What is UX design? UX Question #2

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Marcus from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, asks: What is UX design?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Marcus. This is UX Question number 2 and I am Ben Judy.

What is UX design? Well, it’s making choices that describe the functionality, content, appearance, and various other attributes of a product (usually software or some digital product) with the intent to improve the relative quality of a person’s interaction with that product.

That’s kind of a mouthful, so let’s break this down. What is UX design? There are actually two things we need to define there: UX and design.

You might remember question 1 was, what is user experience? And I said, it’s the relative quality of a person’s interaction with a product.

But what is design? This is a question that designers can get philosophical about. One definition of design is from Jared Spool, a well known UX consultant and speaker, and he says, “design is the rendering of intent.” A UX designer will probably render or draw diagrams that describe a user journey, or a user’s flow through an application. A UI designer will draw picture of what the software interface should look like.

But if you’re going to draw plans or describe aspects of what an experience with a product should be like, you have to fundamentally do three things:

First, understand your users. What are their needs and goals, what do they know or not know, how do they feel, what is the context in which they are using the product. Build empathy with the user.

Second, you have to generate design options. You can’t very well design anything without forming ideas about the ideal future state, and in UX design, those ideas should be informed by understanding and empathy for the user.

Third, you have to make choices. UX design is informed but it should also be opinionated. Having generated hopefully many solution ideas, you now must choose a subset of ideas are the best of the bunch. In the practice of UX design, you mainly do this by testing the design with users. And this is an iterative thing, you don’t just ideate once and make one choice. You do loops of ideation and testing and deciding, while continuously learning about the user and building deeper empathy for them.

So if the product is a website, you’re trying to understand who is visiting this site, what are they doing, how should they feel. There are problems to solve for the user. You’re producing design artifacts that describe ideas about what the holistic experience should be like. And you collaborate with others to decide which of your solution ideas should be implemented.

And you cry a lot and regret all of your life choices.

That’s UX design.

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