UX Design: Full Guide for Newbies

There can be no two ways about it – the user experience (UX) is one of the most important things not just online but anywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s a playground, a yogurt or a web page. If the user experience is poor then the product is poor. Therefore, you’ve got to focus on it. You’ve got to work on it. And (mentioned last though it should probably have come first) you’ve got to understand it. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Not how to improve the yogurt or playgrounds, – but how to improve a website.

What is UX design?

UX design is the process of enhancing the satisfaction of the user by boosting how accessible and usable a website is. In the way, that you increase people’s enjoyment of your site and decrease the hang-ups, frustrations that might hinder their experience. When we’re talking about UX design, in this case, we’re talking about the engagement between the user and the computer. So, what we mean is that when you’ve got great UX design, the interaction between a user and computer is as smooth and as easy as possible. Good UX design means that people are hardly aware that they’re using a gadget, a tablet, a laptop or a desktop. Bad UX design, on the other hand, means that the user never manages to forget that he’s holding a dumb tool without empathy or understanding.

What does UX design consist of?

There are several elements to UX design. These include visual design, the information architecture, Interaction design, and usability. Let’s look at each of those in turn. Visual design is pretty self-explanatory. It’s what your product looks like. The good visual design looks well put together, does not jar the eye and has the pieces where users expect them to do. Poor user design can have many different problems. It might hurt the eyes, it might be confusing, or it might not have the pieces that people are looking for in the right place, to name but a few examples. The Information Architecture, in the meantime, is all about usability and findability. With that, I mean that links point in the right directions and parts are nested into other parts as a user expects them to be. This means that you make certain that things are named as people expect them (so it’s called a ‘menu’ and not a ‘list’ for example). It also means that those parts that people use the most often are the closest to the top, while those things they’re less likely to use are tucked further away. It doesn’t end there, either. What also matters is how much experience the user has. The less experience the user has when looking for a faculty or option, the easier it has to be to find, while more advanced users will be able to look further down in your hierarchy. Of course, that doesn’t matter if what you’ve designed doesn’t follow convention, as ‘experience’ in this case means ‘knowing how it’s traditionally done’. Interaction design, in the meantime, refers to whether what a person expects actually happens. This can take a huge amount of research to get right and often means that as a page is designed and people use it, you continue to tweak the experience so that it more closely fits with their expectations. For example, people have come to expect that if you move a mouse over something, it will change color, making it clear that that element is responsive and can be clicked on. If this does not happen (if, in other words, you’ve got a static design) then users will have a less enjoyable user experience as they won’t know what they can and can’t click. Usability is, in effect, the culmination of all these elements. The better the visual design, the information architecture, and the interaction design, the greater the usability is for the user and the greater the usability, the greater the overall user experience. Note that great usability means that you’ve got a shallow and short learning curve, while poor usability means its steep and most people will give up long before they actually achieve what they want.

So what does a UX designer actually do?

Well quite a few things, but the first thing they will often deliver is what is called a ‘wireframe’. No, this is not like one of those high school projects where you’re building a house out of wire. Instead, what it means it that you roughly sketch out what a page will look like and where what link will lead. It can be done on paper. The idea is that it gives you a basic idea of a webpage and it’s functionality long before any code has been drawn up. This means that elements can still be easily tweaked and ideas can easily be implemented, without wasting the time and efforts of the coding team. Another aspect that a UX designer plays an important role in putting users in front of a computer and seeing how they actually experience a product. This will give much more insight than simply buying into content marketing myths about what they do. There are a lot of ways to see how a user uses a product. Obviously, you can actually physically bring a user in and let them use a product, while you look what they do and take notes. You don’t have to do it that way nowadays, however. You can, for example, track people’s movements from a distance through such apps as inspectlet. This information is then used to make the users experience better, as you iron out problems and difficulties that people have. Finally, they will use what they know about the different users that use their product to create personas so that they can specifically modify a product so that it serves that user as best it can. The important point here is to come to understand how a person might use a product in their lives (will they use it in the car or on a bicycle? Will they use it at home or with their kids?), so that it is best optimized for that moment.

Final words

As you hopefully have come to understand UX design is not just another buzz word that people are using instead of using the good old ‘programmer’. A UX designer certainly has to deal with programming elements, but they are much more than that. They exist on the cusp of the user and the machine and they work to make the interaction between those two utterly different entities as smooth and as easy as possible. The better they are at doing that, the less you’ll notice they exist and the less you realize how important they are. In fact, if you have to think about them, then something has probably gone very wrong and they haven’t done their job correctly. In that way, they’re like janitors. In the years to come, no doubt they’ll become even more important than they are today until it’s something mentioned by children along with wanting to be a princess and a cowboy. Until that time, I hope that this guide has given you some good insight into what UX design is, so that you can decide if it’s a real option for you – or at least explain it to somebody at a party.
Nicole Boyer is a freelance web designer, art appreciator, and contributing blogger for several websites. She is tech-savvy and devoted to making this world a better place.