great way to explore different styles and how they work together. “When learning typography, it’s best to pick one typeface with many weights – italic, light, bold, medium, etc. Learn how to work with different weights to create visual hierarchy and to better understand balance and structure. Once you’re comfortable with that typeface, pick up another one and try the same thing,” Sebastian said.
Understanding visual hierarchy
Sizes are important to distinguishing hierarchy and establishing balance on a page. It’s important to UX specifically as it helps with website navigation. In the example below, you can clearly see where the eye should be drawn first. The Call to Action and title predominantly draw the eye, the rest is deprioritized secondary information.
Be sure to order information in a way that guides the reader to important information first.
Design thinking is an approach to conceptualizing and building products that solve problems while creating positive experiences for end-users. As it puts an emphasis on empathy, it is a great companion to conducting good user research and high-quality UX design.
Establishing customer empathy is an essential aspect of the design thinking process. When creating designs, prioritize a user-centric approach to uncover insights and develop marketplace solutions that fulfill your customer’s needs.
Prototyping and validation
The ability to build and measure success based on customer experience allows you to reap the benefits of prototyping. Validation frameworks test assumptions, confirm solutions, and maximize the efficient use of resources prior to a product launch.
It’s essential in design thinking to formalize your ideation process so that you can identify concrete opportunities and create more innovative solutions.
Focus on User Research
The heart and soul of UX design is user research. Knowing your customers is the key to producing a seamless user experience. From surveys to usability tests, there are over 20 different qualitative and quantitative methodologies that allow for different kinds of exploration in UX practice.
“Talk to people, observe human behavior, and test your designs – these are the basics that should be part of any project throughout the whole process. If it’s not human-centered design stemming from the needs of the people you are designing for, it can quickly become ‘self-centered design,’” Sebastian says.
UX Design Resources
Popular UX design tools
Sketch or Figma: Use either of these tools to bring your wireframes to life.
Invisionapp: Use Invisionapp to build out a simple prototype for your designs. If you want to create more advanced prototyping with micro-interactions, you can use Principle, Flinto, Framer, ProtoPie.
Adobe: Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are good companion tools for creating vectors and editing photos.
Online UX design resources
Great UX design books