Last week I had a Skype conversation with some fellow UX professionals about the essence of User Experience Design. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of the discussion focused on why so many practitioners and companies have a misconception of our activities. Their dilemma is simply this: What exactly UX Designers do?
The quick answer would be to add value to your product. But that, although correct, is a bit intangible and therefore difficult to understand. Let me try to simplify it.
Most projects, like designing a physical product, website or app, are attempts to solve problems. This is, of course, the essence of most design. And there are numerous ways to solve problems. So what makes UX designers unique? Quite simply, we look up for the least intrusive way possible to solve any given problem. A good solution not only solves the problem, it also lowers the burdens of external factors, letting people concentrate on their personal objectives.
However the techniques we use to get our results – user testing, customer-journey mapping, wireframes etc. – are not traditional design tools. And the confusion results because we are applying often unfamiliar tools to provide intangible value.
In my opinion UX design has three main phases: understanding, hypothesis, and testing.
In understanding, you grasp the essence of your problem. What exactly is the problem? Who are your users? How do they deal with the problem? There are many techniques for that like personas, document analysis, and others.
During the hypothesis phase, you develop your solution to the problem. This solution often functions as a metaphor of how users already solve the problem. Mockups, prototypes, and other visual tools can be used to express ideas.
The testing phase is when we take hypothesis out for a ride in the real world. We work with actual users to test our hypothesis. And we have many tools, such as A/B testing, to turn our qualitative work in to quantitative data. With that, we can finally turn our hypothesis into a real and tangible product.
UX designers, like all people, come in all kinds of flavors. And this is why we use different techniques throughout our design process. But remember, the techniques you use aren’t the objective of your project, the solution of the problem in the less intrusive way is.
The deliverables – hi fi prototypes, personas, and all those other cool stuff that makes you sound smart at a party – is the body of the UX project. They embody the meaning, expectations, and understanding of the user’s problem, which are the heart and sould of your design.
User experience designers are guardians of the user’s needs and goals, they turn great ideas into reality, by tapping into that collective unconsciousness, turning the users into allies, and those allies can turn the tide of the raging battle that our world economy is right now.
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