What is UX Design…
Ok, today’s mission – answer the question I get asked most (including people who work in digital) “What is UI UX Design?”. : Let’s start with the very basics User Experience Design is often referred to in the digital industry as UX for short. Why not UE? I don’t know. Maybe the X just sounded cooler. At the moment, there seems to be a lot of confusion as to the difference between UX and UI. Surprisingly many companies who hire designers don’t even know the difference. This is why I wanted to tackle this often confusing subject first.
User Experience (UX), in my opinion, is best to be thought of as the beginning of the design cycle. It’s where your mission is to understand in detail what problem you are trying to solve for your users. Every business, at its core, solves a problem, and your customers or users come to you because you offer the best solution.
All you need to know for now is that it’s a 4 stage cycle that centres around solving actual problems for users and putting their needs first.
Once this initial research phase is complete, the UX designer now has a deeper understanding of the problem that his users are trying to solve. No design work has happened so far, just research techniques such as surveys, customer personas and many others. I’m just going to quickly mention here that increasingly there are more and more UX researcher roles coming onto the market, so if you enjoy this part of the process, you can dig a little deeper. We will talk more about getting into the industry in a later section, so you might want to check that out.
This all then leads into a conception phase where the UX designer will use this new knowledge to propose solutions to the problem. This could be illustrated as a sketch, a storyboard as they use in the movies or some simple screen designs. The fidelity (which is an industry term for the level of detail) doesn’t matter at this phase, and it’s all about generating and validating lots of ideas.
A great trait to have as a UX designer is the ability to take in new information and listen to the opinions of colleagues. You are the facilitator as well as the designer, and your role is to help others from the wider team be involved in the design process. It’s all about collaboration, and you will have a much stronger result in the end. The next phase is to take the chosen design and turn it into a really basic layout. At this stage, the wireframe (which is a simple page mockup) can be made interactive. It should all be about the content, and the simple design removes any discussions about any specific colour, images or font.
This design will then be tested with users (using various strategies) and refined over and over again until the design meets the user’s expectations. Once the UX designer is happy, then the wireframe can be passed over to the UI designer. We will be talking all about this stage in the next section. Of course, there are many other tasks for a UX designer, and every company is different. I hope this has given you a brief understanding of what UX is and an example of what a UX designer might do day to day.
So, in summary, User Experience design at its core is all about solving problems for your users. It is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product. You want to put your audience at the centre of your world and design a solution that meets their expectations. As a designer, you will be working with others to propose solutions to these problems and testing them with actual people to see if they work.
I’m going to leave you with a great saying which I think sums up UX perfectly. It’s a Japanese concept called Kaizen, which means “constant improvement for the better”. It’s what’s made the Japanese car industry so amazing, and I think it should be our approach in everything we design. I truly feel that it’s better to get something out there in front of customers and look to constantly improve upon feedback rather than wait for something you think is perfect before releasing it.
When you look to improve every element of your design, all the small changes you make, no matter how insignificant they may seem, compound over time, creating dramatic results. This will delight your users and, in turn, shed a positive light on your business. It’s a win/win situation.
Now that UX has given us some solid foundations, it’s time to apply the finesse, a touch of quality. Our flat design will come to life before our very eyes.
What is UI Design?
Ok, now we know about UX we still are missing the second part of our question “What is UI UX Design”. This is the section where things start to get interesting. Our ideas spring into life before our very eyes, as if by magic, transformed from the frog into the prince. Powerful visual design cannot be underestimated. The famous designer, Dieter Rams of the Braun company, puts it nicely “Good design is making something intelligible and memorable. Great design is making something memorable and meaningful.”
User Interface Design (UI for short), in essence, is designing visual interfaces for machines and software that, as Dieter put it so eloquently, are memorable and meaningful.
Once the wireframes have been handed over, the UI designer can start adding emotion using breathtaking images, vibrant colours and exciting fonts, for example. A UI designer will use tools such as Figma to create rich designs that are as realistic as possible; here is where all conversations about visual identity happen.
In the digital industry, there are many companies where a designer will perform both roles, but there are also many designers who are a specialist in this area. A UI designer will normally have a background in an art subject like graphic design, some experience in a visual design field and be best placed to make detailed decisions on important visual aspects of the project.
A great UI design can make or break a great wireframe. If the imagery is not right or the style does not match the content, then the website will not be as effective. UX and UI need to work in sync. A choice of colour on a button can sometimes double the click-through rate. Imagine being able to double your customers by changing a single colour! A powerful image choice can dramatically increase emotion and create a feeling of connection with your audience. When paired together properly, they can supercharge your business or product.
Increasingly over the past few years, especially in large companies, design languages are becoming more and more popular and consistent UI is being recognized as vital to customers’ perceptions of the brand. A design language is a universal set of standards, usually stored on an internal website, where visual elements such as typography, icons, colour schemes and many more can be referenced by the different designers throughout the business.
Believe it or not, many large organizations with several products still have vastly different visual identities spread across them. Even the same website can differ dramatically from section to section. A UI design language is at the heart of bringing consistency to this chaos. This will benefit the business, and customers will feel at ease with this visual consistency.
With a design language in place for 80% of the design, UI designers are now free to focus on every last detail. Time is now spent on things that matter to customers that in the past have been neglected. Small design elements can be added to increase understanding, and animations hint at expected behaviours. The whole experience has a precision that dramatically increases the overall customer experience.
UI design is also providing vital help to a wide range of users. Millions of people have disabilities that affect them online, and the web must provide equal opportunities and access. By really crafting the digital products we create and taking the time to provide accessibility features such as larger fonts, accessible colours and enabling high contrast mode, we can add value to people’s lives using design.
UX and UI both must work together. Now you have a good understanding of What UI UX Design is. They are two sides of a whole which is the user-centred design process. This is the formula on which a great digital experience is based. If you follow the process and complete the tasks along the way, you will guarantee to produce a brilliant product that puts the user at the heart of what you create.
The User-Centered Design Process…
The User-centred design process (UCD) is a project approach that puts the user of a site at the centre of its design and development. This guarantees that the site will be easy to use and focuses the designer on providing a better experience for real customer needs. The four stages include many different tools and techniques to help you along the way.
With every business solving a problem at its core, the main idea of UCD is to achieve a greater understanding of the problem by including the customer in the design process early and empowering you with various research techniques. Using this information, you can propose a solution that is simple to use and understand and have the security that any problems with the design are fixed along the way through constant testing.
This is an iterative process meaning that once the process is completed, a new cycle can begin using the new data to kick-start the process again.
The first phase of the UCD is the Research & Analysis section, and this is where we try to understand who we are designing for. I would argue that this is the most important piece of the whole design process because there are various activities here that can help you during the rest of the project.
Creating Personas can bring to life your users and help you understand their tasks better. You can include some detailed descriptions here using any data that you have gathered on your customers. I like the website YouGov profiles at today.yougov.com/profileslite. Here, you can type in any brand, person or thing, and the system compiles a profile from their stored data on over 150,000 accounts to give you a great description of your user. It’s worth a try, as the free data is good.
Asking users questions through surveys can gather some useful information. It’s really useful when customers just tell your their expectations. Survey Monkey is my go-to tool for surveys as they have a great feature where you can select certain demographics, and the system will send out your survey and get results for your desired number of participants. This comes at a fee but is well worth it if you work in a company and don’t have any current customers to send the survey to.
Another important task during the research phase is to perform interviews with colleagues and stakeholders on the project. This makes sure that you are meeting all the business requirements and that everyone feels like they are part of the design process from the beginning. I found this a great thing to do at the start of the project to integrate myself into the team and make everyone else feel valued.
Once we have a deeper insight into the problems our users are facing, we can get going on the ideation phase of the project. This is where we can have some fun and get creative. But before we start sketching page designs, we must take a look holistically at the entire journey that the customer will go on when using our product or service. Most of the time, we are designing within a system, and it’s essential to have an understanding of how everything fits together. When we understand the machine, we can then design the individual parts with greater precision.
Stories have defined our world. They have been with us since early human history and can convey a message that touches our souls. To tell our user’s story, we are going to use a process called customer journey mapping. This is a technique where we illustrate the entire process we are designing for. How you illustrate this is up to you, it could be simple text, or it could be a wonderful colour illustration. I found that the bigger, the better. When I was working in a global company, we had a large industrial printer, and I had the customer journey map printed off about 10 feet long and stuck up on the wall of the office. This is a great way to get the whole team involved. Just watch the printing bill!
Probably the most important asset of a truly great website is findability. You create brilliant content, and you want your users to find it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Honestly, getting a solid navigation structure and information architecture is the best return for the investment you can get on a website. A great description I heard of Information architecture is the art and science of organizing and labelling websites.
One technique I’m going to briefly mention here is called a tree test. You can find a great version of this tool online over at optimalworkshop.com/treejack. I’ve used this at several large companies, and this technique has made the biggest impact that I have seen on websites. The reason is that it suddenly unleashes all of your brilliant content.
In essence, a tree test is an examination of the structure of your website. You set several questions, and participants try to find where they think the answer would be in your navigation structure. The brilliant thing about this tool is that you can test your most important pages, and if they do not perform well, the tool tells you where users think the page should be. This is unbelievably important because it’s simple to change where the page is in the structure, and suddenly your page is now discoverable.
If you are starting from scratch, then a card sort is the way to go for organizing a website. In a card sorting workshop, participants are asked to organize physical cards with page names on them into groups and give them category labels. If you do this with a couple of users, you will start to see patterns emerge. A consensus will form, and the structure will become apparent. This can then be tested with more users in a tree test. Your job as a designer is to be a facilitator, gather users’ expectations and deliver on what they expect. The importance of this cannot be overstated!
Now that we feel connected to our customers, have an idea of the overall journey, and have a decent content structure in place, we can start to design!
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