WHAT IS THE UX PROCESS?
First it’s important to define what User Experience (UX) is.
User Experience (UX) = what users think and how they feel about something.
UX Design = creating experiences that are useful, usable, satisfying and rewarding.
As a UX Designer I understand customers and deliver the best experience possible for them.
HOW DO WE GET THERE?
The answer is completely integrating User Experience into the development process, from the very beginning of a project all the way through to post-launch aftercare. Integrating UX after a project has started (or even worse, just prior to launch) will at best have a negative affect on the quality of the product, and at worst delay or even prevent its launch.
A PROCESS OF REPETITION & GROWTH
To me there is no such thing as a perfect or complete user experience–there is always room for improvement. Further, no world-class user experience has ever been perfect on its first (or fifth, or tenth…) try. On the contrary, those websites and applications that are the most satisfying are so as a result of countless rounds of feedback and reiteration. Pursuing the ever-allusive perfect experience, during the course of its development an experience must first be useful (have a purpose) and then be useable, followed finally by aesthetics. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the appearance of something may be, if it functions poorly, or functions correctly but doesn’t appeal to customers it won’t succeed.
So how does UX Design integrate into the development process? What do UX Designer do? Let’s review the specialized knowledge and skill sets a UX Designer brings to a project.
RESEARCH & PLANNING
One of the two phases of development where UX tends to be overlooked the most (the other is aftercare). Including user experience in your development plan will save you both time and money in the long run. Here, is an overview of some of the key processes, which I typically lead or am involved with, at this stage:
User & Stakeholder Interviews
Familiarizing yourself with everyone who will be both creating and using the product is the key to success. Interviews can take many forms (one-on-one, group discussions, lunch meetings, etc.), but regardless of their form it is important to do them–and in doing so gain a solid understanding of both the target market and the team you’ll be working with.
Involving UX this early in the process is essential, as through your UX Designer customers are given a voice from the beginning, and the team can help avoid any design ideas that may take the project off its rails later on.
Competitive Analysis & Heuristic Evaluations
Researching the competition (and if a product already exists, performing a Heuristic Evaluation) will not only provide insight into what does or doesn’t work, but help familiarize the development team with common design components that users are already familiar with.
Knowing the end user or the ultimate consumer, for whom the product is being created, is essential. Based on the data a UX Designer has researched from the stakeholders and users, Personas are a great way to establish a neutral point of reference that can help settle disputes, and that can be easily referenced throughout the project to ensure it’s on the right track.
With a strong understanding of your target market and the basics of what needs to be accomplished, it is now time to design the components of what your project will ultimately become.
While there are exceptions, as a general rule everything online should be designed for mobile first, considering it the primary source of user traffic.
Having thorough documentation that specs out the project will help avoid ambiguity, and flesh out any edge cases that may cause user frustration. This includes technical specifications
Sketches, Low & High Fidelity Wireframes
Starting with rough sketches I create basic user flows, high-level sitemaps and low fidelity wireframes. From there, I develop more granular, annotated high fidelity wireframes, which include interaction design.
I work in tandem with visual designers to first create rough, and then more refined mockups of each and every component and screen within a project. As with everything else in creating UX, this process is highly iterative. From experience, a UX Specialist and Visual Designer will typically conduct several rounds of revisions together before an acceptable solution is reached.
Due in no small part to advances in design software such as Adobe XD and Sketch, I also find that the line that separated ‘wireframes’ and ‘mockups’ has eroded to the point at which they’re mostly indistinguishable.
While in some cases mockups may be enough, with the proliferation of professional software that can easily create them I strongly recommend you create prototypes for as many features as possible.
IMPLEMENTATION & TESTING
Using specialized knowledge and experience I run repeated and variable testing to acquire accurate and actionable feedback. Knowing what type test to run and when, and how to create and conduct tests without bias are essential skill sets of a good UX Designer.
Internal & External Testing
Testing early, often, and throughout development will allow for key friction points to be discovered and addressed before they become an issue, as fixing them later would be too costly in terms of time or resources. Internal testing also helps discover new ways improve features in development. There are a number of different test types in my arsenal which I use to achieve different user experience goals.
While qualitative data is a strong way to assess user experience, it’s not enough by itself. Gathering quantitative data through analytics tools is another essential part of the UX process.
And yet a UX Designer, no matter how experienced, and even when part of the development process from the beginning, cannot alone create a world-class experience. They need help, and this is where organizational culture, teamwork, and understanding comes in.
RELEASE & FOLLOW-UP
In my opinion the second, equally most overlooked part of the UX process is what to do after a product is launched. While officially a project may be marked as ‘done’ when it has launched and any initial bugs are fixed, from a UX perspective it is this stage where the real development is just beginning.
Constantly gathering and monitoring data, live testing with customers, iterative releases, and the addition of new and improved features for the life a product are essential if you want it to succeed.
CULTURE & TEAMWORK
While all of the above are essential to successfully integrating UX, from experience the single most important role a UX Designer has is one that has not yet been mentioned.
I’m referring to being a patient, caring mentor–to listen to and understand your customers, your clients, and those who’ll you’ll be working with. For no matter how experienced, creative or intelligent a UX specialist is, and even if they’re part of the development process from the beginning, they alone cannot create an optimal user experience.
UX Designers need input from their clients and support from their team. Leading by example and gaining traction through results will lead to buy in. Moreover, education, persuasion and promoting positivity toward UX should be the day-to-day realities of a UX Designer in any workplace. Being in an environment that is averse to, or hostile toward UX is counter-productive and will result in experiences that are a fraction of what they could be. From experience the greatest achievements of my career are as a result of the collaboration of the ideas and efforts of those around me.
Thus a UX Designer must constantly be thinking about how they can empower others by educating and training them–and in turn the leaders of an organization need to support and make sure that UX Designers have a voice.