A UX Design Overview

I can’t say for certain that UX Design is the most misunderstood job in the world, but I would be willing to bet it ranks somewhere near the top. Just browse through any online job board for UX Design positions, and you’ll swear you’re applying for a different job from one company to the next.

Take a look at the diagram below, it illustrates the various disciplines that fall within the UX umbrella. With such a vast and varied set of disciplines, it’s not too surprising that some misunderstanding exists.

Diagram of UX Design disciplines.

So, what is UX Design? The textbook definition as provided by Wikipedia states:

User experience design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with 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.”

While it’s a great definition, I’d venture a guess that it leaves people who are new to the field with more questions than answers.

My personal journey into UX was filled with lots of questions and a sprinkling of confusion. In an attempt to help others who are just stepping into the UX field, I’d like to cover three disciplines I believe are essential to UX Design. The following three disciplines are by no means exhaustive, but are necessary to have a good foundation to build upon, in my opinion.

User Research

User Research is a collection of methodologies that focuses on understanding user behavior, motivations, and needs. By employing these methodologies, you gain insights into your targeted users which help guide the design of the product.

The goal of user research is to help inform the creation of a viable product for the marketplace or extend an existing product to better serve your users. By having an understanding of people’s behaviors, motivations, and needs you lessen the possibility of building a product that no one wants or needs.

I’d like to point out that user research doesn’t guarantee success of a product, but it helps you make more informed decisions, which arguably increases the likelihood of success.

Information Architecture

Information Architecture (IA) focuses on the organization of a product’s content. The goal is to ensure users can easily find content they are looking for. A simple example of IA is the navigation of a website or phone app.

On paper, IA seems relatively easy to execute, how hard can organizing content be?

People are complex, so what may seem simple to execute is surprisingly difficult when you take into account all the people who will use your product. How one person consumes and understands content could be entirely different from the next, how do you accommodate for these variances?

Just like user research, IA has it’s own set of methodologies that provide insight into how people understand the overall structure of your product. It’s through these insights that guide how you should structure your content, minimizing a confusing experience.

Interaction Design

Interaction Design is a large discipline within the UX umbrella, that focuses on the interaction of users with a product. Primarily, the interaction consists of an interface on a screen, but is not limited to screens. Take Echo & Alexa for example, it’s a smart home device that doesn’t have a screen interface, instead it uses voice technology to interact with the product. As new technology emerges, Interaction Design takes into account the new ways a user interacts with a product.

Amazon Echo and Alexa

The work of Interaction Design is quite varied, but the overarching goal is to design an interface that removes friction between user and product. In a simplified manner, this is achieved by providing clear clues on how to interact with the interface, anticipating and mitigating errors, and providing proper feedback with each action a user takes.

Interaction Design does not happen in a vacuum, the deliberate design decisions put into the interface is guided by efforts gathered from user research and IA.

Conclusion

UX Design is still a relatively new field, and with its youth, growing pains are to be expected. As UX continues to mature, I’m sure some methodologies will die and new ones will emerge. While I can’t guarantee none of the disciplines I discuss will disappear, I feel confident some version of them will exist in the future.

As I’ve stated prior, these three disciplines are by no means exhaustive, but rather a primer into UX. UX Design is very much a multidisciplinary field, which requires further exploration into other disciplines.

Wikipedia. User experience design. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_experience_design

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