UX design for beginners

The ultimate UX toolkit 

 

Learning about user experience can often feel like a discovery. Because it’s an experience that can ignite a lot of passion, crossovers are often enthusiastic ambassadors for user experience. Crossovers can come from engineering, visual design, technical writing, and project management. While reading this, you’ll find a basic framework for diving into UX. The framework contains only four simple steps:

 

1. Get to know the UX toolkit.

2. Establish a point of view on what can be improved.

3. Get to know your users.

4. Start designing.

 

1. Get to know the UX toolkit

 

There’s no certified process that all UX practitioners follow, but here you’ll find a relatively standard set of activities that you can use too if you are wondering about getting into UX design. 

 

A quick tip: First of all start with an understanding of the full roster of options, though, and then think a bit about which ones seem most useful in the work that you’re doing!!!

Discovery: Figuring out where you stand and what you need to do so you can design products that meet the business’s needs.

Stakeholder Interviews: Spending time with key decision-makers to understand their expectations for the product, plus any other important considerations that you should be aware of.

SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis: Various methods for assessing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that impact the user experience of a product. First developed as a strategic planning tool, a number of UX techniques such as competitive review, content audits, and heuristic or expert reviews ultimately fall into this category.

Requirements Gathering: The process of working with business decision makers and others on the team to determine what must go in the product and, in some cases, how it must be implemented.

Strategy: Establishing a vision for the target user experience so you can design products that are coherent and unified.

Design Principles: A small handful of characteristics that collectively embody how the product design should be experienced by users.

Vision Artifacts: Diagrams, schematics, storyboards, or vision movies that convey the essence of the user experience and give a taste of how a person might experience a product that follows this strategy in the context of their normal lives. 

Roadmaps: An analysis of what needs to be built first, next, and last in order to deliver on the target experience.

User Research: Learning as much as you can about who your users are and what motivates them so that you can design products that meet their needs.

Primary User Research: Various methods for learning from users firsthand. Could include field research, diary studies, surveys, and other forms of guerilla research.

Secondary User Research: Reviewing an aggregation of third-party research that has been conducted into this user population. Could include publicly available research or research that’s been conducted by other parts of the organization. (Marketing segmentation is one of the most useful forms of secondary user research for UX professionals to review, so if your organization has done segmentation work, definitely start there.)

Personas, Mental Models, and User Stories: Documents that synthesize what you’ve learned about users through primary and secondary research and distill the key points into a handful of memorable profiles, with supporting diagrams and stories for how the product should fit into their lives.

Design: Envisioning and specifying how a user will encounter a product or service from moment to moment in the most fluid, intuitive, and enjoyable way possible.

Information Architecture/Site Map: Documentation of how the system is organized, including major groupings, categories, or sections, as well as other pertinent information structures such as search capabilities, taxonomies, tags, or other forms of metadata. 

Process and Task Diagrams: Models for how users will interact with the system step-by-step, and how the system will adapt or respond based on what the user does.

Wireframes: Schematic diagrams of each page or state in the system. Usually, this means each screen in the user interface.

Design Comps: Detailed visual designs for each page or state in the system. If wireframes show a screen at a schematic level, design comps show a page exactly as it should look when implemented, including visuals such as color palettes, photography, typography, and other graphical elements.

Detailed Specifications: Extremely detailed documentation of how the system should function. Detailed specifications include things like how the product adapts in response to user interactions like clicks, swipes, and keystrokes. It also includes how to handle error conditions, and how the system adapts andevolves in response to various system and user states (for example, signed in vs. signed out, first-time visiting vs. repeat visits, and so on).

Style and Pattern Guides: Documentation of standard conventions for repeatable patterns. For style guides, this could be standard conventions for visual design or content. For pattern guides, this could be standard interaction conventions.

Prototypes: Functioning or semi-functioning examples of how the design should behave and operate once implemented.”

Implementation: Ensuring that the design works for users and that it is implemented according to plan.

Usability Testing: Various methods for assessing whether and how easily people can use the design to accomplish anticipated tasks.

Implementation Oversight: Sustained involvement between user experience designers and the engineering team to address additional UX questions as they come up and ensure that the design is implemented as planned.

Metrics/Analytics Tracking: Ongoing monitoring of key usage data to determine how people are using the product or service and to identify opportunities for future improvement or enhancement.

One way to get clear on the boundaries of your work is to create a one-page summary of what services you provide—and, by implication, what services you don’t. Think of it as an offering card: a clear, one-page artifact that clarifies the range of activities you are responsible for. 

 

2. Establish a point of view on what can be improved

 

Before you get started, it’s a good idea to have a clear picture of what work needs to be done and how you can best contribute to it. 

 

Make a genuine plan. If you want to get people to buy into the concept of UX, you’ve got to be offering them something of value. How do you do it? Sit down and sketch out how you’d like to approach a UX project. Think about what activities you’d propose—when and why. Think about what big questions you believe need to be answered, and work your way backward in thinking through how you’d answer them. Write a “UX Project Plan” to make it clear in your own mind.

 

3. Get to know your users

 

Once you’ve identified some opportunities and developed a promising plan, your next priority should be to get firsthand experience with users, talking with them and learning about their needs. Users are at the core of user experience. Simply put, they are the people who use your products. It’s important to keep these people in mind when designing products because they’re the ones who will endure firsthand the consequences of myriad design decisions.

 

Good products eventually become somewhat invisible, sinking into the background as users achieve a kind of flow where they’re actively and fluidly doing whatever the product is supposed to make possible. Not “posting to a wall,” but responding to a friend. Not “formatting a Word document,” but writing. It’s also darned hard to accomplish. In fact, you’re virtually guaranteed to get some of it wrong—especially at first—which is why the field of user experience places a big emphasis on understanding user needs and testing the design of products with users. This emphasis on connecting with users is so essential that it’s one of the core tenets of user experience: design products for and with users.

So it’s very important to start reaching out and talking to your actual users. Here’s how to do it:

Figure out what you know (and what you don’t): Learn how to gather available user data and use it as a tool to guide your work. Specifically, you can use the “Proto-Personas” method to turn users into people.

Do guerilla research: Even if you can’t get formal support to do it, there are a host of lightweight ways to connect with and put designs in front of actual users. 

You can read more about the optimal number of user “exposure hours” here.

 

 

 

4. Start designing

 

It’s a funny fact of user experience work that people expect that you’re going to produce designs that are just undeniably better. Lovelier. Simpler. More intuitive. You know, better. And you certainly don’t want to disappoint them. The challenge is that many of us come to this field by other routes, and don’t have formal design backgrounds. As a result, it’s not uncommon for a team of one to find himself or herself in a position of defending a design without necessarily believing or knowing with 100 percent conviction that it is, in fact, a better design. The challenge for user experience professionals is to understand user needs well enough to look past the prosaic solutions to discover the elegant ones.

 

In fact, for many of us, our first taste of design is through a software tool that makes laying out a page easy, but doesn’t necessarily teach us anything about how people encounter and make sense of features and information in an interactive medium. While it’s tempting to throw yourself into the software and get lost in the satisfying process of laying out a page, that’s not necessarily the best way to ensure that designs are being developed that successfully balance user expectations, business expectations, and team expectations. This is where many of the tools of classically trained designers can come in handy for UX folks—in particular, sketching, critique, iterative improvement, and seeking inspiration from the world around you. Here’s how you can bring these techniques into your work as a team of one:

 

Sketch your ideas: The simplest and most beautiful designs are seldom born that way. It takes a lot of work to make something simple. That process often starts with sketches and back-of-the-napkin inspiration and evolves over time as you iterate, refine, and mold your ideas into increasingly higher fidelity. 

 

Enlist colleagues to generate design ideas: Host activities that invite others to participate in the design process. Try a collaboration between a UX team of one and her team should look like: lots of sketches and visual artifacts, and lots of notes as a record of the conversation.

 

Learn from other successful products: Create inspiration libraries to keep abreast of current standards and have a place to turn for multiple ideas when working on a new problem. But also question things. Spend time asking yourself “What makes a particular design work?” Equally importantly, when something doesn’t work, see if you can pinpoint why. You might even go so far as to practice verbalizing these thoughts (either to a friend or to your mirror, if you’d prefer). Being confident in the language of critique is one hallmark of a strong designer, and it goes a long way in helping non-designers understand objectively what works and what doesn’t in an otherwise subjective medium.

 

Source: Leah Buley, The User Experience team of one, A research and design survival guide.

 

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