Since the advent of the computer, there has been no consensus on how to engage with technology. Over decades, patterns proven to make systems easier to use began to emerge. The practice of designing and measuring digital products that are intuitive and easy to use is the goal of user experience designers.
User experience (UX) design experts have a deep understanding of design, technology, and human psychology. What makes a product great? What keeps people coming back? What drives them away?
A well-thought-out UX design process, spearheaded by a seasoned UX professional, will help you strike the right balance and keep users coming back for more. This multidisciplinary process involves a fair amount of user research, ranging from basic analytics and heatmaps to elaborate enterprise research efforts that involve contextual observation, diary studies, surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
To be clear, UX design is not the practice of making digital products look nice—it’s not just about aesthetics, but the process of incrementally improving the ease of use and intuitiveness of digital products.
Though visual design plays a definitive role in the process, UX design is not about aesthetics but is more focused on developing a blueprint for a product’s experience, outlining its ecosystem and validating why it is creating value for end users. After a project is live, a large part of UX is collecting quantitative and qualitative data as a means of understanding user behavior and further improving the product through iteration.
To better understand what UX is, it is important to understand where it fits into the design stack. It’s also important to understand what UX design is not.
UX design is based on principles of user-centered design and design thinking. The term design thinking refers to the process of working in collaboration with customers and exploring possibilities for what “could be” by utilizing structured brainstorming practices to develop ideas and iteratively testing those ideas with customers.
User-centered design (UCD) refers to a collection of design methods that are concerned with end users’ goals, environments, and expectations. By asking the right questions, these methods help designers optimize experiences based on how users want, need, and expect to use products.
Not limited to digital product design, user-centered design helps companies improve their service offerings across an array of touchpoints and products. UX design can be described as the application of user-centered design methodologies to the digital product design stack.
All in all, UX design is the practical application of empathy used to observe, analyze, and evaluate a user’s engagement with a digital product. It is a broad field with opportunities to engage in user research, information architecture, content strategy, user testing, prototyping, and more.
There are numerous schools of thought as to the application of UX design. Some call for a lean iterative approach, others for a research focus, but all are driven by creating experiences that are seamless, intuitive, and accessible across an array of touchpoints.