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Design fundamentals for UX Designers

UX Planet — Medium | Matthew Talebi

UX Designers don’t just think outside the box. They make sure the box fits comfortably inside your hand, is easy to navigate, and provides you with an overall enjoyable experience.

Unlike other forms of design, UX design transcends how a product looks. It’s the design of how a product feels. I get a lot of questions from clients and friends, so I thought I’d just write a blog explaining the top UX Design Fundamentals to answer all of your questions. That way, we’ll always be on the same page, so to speak.

Still lost? Let’s get more specific.

I want to invite you to read this overview to UX design. It can seem like a complex idea, but I assure you, it’s actually pretty simple. I hope you think about UX differently after reading this blog. I want you to be as inspired as I am by the many elements that make UX design a fascinating and growing art form.

What is UX design?

It’s true that the field officially known as UX design is new, and frankly, it’s blowing up. However, the concept is as old as human existence.

Let’s assume the flint stone knife was the first hunting tool. Adding a handle to the jagged edge would improve the user’s experience by making the tool easier to grip. Adding a really long handle would have been an even greater improvement for those hunters looking to keep a distance from their prey.

Not a relatable example? I understand. Here’s another.

The evolution of the telephone over the past century has not only made huge changes to how we make calls, but it’s affected our lives on an even larger scale — mostly for the better, sometimes for worse.

The downside of improvement

While it is amazingly useful to have the world wide web at our fingertips, the ability to store innumerable contacts, and the freedom to call from almost anywhere, anytime, there are disadvantages.

For example, the days of a peaceful vacation off the grid are gone. Even on your off days, you’re expected to be available. And while most people don’t complain about this, the modern smartphone is really not a shape that makes sense for phone use anymore.

So, what is UX design?

It’s the alteration of an object, app, product, or service that makes our lives easier and more enjoyable.

Anytime you interact with a product or service, you’re experiencing it. You see, hear, touch, and feel. And it doesn’t stop at the sensory experience. The best products make users feel an emotion. Hopefully, that emotion isn’t frustration.

All your product user experiences can be altered or manipulated to increase efficiency and, most importantly, satisfaction.

However, that doesn’t always happen, which makes UX designers a special breed of artist.

What does it take to be a successful UX designer?

UX designers need to be critical thinkers, artists, psychologists, behavior analysts, and architects. They must think in the past, present, and future. They have to be able to spot the flaws in an existing product, find one or multiple solutions and envision the benefits and risks of the modification. As mentioned above, they also design the feel of a product. The process of UX design isn’t just utilitarian. A product also has to be fun to use.

Have you ever used a remote control that had button clicks as satisfying as scratching an itch? Or used a cellphone that had the perfect combination of vibration and sound effect when typing? These are aspects of the user experience, and they matter.

A UX Designer Makes Products Helpful, Easy, and Enjoyable to Use.

Its helpfulness may encompass the customer service experience, the actual worth of the need of the product, and even how quickly accessible it is. If it’s not accessible, it may not be helpful.

A product’s ease of use can be dictated by how well the UX designer leads the user to perform the next action. Much like a road map, UX designers need to make it clear how you, the end user, can accomplish what you need to.

Have you ever used a GPS mapping app on your phone or GPS device that made you click a button on series of buttons multiple times just to get the navigation started? It’s frustrating, especially when you’re on the go.

A good UX designer minimizes the work and makes it clear how you can get to where you’re going.

The enjoyment comes from the transitions, colors, sounds, and vibrations. This is why a UX designer must still be an artist. A visual designer may craft how a product should look, but the UX designer has the final say. The look and experience must work together.

UX design is a people oriented profession.

Do you think UX designers sit behind a computer or in an office alone like mad scientists inventing new mods for your favorite products? Well, some of the time, yes.

However, you’ll find UX designers out and about, at coffee shops and parks, analyzing the design, behavior, and struggles involved in products you use every day.

It also means they’re always thinking from the perspective of the user. They need to get involved and use products so they can best understand your experience, wants, and needs.

In fact, many UX designers don’t differentiate between products and services, or may use the terms interchangeably. This is because they’re in the business of serving the needs of other people.

How do UX designers research human behavior?

The research aspect of UX design requires much of the same psychology used in marketing. After all, it’s a lot easier to market a product if it truly makes the user’s life easier.

UX designers start by creating a User Persona. They identify exactly who will be using the product. It starts with demographics.

  • Will the product be used by men or women?
  • Children, millennials, seniors?
  • Students or young professionals?
  • How much money does this audience make annually?
  • What kind of devices do they use — mobile, tablets, laptops?
  • Are they PCs or Macs?

The next step in developing a satisfying user experience involves identifying the Buyer’s’ Journey. Let’s say you’re developing the wireframing for an ecommerce website. Chances are your user persona has used ecommerce websites before. They have certain expectations of how an ecommerce website should operate and have faced particular challenges. UX designers don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but they do need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of existing ecommerce websites.

That’s why UX designer’s most important question is, “Why?” Without waxing too philosophical, UX designers completely explore why a customer is using a site, why they are struggling with, say, navigation, for example. Why do they need this product in the first place?

Only after fully understanding users and their journeys can UX designers get into what they can do to increase functionality and usability.

Thus far, we’ve been discussing UX in a broad sense, from studying user behavior to cavemen with stones and spears. Now, let’s get down to the real reason why UX design is such a new term and thriving industry right now: mobile apps and web design.

What makes great mobile UX design?

Mobile users want to access information fast. They want to be able to get a lot done on the go. Whether they’re browsing the news or hailing a cab via a digital app, they’re probably moving quickly and quite possibly with one hand.

We’ve already established that a UX designer must know his or her user. So what makes mobile design different?

For one, it does take a unique design. Surely you’ve seen a mobile version of a website that also has a downloadable app. Which one was easier to navigate? Probably the app. That’s because it’s designed with the mobile user in mind. There are fewer menus to thumb through. More elements are readily accessible.

What’s The Difference Between UX and UI?

As we see the design industry segment into more and more different subsects, it’s easy to get confused between visual design, UX design, and UI design.

UI design is truly how a user interface looks. It may involve some feel, but not in terms of action like UX design. It’s like a puppet. If UI design is how the puppet looks and feels to the touch, UX design is how the strings are wired to move the puppet in the easiest possible way.

What does a UX designer focus on?

A UX designer must keep up with platform UX trends. A mobile app is not one smartphone fits all. iPhone users have a set expectation of how to use their phones and how their phones will behave in response. The same goes for those who use Android or any other make and model.

While it may be super cool, fun, and interesting to build a custom user experience, it will most likely just irritate and frustrate the user. This is bad for you, your company, and most importantly, the user.

Designing to a platform

Excellent UX designers stay up to date on platform guidelines so their users are not surprised or confused by their product. Keep it simple.

On top of that, designers can actually leverage the device’s existing features. Some platforms have some really need tricks that increase usability and accessibility. Use them!

Speaking of staying up to date, it’s more important now than ever for a UX designer to be well versed in government guidelines, limits, and restrictions (especially the 508). With regular breaches on information as of late, it’s important to work security and privacy guidelines into all apps to protect user data and government systems.

Designing for behavior

So we’ve established that your user persona is most likely a busy person on the go and that smartphones have added considerably more interruption into users’ lives. How does a stellar UX designer accommodate for interruptions, whether in real life or on the phone itself?

By designing the app for interruption. What does that mean? By designing a simple app that allows the user to easily pick up where he or she left off. The mind wants to be lazy. That’s not an insult, it’s a fact. Any neuroscientist can tell you that the brain fires in the quickest way it can get signals from A to B.

With all the distractions and chaos of the modern world, smartphones should serve to reduce the cognitive load, not add to it. Take a suggestion from the brain. Let your user find the quickest way from A to B in your app, even when X, Y, and Z barge in.

Designing for data

That said, great UX design can be quite complicated behind the scenes. Mobile devices capture more information than we give them credit for — perhaps more than we’d like.

Mobile devices capture ambient data including proximity to other devices and networks, location, sounds, movement, and even user intent. As creepy as that may sound, the best UX designers use these sensors to create amazing user experiences.

Designing for content

It may sound simple, but UX designers need to be able to manage content. Content needs to be structured and grouped appropriately. While the user persona is a great resource to work from, most people have multiple devices. Content must be chunked appropriately to be used across mobile, tablet, laptop, even smart TVs!

How can users best test products and improve? UX designers must be constantly collecting user data. What content is attracting the most user interaction? What elements are frustrating users? By taking surveys, collecting feedback, and analyzing user data, designers can take out the guess work.

Designing for perfection

Despite all these modes of testing, the best UX designers know that there is no such thing as perfection. If perfection existed, they would be out of a job. That’s why UX designers test their product throughout development. This means letting real users try it out — usually friends and family first. After all, they’ll probably be a designer’s most gentle yet honest critic.

While development is a process that continues forever, designers need to decide when it’s time to stick a fork in the app and call it done. Good designers know when they’ve accomplished their goals.

That’s the long and short of UX design, particularly regarding app design.

It’s not new, but it is a new concept, which makes fantastic UX design hard to find. A great UX designer saves app and website developers time and money. Instead of throwing random components together to create an app or website that has to be redesigned every year, UX designers create palatable experiences based off of existing data.

I also like to think that a UX designers see the world differently and then change those parts of the world that need changing. Each time you interact with an interface, an advertisement, an application — I hope you start to think about the elements that went into creating that, then making it better just for you.

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Design fundamentals for UX Designers was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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