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4 Key Elements of the UX Design Process: Fundamentals

General Assembly
December 22, 2022

When you use a product such as an app or a website, you judge that experience by logic and emotion—how it made you feel

The functionality and the aesthetics have the potential to make you frustrated or happy. It’s not enough for a product to look good—it must also solve a problem or provide a user with actual value. 

User experience design, or “UX design,” is a method of thinking and a design technique for building products and solutions. When designing a product’s functions and interface, UX design considers the end user’s needs, goals, frustrations, and motivations. 

Why learn UX design? 

Current UX designers, or anyone looking to break into a UX design career, need the knowledge and fundamental skills to design a great product. 

What is a user experience designer? 

A user experience designer (or UX designer, for short) designs digital experiences for websites, apps, and software. UX design is an excellent career choice for anyone who wants to use creativity to solve important problems with tech. 

UX design jobs offer high salaries, meaningful work, and flexibility. Because UX design can be done remotely, many jobs offer hybrid or fully remote options. UX designers earn an average of $97,047 in the US and £46,382 in the UK, according to Glassdoor. This year, there were more than 7,000 job postings in the US and more than 800 in the UK.

Careers in UX Design: What Does a UX Designer Do?

A day in the life of a UX designer is a mix of solo and collaborative work. Designers spend focus time each day to sketch, wireframe, prototype, and look for inspiration. Because UX is highly collaborative, they spend meeting time brainstorming with their team and presenting work to product managers. 

UX designers also spend time conducting UX research, peer reviewing other designers’ work, and coordinating with developers to hand off completed designs. 

To find out if UX design is a fit for you, let’s go over the main UX concepts. 

DESIGN FOUNDATIONS: What Do Basic UX Designers Do?

Unlike other types of graphic design, UX design is very process-driven. Rather than creating features and an aesthetic that the designers or CEO think looks best, UX design follows a set methodology to design the best product. This structure aims to remove bias and ego from the process and keep the focus on the user.

Companies adopting UX design practices see a big business impact: Adobe found that experience-focused brands realize higher revenue growth, customer retention, and lifetime value. To understand how UX design works, let’s go over the key elements of user experience. 

1. Research

Since UX design prioritizes user needs, the first order of business is to uncover what those needs are through research. 

The first rule of UX design is not to rely on assumptions. Designing an entire product based on faulty assumptions can be a very expensive mistake. UX research helps UX designers uncover: 

  • Who is my audience? 
  • What problem am I trying to solve? 
  • Which features do my users want or not want? 
  • Where does my audience expect to find things?

There are many types of UX research to help answer these questions. These fall into quantitative, which uses numbers and statistics to analyze behavior, and qualitative, which uses interviews and observation to understand complex narratives about how users feel about a product and why. 

Here are the most common UX research methods:

  • Stakeholder interviews – A researcher interviews potential users about their needs and preferences
  • Usability testing – An in-person, live virtual, or recorded test where researchers ask a user to complete tasks on a product or prototype and observe the results
  • Card-sorting – An exercise where a researcher asks a user to sort physical or virtual notecards by topic—this helps to determine information architecture
  • Surveys – Asking users to answer questions to uncover their needs, desires, and satisfaction with current products
  • Field studies – A researcher observing a user using the product in their natural environment rather than a lab to remove testing biases

While research should set the foundation for any UX design process, it doesn’t end there. Research continues throughout testing and after a product goes live. 

2. Problem Statements

After conducting their initial research, UX designers write a problem statement to identify and frame the scope of the problem. This helps to set a direction early in the design process to keep the team focused. Problem statements should address:

  • What the problem is
  • Whom it affects
  • When and where it happens
  • Why it’s important

When writing a problem statement, resist the temptation to jump into solutions—stick only to the challenge. Keep it concise, no more than three sentences. This statement is an important touchstone for design teams as they move forward into prototyping without bias toward a particular solution. 

Here’s an example problem statement for an eCommerce company:

During checkout, customers abandon their shopping carts at a rate of 40% during the final review window, which shows selected products with a new total, including shipping, fees, and tax. Customers may be frustrated because they didn’t understand the fee structure or shipping costs earlier in the process. This damages customer trust and can lead to lost revenue.

3. Prototyping

Once design teams have focused on the design problem they want to address, they can begin brainstorming solutions. A prototype is a simple mockup of a concept or product. 

The first step of prototyping is wireframing, a very basic layout draft that can take place on pen and paper or in a design tool. Designers use brainstorming exercises like Crazy 8’s to sketch out many possible solutions in a short timeframe. User flows are another useful exercise to map out solutions. 

Design software like Figma, InVision, or Adobe XD allows UX designers to create everything from simple wireframes to high-fidelity mockups. Designers can add color, typefaces, and even interactive elements like clicks and animations to give a realistic snapshot of how a product will work. 

By creating an inexpensive model of the product, designers can gather feedback, try variations, and get buy-in from funders or other stakeholders before sending a product to develop.

4. Testing

Once a prototype is created, designers can move into the testing phase. Testing is an important part of product validation, checking whether a product addresses users’ needs and pain points. Validation removes part of the guesswork from the design process.

There are many ways to validate an idea or assumption, depending on the amount of time and money you can invest in the project. Here are some of the most common strategies used to validate ideas and prototypes:

  • Quality assurance (QA) testing ensures that all the functions and links in a prototype or product are working as intended
  • Usability testing lets companies test a prototype or product in real-time. UX designers may ask users to complete a task on a website and see what percentage of users can do it and how long it takes on average. Usability tests can also include qualitative interviews to gauge users’ reactions to a product design. 
  • A/B testing runs tests on two versions of the same page. This allows designers to see if one way of solving a problem is more successful than another.

Different methodologies, such as Waterfall and Agile, determine when and how often testing will take place. One common thread in successful UX design is that the design process is iterative—test, adapt the design according to what you learn, and test again. 

What happens if you skip this step? Launching a product or feature without user testing and validation can lead to customer frustration and high abandonment rates. 

Learn the UX Design Process and Become a UX Designer

UX design integrates human-centered design principles to make any product more meaningful, relevant, and valuable to users. It’s also a fast-growing, exciting career path for both young graduates and career changers alike. 

To learn more UX design fundamentals, sign up for General Assembly’s next free Intro to UX Design workshop. 

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