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Thoughts on UX Design

 I am hesitant to brand myself as UX Designer, Web Designer, Graphic Designer or even redneck designer. I really don’t want to paint myself into a corner and fit into any box. I like the diversity of wearing many hats and being a “creative professional, who practices UX Design” seems to be a better title (doubt it would fit on business card though).

UX Design or User Experience Design can mean a lot of different things, and it seems everyone will give you a different definition. I like how the Nielsen and Norman group define “User Experience”.

“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

What is a UX designer?

A UX designer uses a set process for researching what the users actually want and need. UX is strategic communication, I believe it’s about building relationships with people through design.

The set process of UX design that I follow involves 4 steps that are cyclic. The first 2 steps are where i spend the most time building a relationship with the client. Obliviously, defining the project constraints and obstacles (time, budget, etc.) will determine the actual tactics and time we will use in each step. Here’s my “Cliff Notes” on the process that I adhere to…

  1. Discover
    The listening phase. Getting to know the company, services, products, customers and defining a strategic objective and setting the design boundaries and guidelines. Asking more questions than a nosy neighbor because what you don’t know, can hurt you. So it’s imperative to get as much information as possible up front to define a clear, concise objective based on the information. After we gather our information we should then:

    • Define the objective and strategy
    • Outline the steps to be accomplished.
    • Define the required tactics, including budget and team.
    • Preparing a schedule.
  2. Design
    This is where we start pulling in the information, I use a pencil and paper, (lots of paper) during this stage. We will set our primary objective(s), developing persona’s, flushing out ideas, determining cliche’s and the obvious design choices. Prototyping, Wire-framing and user flow. I like to develop high fidelity concepts for ever page and interaction and start the style guide at this point.
    Sharing the style guide and concepts with all the stakeholders should reduce and surprises.
  3. Development
    Bringing it all together, following the Style Guide and using a Content Matrix and Content Deck makes this stage come together quick, but always watch for deviations or bottlenecks. Identify any weak links and beat them unmercifully, just kidding.
  4. Deployment
    Launching the final site, analytics and split testing. I am a big believer in A/B split testing and believe if your site isn’t getting better it’s at best stagnant. Using the data we gather from the split testing and our analytics we go back to the discovery phase.

Great UX, Graphic, Web or whatever design shouldn’t be focused on a single destination, but the entire journey covering all aspects of the brand and user. Great design is relationship building design.

Quick, Down and Dirty UX

Sometimes I’m lucky and I’ll have a nice design brief, sometimes I have to wing it. Whether it’s the budget, the time, size of the project or the perceived value. At times there just isn’t a way to go through the 4 stages of UX design, sometimes we just need to get stuff done. The most important aspects of any strategic communication is defining the primary objective and target audience.

After I’ve went through a Brand Discovery Process (defining the brand that I’m designing for) and SWOT Analysis (and hopefully built a good relationship with my client). I’ll need to know what is the primary purpose of this project? Can we define a clear and concise objective?
Getting to 1 concise objective is awesome but, if we have multiple stakeholders it may not be possible. If you can’t get 1 try to rank the objectives. It’s always better to have fewer objectives. Remember in trying to say everything, we say nothing… choice kills design and user flow.

Who is the primary audience?
After I have my goals defined, I’ll develop proto-personas and design for them. 1 or 2 proto-personas based on any research that I might have, helps a redneck like me become more empathetic. What is their age, location, job, education, and life stage? Design for these people.

After we’ve defined the primary objective and our target audience. Now we design for the user, what they need to see and hear. Successful communication is strategic communication and in UX design we will focus on where the business goals and the user’s goals converge. Depending on the size of the project I’ll jump right in to the wire-frames, user flows and prototypes. Early prototypes shared with the stakeholders early on will help prevent any confusion, project creep and unnecessary time.