What is UX Design?

This one’s for you, Mom.

What this article IS: a basic explanation of UX design and understanding it’s importance.

What this article IS NOT: an explanation why “UX Designer” is an inaccurate job title.

How would you approach this door? Even experiences as simple as doors can be designed. Image via pexels.com.

UX Design can be applied to MANY disciplines, but for the purpose of this article, we are going to focus on it’s relation to technology; specifically software. It’s a relatively new term and is still being defined.

With the proliferation of tech devices penetrating every facet of our lives, the need for creating software that is human-centered has never been more relevant. Think about how many times you interact with software: phones, ATM machines, coffee shops, schools, public transportation, and even clothing. They don’t all necessarily have a screen, but there is always some sort of interaction.

Whether you are aware of it or not, you have some sort of emotional reaction to whatever you are interacting with. As you approach a new microwave, do you automatically know what buttons to push? Or do you get frustrated because the only way to initially add time is in 30 second increments? How do you feel when your phone connects to the bluetooth in your car and starts playing your podcast right where you left off? If the experience of using any piece of technology amounts in anything less than pleasurable, the likelihood of you using it again drops dramatically. And if you’re obligated to use said gadget, you’ll be less than enthused to use it (that’s where cognitive dissonance comes in, but that’s for a different article).

Whether you are aware of it or not, you have some sort of emotional reaction to whatever you are interacting with.

This is where UX design comes in. What’s the point of having a piece of technology if no one is going to use it? How is a company going to stay in business if no one uses their software? Why should someone use a piece of software if it doesn’t make their life easier? Both of these entities have needs and they both need to be met. There’s a sweet spot where these needs cross. UX design ultimately finds this intersection.

Finding where the customer’s needs and the business’ needs meet is what UX is all about.

The exciting part about this (and why this industry is always evolving) is that this intersection is always in motion. There is a constant need for a company to be aware of their users (customers). How a company gathers information about the users is key and can be a determining factor if they succeed or fail. There are many tools to do this. Here are a few:

Empathy

When a user is truly understood, a company can anticipate their needs rather than frantically react to problems. Developing this empathy can be difficult, but the effort can really pay off. Building effective empathy is usually done through interviews, then dissecting those transcripts to more fully understanding people’s reactions, guiding principles, and reasoning. Indi Young explains this in great detail in her book Practical Empathy. Ultimately, it’s understanding the deeper “why”. There are of course other methods, and each company needs to adapt according to time, budget, and other resources.

Ultimately, it’s understanding the deeper “why”.

User Research

Since the main point of software and technology is to make our lives easier, ideas need to be validated to see if they will even be used. The more the user is understood, the more likely products will be adopted and become a habit. Through user research it becomes easier to understand motives and anticipate what they actually want, versus what they think they want. This goes deeper than just demographics and spending habits, it’s about who people really are.

Adaptable Creation Process

To make sure the software will actually be used, it needs to be intuitive and seamless. Creating an entire piece of software and then sending it out into the world HOPING that it will work creates a myriad of problems. To combat this, users should be involved in the creation process. At any point in the creation process, a product can be placed in front of users to validate decisions and assumptions. This way, mistakes can be fixed early on and costly errors can be avoided. Well, ideally at least.

The UX process needs to be flexible and adaptable.

As you can see, there’s a lot of overlap in finding that fluctuating focal point. And that overlap is FOCUSING ON THE USER. This makes sense, right? That’s why it’s called USER experience design and not software experience design. The more the user is understood, the more successful a product can be. In no way is there a perfect process. That’s part of the fun! It really is an art form. What works for one group of people won’t necessarily work with another.

The more the user is understood, the more successful a product can be.

There is so much more to UX design than is presented here. A UX designer needs to always be learning and adapting to their current situation. They need to strive and fight for both the user’s needs and the company’s. Without one the other withers and dies.

Next time I’ll define what UI design is and how it compliments (and why it’s different) than UX design.