What Does it Mean to be a User Experience Designer?

User experience design (UXD or UED) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product. User experience design encompasses traditional human–computer interaction (HCI) design, and extends it by addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users. -IBM

I really like this definition because, for me, it sums up User Experience Design nicely. There’s one part of the definition that sticks out to me and it’s, “…addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users.” It perfectly sums up User Experience Design and how it’s naturally multidisciplinary. I won’t go into what each of those sub-disciplines are, there are plenty of articles about that, but instead focus on what UXD means to me and how it fits into the scheme of things.

It All Starts With Understanding

To design an elaborate experience requires a UXD to have a comprehensive (or at least competent) understanding of each part of a product’s lifecycle. You can’t just be good at research, nor can you only be focused on designing visually appealing UI’s. A true User Experience Designer is familiar with the complete lifecycle and understands that no one piece of the puzzle is greater than the other and that there is no “whole” without its parts.

Drawing Upon Multiple Disciplines

I’ve been referred to as what many people might negatively refer to as a “Jack of all trades”, but in my defense all the things that I do, I do really well and with intention. I learned everything up to this point because I chose to learn it, not because I had to or because someone said that I should. It’s simply because I love learning new things that relate to my personal and professional interests. So to say that it was “a conscious decision” to focus on multiple disciplines wouldn’t be a true statement, because it was a need that came naturally to me and is what’s kept me passionate and hungry over the years. Little did I know that I was slowly grooming myself for User Experience.

The “Mixed Martial Artist of All Trades”

Instead of “Jack of all trades” I think a more suitable metaphor would be “Mixed Martial Artist of all trades”. MMA is the perfect example of learning and using various disciplines successfully in one arena. Even before MMA, Bruce Lee seen the advantages of borrowing from various martial arts disciplines to create his own fighting system and philosophy in Jeet Kune Do. For me, User Experience Design has that same kind of mentality mixing research, analytics, visual and interaction design and development.

We’re Not All Created Equal

To be honest, most UX professionals are rarely masters across all the disciplines that make up UX, even myself. I’m more well-versed in the product, interaction, visual design and prototyping aspect of UX. Others expertise may lie in the cognitive psychology and user research side of things, while another group may prefer usability testing and analytics.

Regardless of your focus, the key to being a great UX Designer is remembering who this is all for. The user. By learning how they think, understanding their needs and how they behave helps you empathize with their goals. Having that singular goal will pull you out of your comfort zone to make do what it takes to help your users achieve those goals in terms of your product. Being that kind of advocate for the user helps create shared understanding amongst your team and keeps the roadmap for the project on path.