January 27, 2016

A Beginner’s Look at UX Design

Have you ever tried to use something – anything, a website, an app, an appliance, a service – and found it so complex, so non-intuitive, or so utterly frustrating that you finally gave up?

“Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
– Albert Einstein

Have you ever tried to use something – anything, a website, an app, an appliance, a service – and found it so complex, so non-intuitive, or so utterly frustrating that you finally gave up? Similarly, have you ever tried to use something so presumably easy but over-simplified to the point that you could not figure out how to make it do what you wanted that it created the same frustration and, again, you gave up? Poor user experience (UX) design is likely to blame. Comedian Brian Regan illustrates this perfectly:

Conversely, think of the last time you used an app or a service that you really enjoyed, or that simply worked the way you expected the very first time. Think about your favorite restaurant, your favorite store, or your favorite app. What is it that you love about them? What makes them your favorites? Chances are, a lot of that has to do with the positive, easy-to-use, hassle-free, and/or delightful experiences associated with each. In other words, good UX design made a difference.

The term “UX” is everywhere these days. So what exactly is UX design, and why should you care? Well let’s begin with what UX is not.

  1. UX is not new. UX as a field or a career by itself may be somewhat new, but a lot of the principles and practices associated with it have been around for decades.
  2. UX is not UI. This is a common misperception. User Interface (UI) design is an important part of UX design, but it is only part and a small one.
  3. UX is not research and interviews. Certainly those are key to effective UX, but as with UI, they are only part of the UX design process.
  4. UX is not statistics or strategy, interaction design or information architecture, copywriting or creating personas. See where I’m going?
  5. UX is none of those things…alone.
  6. UX is not complicated, though it can be complex.
  7. UX is not easy to do well (but nothing worthwhile ever is).
  8. The great news is, UX is not difficult to learn, and there are a plethora of resources available (I’ve listed many below).

Now let’s focus for a moment on what UX is. In the “UX is not UI” article referenced above, Erik Flowers defines UX design as “the intangible design of a strategy that brings us to a solution.” UX design is the umbrella that pulls all of those other elements together into a final solution that provides the best experience possible for the end user.

In his book The Elements of User Experience, UX design expert Jesse James Garret defined user experience as “the experience the product creates for the people that use it in the real world.” He goes on to then define “user-centered design” as “the practice of creating engaging, efficient user experiences […by taking…] the user into account every step of the way as you develop your product.”

UX design is about caring. It involves strategy and structure, research and personas, mockups and prototyping, visual design and testing, and more all with the same focus: caring about your end users enough to make the experience of using your product or service effective, engaging, and delightful. It is powerful and a differentiator that can set your brand apart. In other words, it makes everything for your user as wonderful and as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Want to learn more about UX design? Here are a few places to start:

  • A classic (from March 2000!), Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience chart provides a clean visual understanding of what goes into his 5 elements of UX (strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, and surface). Check out the whole book for a more details. The 2nd edition was updated in 2010, and it all still applies today.
  • UXPin – this company has software to promote (with which I have no affiliation), but they have produced dozens of FREE ebooks on UX, UI, web, mobile, typography, and many other subjects to educate and assist you in your UX design process. Great resource!
  • Be inspired by Jared Spool’s “$300,000,000 Button
  • And check out these sites for all the latest on UX:

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