What the heck is UX Design?

And what does a UX Designer actually do? These are difficult questions to answer because if you ask 5 different people, you’re going to get 5 different answers. UX, obviously, stands for User Experience. And when we say “user experience”, we’re referring to the what, when, where, why, and how someone uses a product, as well as who that person is. So: what, when, where, why, how, and who: these cover the user experience of a product, which is pretty much everything that affects a user’s interaction with that product. So as you can imagine, a UX Designer, which is someone who designs these interactions, is constantly asking a ton of questions. If you’re someone who naturally questions things, UX Design could be a great career for you, because it’s the answers to these questions that shape a product’s design.

It’s not all about the user’s needs

UX Designers need to take into account a business’s needs as well.

It’s no use having a product that people love, if it doesn’t help a business achieve its goals.

That’s not a product, that’s a side project. A UX Designer aims for that sweet spot where user needs and business needs overlap. So how do they do this, other than by asking a lot of questions? Well, a UX Designer follows what’s called a user-centered design process.

We use a set of tools and techniques to make the user’s needs into account at every stage of the product’s lifecycle. I’m going to repeat that because it’s a bit of a mouthful when you hear it for the first time: a user-centered design process takes the user’s needs into account at every stage of the product lifecycle. I say product because these techniques apply to web apps, mobile apps, desktop apps, or even physical objects. OK. So that’s all well and good, but why should you care? I’m going to give you four reasons why I believe this stuff matters so much, and this list doesn’t include the one, which is the fact that paying attention to UX results in you building a product that’s awesome, instead of one that people hate using. Hopefully, that’s a given.

Why you should learn more about it

The reasons why I think you should learn more about UX are 1): You’re probably doing some of this already. One thing I’ve learned is that when you understand how it is that you do what you do, you become infinitely better at it. Like the fable about the centipede who, when asked how it was that he walked, couldn’t give an answer. But when he picked himself up and examined and flexed each of his hundred legs, he danced the most beautiful dance in the world.

Here’s Number 2): user-centered design is a process, which means it’s practically scientific! It’s like taking the scientific method, using analysis and measurement, and applying it to humans and their behavior. And that’s fascinating to me — this notion that designers are artistic geniuses with a penchant for cutting off their own ear … it’s nonsense! This is a science! Well, a quasi-science. This leads me to the third reason that UX matters 3): it’s not that hard. Especially for people who are already technically inclined. I don’t want to go putting myself out of a job here, but you know what? This stuff is not rocket surgery, to borrow from Steve Krug. Anyone can learn the basics of user testing and card sorting and writing scenarios and creating wireframes. It’s actually very straightforward. This is a good segue to the fourth reason you should care about UX, and that’s that 4) … it’s fun! This stuff is fascinating! A career as a UX Designer is interesting, it’s challenging, it’s rewarding, it pays well, and there’s a very low barrier to entry.

Don’t feel uncomfortable

A lot of people feel uncomfortable calling themselves a “designer” because they’re no good at choosing a typeface or a color palette. Get over it! UX Design is the design behind the visuals. Visual design is just one small part of it. It’s an important part, but some of the best UX Designers I know actually aren’t that great at visual design, but they’re really good at those other areas that are so important. And that’s pretty much it. So while you might hear terms like information architect, user interface designer, interaction designer, or usability specialist, these can all be considered UX professionals. Now they might specialize in marketing or technology, or maybe they come from user research, social media, or even customer support background. Either way, they’re all asking a ton of questions and following a quasi-scientific process to do the design behind the visuals. And they’re having a blast doing it! So that’s what I’d like to leave you with: that if this stuff interests you, you may very well be well placed to have a promising career as a UX designer.

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