User experience design, or UX design as it’s more commonly known, is about producing the most optimal experience for the users of your website. But it’s not just about making your website aesthetically pleasing, it’s about having empathy for your users and making the site easy to use. In a nutshell, user experience is about problem solving and how the user feels when using a product or website. The secret to creating a great user experience is to not make your users think too much about what they are doing; this idea should come naturally to them.
So, what makes a great UX designer? Here are some of the things I recommend taking into consideration when working as a UX professional:
1) Know your user
One of the most important skill you can have is knowing your user, this is where empathy is key. User-centered design is about how to design for your users’ goals. By finding out as much as possible about their needs, you’ll be designing a product that will give them the best user experience. Creating personas are a great way to begin to understand your users a little more. Grouping your basic user types based on what they intend to do on your site, provides you with useful insight around why your users will visit your site, and what their intentions are.
2) User research
User research is really the only true way to understand how your user thinks. By thoroughly researching our users, we can better understand their behavior and motivations. Without knowing this information, it can be difficult to design the best experience.
A good UX designer will always seek to understand how users are interacting and engaging with their product. One of the key elements here is to have the ability to ask questions and feedback from your users, listen to it and act on it. Usability testing is a simple process for this, even just sitting with a user and asking them to navigate through your website while they talk you through their thoughts can be highly effective in discovering potential problems, which leads to my next point…
3) Test your product
Usability testing is a fundamental component of any user experience project. It’s also one of the best ways to gain real insight into how your users will engage with your website or product. Ideas should be tested as early on in your project process as possible, this way you can develop features based on real evidence from users, instead of your own assumptions.
A/B testing (also known as split testing) is a reliable and common way to discover your user’s preferences. It’s also one of the most popular methods in helping to increase conversion rates. There are a number of online editors that make it easy for you to conduct these tests, this Mashable post has a good list.
Using web analytics tools is another way you can measure the statistics of live websites, Google analytics is most known for this. Remember, your website will only be as good as your user data tells you, and you can’t argue with that type of data.
4) Create a project process
By following a process, you will be able to manage your time and tasks more easily. My own simple workflow looks like this: Research, Design, Test, Implement. As I’ve discussed above, user research is vital to your product and should be the starting point on any UX project. Design covers a number of elements including user-flow journeys, wire-framing, prototyping and final visual designs; all of these contribute to the user experience.
Testing is a process that should be carried out throughout the project timeframe, it’s much easier and quicker to discover and solve issues early on in the project for example before your website is built. Finally, implementation, this is where your designs are brought to life, in my case this is by a team of developers who I work closely with to hand over the designs and ensure all of the site goals and functionality are met.
5) Find the right UX Tools
Knowledge is power, and practical UX experience alone won’t get you far unless you can find the right tools to work with. Build yourself a collection of resources that will help you create user-journeys, wireframes, prototypes and visual mock-ups. My top tool of choice when getting started on a project is the good old fashioned pencil and paper. Sketching out basic wireframes or user-journeys on a pad is, for me, one of the best ways to conceptualize initial designs.
Two more of my go-to tools are Photoshop and Illustrator, both are great for making basic wireframes or more elaborate visuals. Gliffy, Mockflow and UXPin are all good online resources for building wireframes and interface designs, and Marvel and Invisionapp are ideal for creating clickable prototypes of your design. I recommend trying a few different tools and seeing what works for you, you’ll also find that different projects require different needs and I often switch between tools depending on what I need to achieve.
6) Be open-minded
As a UX designer you need to be able to work together with many different groups of people; from developers, project managers and other designers to major stake-holders of a company. Often these groups of people can have conflicting ideas and opinions. You need to be able to successfully communicate your ideas and designs without becoming too attached to them. You can’t afford to become defensive about your work, remember you are designing for the user, not yourself and problems are often solved much easier when approached in a collaborative manner. Good UX designers are great at problem solving and overcoming challenges, and when user feedback or user data suggests possible problems with a website, you need to be able to adapt your designs accordingly.
7) Understand code
Understanding how a website is built has been highly valuable to me in my UX career. Not only does it help me create better websites, it helps me to interact more easily with developers. Having a basic grasp on HTML and CSS will help you understand how websites and online features are built.
UX designers will not typically get involved in programming or developing a website, however, knowing a little bit about the code behind it will help you to create more achievable designs. All of your UX work will be built using code in the end, therefore a bit of knowledge about how the end product is built will always help you at the start of your project journey.
8) Create an online portfolio
Having your own website is WordPress and Squarespace have made this task very easy. When creating your online portfolio, don’t forget to show more than just your end designs, potential employers or freelance clients will often want to see evidence of how you arrived at your ideas.
Show your thinking behind your projects; include user journeys, wireframes and sketches along with the finished visual product. Explain the initial brief and how you came up with the solution. If you came across obstacles in the journey, mention these too. UX projects will not always flow seamlessly from start to finish each time, showing that you are able to tackle setbacks will reveal your notable abilities as a UX professional.
9) Find a mentor
Having a mentor is one of the best ways to supplement your UX knowledge and training. Whether you’re a junior level designer hoping to learn or just simply looking to expand on your UX education, look to other UX people for inspiration. Reach out and spend time talking with other designers, show them what you’re working on, ask for feedback, and ask about their own projects. You could even turn to social networking by reaching out and connecting with other UX designers online, Twitter and Dribbble are good mediums for this. Dribbble in particular can be a good platform for asking for feedback and advice on your ongoing projects.
10) Become a self-learner
The exciting thing about UX design is that it is constantly evolving. There are always new trends to follow and new tools to discover and learn. Improving your own skills and knowledge is key for creative progression. By keeping yourself up to date with the latest design technology and techniques, you’ll essentially be keeping yourself ahead of the game. There is a wealth of free online resources to help you do this. Take time out regularly to read through recent design news, blogs, tutorials or e-books. UX webinars are also another great source of information and ideas.
Being a UX designer is not just about producing visually attractive aesthetics, it’s about reacting to user’s problems and finding them the best solution. There are many steps you can make to become a great UX designer, and these tips by no means cover everything. However, the skills above are based on what I have learned and picked up throughout the years, and are essential in helping me produce and design effective and useful products.