What Does a UX Designer Actually Do?

What UX Design Is All About

For a long time design has been associated with graphic design (“the look” of a product). As digital technology and our expectations about digital interactions has grown, we’ve begun focusing more and more on “the feel” part of a design, also known as the user experience. If UX is the experience that a user has while interacting with a product, then UX Design is the process by which a designer tried to determine what that experience will be (Note: We can’t really design experiences as a formal entity. However, we can design the conditions of an intended experience).

Responsibilities of UX Designer

How do UX designers work on a day-to-day basis? The answer to this question, as with many questions, is: it depends. A UX designer’s responsibilities can vary dramatically from company to company and sometimes even from project to project within one company. Despite the variety the role offers, there are some general functions a UX designer can be expected to perform irrespective of the company they work at.

1. Product Research

Product research (which naturally includes user and market research) is every UX designer’s starting point for a UX design project. It provides the foundation for great design as it allows designers to avoid assumptions and make information-driven decisions.

  • It helps UX designers understand industry standards and identify opportunities for the product in a given area. It also helps with prioritizing various aspects of a product (e.g. product features).
  • Competitive analysis
  • Online surveys
  • Focus groups

2. Creating Personas and Scenarios

Based on the product research results, the next step for a UX designer is to identify key user groups and create representative personas. A persona is a fictitious identity that reflects one of the user groups for whom they are designing.

4. Information Architecture (IA)

Once a UX designer has done the research and created personas, it’s time to define the Information Architecture. Information architecture is the creation of a structure for a website, app, or other product, that allows users to understand where they are, and where the information they want is in relation to their current position. Information architecture results in the creation of navigation, hierarchies and categorizations. For example, when a UX designer sketches a top level menu to help users understand where they are on a site, s/he is practicing information architecture.

5. Creating Wireframes

Once the IA has been determined, it’s time to create wireframes. A wireframe is a design deliverable most famously associated with being a UX Designer. Basically, a wireframe is a low fidelity representation of a design. Wireframes should represent each screen or step that a user might take while interacting with a product.

  • Wireframes should be created quickly — UX designers have to represent UI objects in a simplified way (e.g. using simple placeholders that represent objects such as crossed rectangles for images).
  • Wireframes are hardly used for product testing (although they may help UX designers to gather feedback on design in initial research, they won’t replace the actual interaction with the product).

6. Prototyping

A lot of people use the terms “wireframe” and “prototype” interchangeable, but there’s a significant difference between two design deliverables — they look different, they communicate something different and they serve different purposes. While wireframes are similar to architectural blueprints (e.g. a building plan), prototype is a middle to high fidelity representation of the final product.

  • Prototypes can be used to their full potential in user testing. Prototypes should allow the user to experience content and test the main interactions with the interface in a way similar to the final product. While the prototype might not look exactly like the final product, it should be very similar in intention.

6. Product Testing

Testing helps UX designers find out what problem users experience during the interaction with a product. One of the most common ways that a UX designer might do product testing is by conducting in-person user tests to observe one’s behavior. Gathering and analyzing verbal and non-verbal feedback from the user helps UX designers create a better user experience. Not to say that being in the same room while someone struggles to use your product is a powerful trigger for creating empathy with users.

UX Design is a Never Ending Process

UX design is a process of constant iteration. A UX designer’s work doesn’t stop with the product release, in fact, UX designers continue to learn which drives future updates. They launch with the best possible product, but they’re always prepared to learn and grow.

UX Jobs — What’s Out There?

If you overview different UX designer job descriptions, you’ll find that the list of responsibilities on each can vary significantly — in some descriptions, the UX designer role is all about research and usability testing, while in others it’s more technical role, responsible for building the prototypes and working more closely with the engineering team. All because the role of a UX designer depends heavily on the nature of the company and the difference between one UX designer role and another can be dramatic. The biggest difference is between startups and big companies:

  • Larger companies typically break UX designer role down into a few roles that focus entirely on one section. That’s why when you browse job descriptions you can find job titles like ‘Usability Specialist’, ‘Information Architect’, ‘UX researcher’. Thus, if you enjoy one particular phase of UX design (e.g. research) then working with a team at a larger corporation could be a good match.

Conclusion

While the UX designer role is complex, challenging and multifaceted, UX design is really fascinating and satisfying career path which could take you in many directions.



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