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What is User Experience Design? (2019 edition)

What is User Experience Design? (2019 edition)

There are many many talks about what’s UX and who’s an UX’er that sometimes even confusing for us to keep track of all different definitions.

The fact that there’s still not a consensus on what an UX’er does is two-fold. Firstly, it’s an alarming signal because digital products have been evolving for the past 25 years or so. The least we can expect is to share a mutual understanding of the definition of UX and the role of UX’ers. Secondly, it’s positive because the user experience shall not be defined and confined within certain boundaries.

We at Bonanza Design have a habit of avoiding jargons and use the purest form of language to make sense of concepts. We wrote this article as a question and answer so you can follow our thought processes.

If you’d like to deepen even more your knowledge about User Experience Design, we’ve got a workshop dedicated to the topic on the 29th of August over Berlin.

Customer Experience Design & Mapping | 1-day workshop | Berlin

Why is UX important?

Or why does it matter the way users experience your product?

We intentionally formed this question as a leading one, so it answers itself. In a nutshell, people want to use your product to avoid/resolve the pain or seek pleasure. When you advertise a set of promises (that we do this and that for you), you will attract a particular audience. If the delivered experience doesn’t match the marketed promises, you’d need to look for a new job. Schade!

Your product was built because a certain group of people shares the same problem. If you don’t establish a sense of empathy with them, hence getting to know them, you’d be unable to recognize their journey and the nature of their problem, and (consequently) create opportunities to grow your business while addressing their needs, and thus, doomed to fail.

Is UX the same as Branding?

The branding of your company must be derived from the insight of UX research. You shouldn’t be doing the branding and thereafter defining the user experience. Quit any company if they’re doing it as such; they’ll perish.

Using an analogy, branding is how you dress your product. If your product is mostly made for women, going for a super masculine look is a questionable strategy.

Do I have to be a graphic designer to be an UX’er?

Simply No. It’s nice to know that and be passionate about it. However, not knowing to create illustration or icons doesn’t make you less of an UX’er.

Do I have to know how to design Interfaces?

Yes and No.

Yes version:

As of now, UX’ers are expected to understand the mechanisms of today applications and know how to design for them. So if you get good at this, chances that you’ll be hired as an UX’er is a lot.

No version:

Many UX’ers I know rely only on pen and paper (or those of digital ones), and communication skills to excel at their job. Really. That simple. They mostly help organizations to calibrate their strategies which is the most important part of the UX design

However (here’s the but) a good number of them started as UI designers and built their path towards what they’re doing now. It took them a long while to build that credibility, so the client prefers to get their inputs on overall strategy and scope rather than ask them to design the UI.

Does UX relate to Growth Hacking?

Growth hacking is a term that I bumped into in 2015 by this book and later in 2017 by this one. When one’s hacking growth, they often refer to the 5 phases of Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, and Referral (AAARR).

This is a good model to follow because it sheds light on all the phases required to invest in to obtain sustainable growth. Only doubling down on increasing web traffic or sign up may lead to a phenomenon famous as “Leaky bucket/funnel” where users come in from one end and leave (asap) from somewhere in the process.

The leaky funnel occurs whether by oversight or lack of strategies for enhancing the user experience throughout their journey. Having an UX’er in the room in a growth hacking session improve the chances of addressing the user needs across the board.

More businesses are employing growth hacking mechanisms to scale their businesses and as an UX’er you want to understand the language and mechanisms of growth hacking.

You may ask how does an UX’er impact the growth hacking effort? this is a great question and itself worth to be discussed in a separate article. Highlight this session if you want me to write an article about it.

Okay, you’re onto something. However, I’m still not clear what does an UX’er do.

Let’s break it down. User Experience design is based on four pillars or 4Ss. STRATEGY —SCOPE —SKELETON — SURFACE. We continue pillar by pillar and break down the skills required for each. Lastly, we offer you further resources to delve deeper.

Each pillar in itself can be turned into a full-length article. For this article, we keep it short but let us know if you’re interested to know more about each.

Also, for the sake of simplicity, we assume the final output of our design endeavors is a digital application.

✔ STRATEGY

The strategy is about what-how-why of your company and product. To be precise…

1. What is it that we want to build?

i.e., in what form does the solution manifest itself? An app? Or a physical product? Or a hybrid? What technologies/mechanisms do we need/design for the product?

2. How does it work as to finances, logistics & resources, and product?

i.e. How does the business engine operate on a daily basis? —> Business model canvas

3. Why do we insist on building it?

i.e. What problems do we want to solve? Which group of people do get affected by them? What purpose do we pursue in building this enterprise? What’s our vision for the future?

Having concrete and validated answers for each of the questions above allows you to form a clear picture of the problem-solution space. To our opinion, the most crucial part of the design process.

UX influence on this pillar as of now?
In the past, we didn’t have the proper tools to be deemed “useful” for such conversations. After all, designers were seen as craftsmen in organizations that can do something specific no one else can — pushing pixels.

However, with the advent of design thinking, service design, and just recently, design sprint, we have now effective tools to contribute to the strategy side of a forming an enterprise. And it turns out we’re great at it.

Skills to excel at:

– Market Research & Competitor Analysis
– Design Thinking & Service Design
– Design Facilitation e.g., Design Sprint
– Clear Understanding of business model and Growth Formula
– User Persona & Customer Journey Mapping

Resources:

1. Whimsical (Digital tool)

[link]

This is my bread and butter. You can create flowcharts, wireframes, and mindmaps and digitalize the outputs of workshops. All in one. Magic.

2. Business model generation (Book)

[link]

This book breaks down the underlying mechanisms of running a business. It opens your eyes to many doors through which you can drive value for customers.

3. Hacking Growth (Book)

[link]

Each business is a scalable machine. You should understand the mechanisms by which it grows. This book helps you.

4. The lean startup (Book)

[link]

To grow, you should keep your enterprise lean and agile, also stay curious and close to your customers. How do you do that? Read this book.

5. Design thinking (Book)

[link]

Design thinking is a philosophy perfected by IDEO to tackle complex matters. This was a breakthrough in terms of how we approach problems and solve them. Off of this, several branches of methodologies came out. Some of which are Service Design Thinking and the other Design Sprint.

6. Service Design Thinking (Book)

[link]

Service design requires paying more attention to human interaction than that of product design. Human interaction is a major part of the service design. That’s why it makes it a complex endeavor given human interaction is erratic in essence.

This is a great book to get you started with breaking down a complex system and identify opportunities for value creation.

7. Design Sprint (Book)

[link]

As a follow up to Design Thinking, read this book, which teaches an effective method to leverage design thinking to solve problems. Design Sprint is a no BS and hands-on method well suited to the lean world of startups and today enterprises.

✔ SCOPE

From the STRATEGY phase, you formed a clear picture of your problem-solution space. You’d have some prototypes tested and evaluated. Hence you know what you want to build.

Now it’s time to scope it. Say what?
Well, it’s not possible to build the entire solution from the get-go. Resources and time always work against you. Then you want to break down the solution into versions and start with your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The Lean Startup and Hacking Growth books go in depth, breaking down what an MVP is.

UX influence on this pillar as of now?
I wouldn’t say so much. This particular task is at the hands of Product owners/Managers(PM) because they work directly with the tech team, which is at the other end of the tail, must build the solution. And PMs are the connectors sits in between business, design, and tech.

Skills to excel at:

– Product road mapping
– Versioning and prioritizing

Resources:

1. Atlassian Confluence (Digital tool)

[link]

This is great to capture the specification as to each version. And it’s deeply integrated with the following tool that allows you to create tickets for the tech

2. Atlassian Jira (Digital tool)

[link]

Jira allows you to create tickets and manage the production tempo. A must know tool for any PM.

3. Asana (Digital tool)

[link]

Our favorite tool. Less technical than Jira and allows you to be more flexible in managing the production speed and ticketing.

✔ SKELETON

When you have your roadmap panned out, then it’s about defining the skeleton of your application. This is where you get into Knitty and gritty of designing an application. From the specifications, we know we have to accommodate and design for a set of use cases.

You break down the app information architecture and all the modules it requires (Home, settings, and wishlist, each is a module). Then you mockup them in great details to cover all the use cases.

At this point, we usually go an extra mile and make it look like more of an interface and start with usability testing. The later you do usability testing, the harder it is to change things. At this point, we make sure the overall flows and functionality work, and then we pursue designing it in greater details.

Skills to excel at:

– Information Architecture
– Prototyping
– Layout design
– Usability testing

UX influence on this pillar as of now?
I’ve seen in some organizations that some PMs take care of this part also. There’s no hard line here. For your professional growth, this is completely your area to master and excel.

Resources:

1. Handbook of usability testing (Book)

[link]

Read how you conduct usability testing and interviews and user research. This must become your bread and butter.

2. Invision (Digital tool)

[link]

Fast way to prototype. Hooked to Sketch also. Ready to go.

3. Balsamiq (Digital tool)

[link]

Dirty prototyping and fast? That’s what you want.

4. Figma (Digital tool)

[link]

New but works perfectly. It’s a web-based app. You build your app and can test it right away. Increases your speed when prototyping.

✔ SURFACE

This is the bucket in which the majority of UI and UX designers are active. You paint the skeleton and make it human and communicative.

You need to have a complete understanding of today full spectrums of mediums on which applications manifest themselves including Web, TV, iOS, Android, Watch, gaming consoles, and IoT interfaces.

Besides that, you should have a solid understanding of human psychology i.e., how our minds work and how it interacts with and perceives external objects.

You need to be updated with trends both as to new products and fresh design trends. Today teams are heavily relying on design systems to build and maintain their interfaces. You should master the skills to develop design systems.

Skills to excel at:

– UI Design & Design system
– Copywriting
– Graphic Design

Resources:

1. Building a Story Brand (Book)

[link]

This book changed my perception of how I should communicate with users through the interface and website. I highly recommend it.

2. Sketch (Digital tool)

[link]

Everyone knows about Sketch. Not so much to add at this point. If you haven’t used it, you must start with it today.

3. Figma (Digital tool)

[link]

This much is a recent application comes already with so many advantages. It’s basically Sketch + InVision = Figma

It’s a web-based application. It offers the same functionality as Sketch does (somewhat lesser but overall OK) and allows me to quickly share what I designed with my client.

4. Adobe XD (Digital tool)

[link]

I haven’t used it so much however my colleagues keep telling me to do so. Seemingly a great alternative to Sketch. Proceed with caution.

5. 100 things every designer needs to know about people (book)

[link]

A great primer on UX 1.0. I have it on my desk at all time and when I’m bored I read a page or two. Learned so much already.

6. Design system

[link]

I was in the middle of a big project dealing with +500 screens. I organically came into the need for a design system and built one for myself. The book above is a good starting point for you to realize the importance of a design system in handling big projects. It makes your life way easier.

7. Product hunt

[link]

The fastest way to identify other competitors or similar products. I also use it to get inspired. For example, if I want to design an onboarding experience for an insurance platform, I may pull up the likes of Snapchat to see how they do it. Get inspired by different industries. Magic.

8. Dribbble

[link]

The best source to get inspired visually. But only visually. Designers on Dribbble tend to ride on a trend and keep designing for it. For example, for a while, every one designed media players or calendars or now everyone designs a trading dashboard. Don’t try to make sense of the entire design you see. Only pay attention to the surface level.

That’s it really. For now of course.

Funny GIF

Share your thoughts with me. I intend to make this a living peace and update it as the field of UX evolves.

Bombard me with your inputs and I make sure I address all your comments and concerns.

After all, I’m an UX’er.

If you’d like to deepen even more your knowledge about User Experience Design, we’ve got a workshop dedicated to the topic on the 29th of August over Berlin.

Customer Experience Design & Mapping | 1-day workshop | Berlin

About Bonanza

At Bonanza, we help a variety of clients coming from different industries. As you may suspect from the way we defined the field of UX in this article, our approach is different. We don’t like to BS our clients and we like to work with them from day 1 on where they can extract the most value for their customers and business.

Let’s get to work. Reach out to me directly on LinkedIn @ Behrad Mirafshar.