Anatomy of a UX Designer

26/01/2011

My education as a visual designer was influenced by popular culture and a passion for visual languages expressed through composition, typography, colour and various other visual perceptions. But, just doing something that is nicely designed is not enough, that’s where ‘’user experience’’ (UX) comes in, to get to the core of visual language and communicating with people.

UX sketch

The term UX refers to a concept that places the end user at the focal point of design and development efforts, as opposed to the system, its applications or its aesthetic value alone. It’s based on the general concept of user centred design and there are many facets that encompass what we do at Technophobia to achieve UX excellence through design for the web.  This is just my overview.

Strong UX thinking is founded on observed user behaviour. We are basically the intermediary between a client and their users, but our strength is that we have to be good listeners.Getting answers from using UX design for the web is about listening to any problems, developing solutions, adjusting them and then guiding users to an end goal.

I see UX as combining design with cognitive psychology. We sculpt around the complexity of other peoples’ preferences and knowledge as well as the ever expanding digital existence in peoples’ lives.

UX has a process and stages that are fluid within each other. There is no definitive list or order in which UX should be done; it is subjective depending on the needs of the project. Professional UX designers recognise which elements of UX are needed to fulfil a project and these can be dictated by budget, or the needs of a client and its users. User centred design is an iterative cycle where every step is evaluated against the original goals and requirements and refined until those requirements are met and then exceeded.

Essentially we at Technophobia are all architects of a User Experience for our clients, one machine that meets the goals of a client and the users that interact with the client and its products. Each dependent on each other to conceive, refine and then deliver a solution that makes “something” better.

There are many job titles for people who shape a user experience, UX designer, information architect, user interface designer or usability tester. Here at Technophobia I like to think we have an all encompassing role incorporating all aspects of user-centered design: information architecture, user-centered design, user testing, visual design and interaction design. We balance the usability principles and organisation of information by an Information Architect with the creative outlook and brand experience of a Visual Designer.

UX is not just an analysis and solution of the present though, it is the beginning of an organism and a way of thinking that incorporates and considers an organisation’s possible, probable and preferable needs of the future.  The incremental process of UX goals, usability, user needs and prototypes etc make this forward thinking way of working possible.

As UX designers, designing for experiences is fundamentally about people, their activities and the context of those activities. Even with the most complex needs of an application/website/product we basically try to design “common sense”. Users want to find it, use it, and move on. I like to think of it like a good Referee in a football game, when he’s good you don’t see him, the game flows and hopefully it’s a good game. The best experience is invisible, making decision making natural.

Communicating the benefits of UX

I believe that many businesses have now come to recognise that providing a quality UX is essential for sustainable competitive advantage. It is UX that forms the customer’s impression of a company’s offerings, it is UX that differentiates a company from its competitors, and it is UX that determines whether your customer will ever come back.

Occasionally it can be difficult to explain the benefits of UX to clients, it’s an alien term to many people outside the industry and some clients I have spoken to have been initially unsure of exactly what we mean.

So what to do? I’ve read that dropping the UX vernacular is a good thing, but I worry about dumming down too much. I think combining “UX Speak” with a focus on the clients business needs is the way. Using presentation diagrams that illustrate this engages the client and encourages a collaborative process.  We can and should treat the elements of stakeholder and client communication as a kind of user experience in itself.

There are many points I’ve missed that I think need further consideration but this is why I love UX. Sketchpads, simple illustrations, low fidelity means for collaborating. Analysing problems with speed and thought that hopefully will make the client understand the tangible results that come from a UX process.

2 responses to “Anatomy of a UX Designer”

  1. Kevin Rapley

    January 28 2011 - 13:09PM

    Excellent post Chris. User Experience Design is definitely a multi-faceted discipline that handles design, psychology, structuring information, problem solving and understanding of user needs, including the technology they use and their personal circumstances. It is necessary to have understanding of all these areas, but what makes our UX team special at TechnoPhobia is that we each have our own areas that we deeply understand. As a whole, we are able to solve complex problems that are usable and accessible.

  2. Ed Goring

    January 31 2011 - 09:52AM

    Can't believe I missed this blog (well actually I can but I'll move on)!

    Very nicely framed expose into the mind of an IA.

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