Basics of User Experience Design

User experience design is the practice of creating an interface with the user in mind first and foremost. UX designers conduct research to discover how users interact with a product and how that experience can be improved, then propose interface designs based on what they’ve learned. Unlike user interface design, UX is focused on how an interface will work, not how it will look. It can have a big impact on how users perceive a product’s value, utility and efficiency.

Although the concept of UX design has been around for some time, many companies were slow to invest in it. That’s changed with the adoption of mobile devices, with their limited screen sizes and on-the-go usage. In that environment, a strong user experience is particularly critical, and so demand for workers with UX skills has soared.

The Process

The first stage of the UX design process is research. UX designers need a thorough understanding of a project’s requirements, the specific problems it’s trying to solve, and who its users will be. To gain that information, the designers they may meet with stakeholders, conduct interviews with users and perform other research.

After that initial round of information-gathering is complete, UX designers begin sketching ideas. Usually they’ll start with rough paper sketches as they search for a design that’s worth refining. This stage is focused solely on ideas, not deliverables, and may involve many iterations before the decision is narrowed down. The chosen designs are then converted into wireframes and prototypes, and brought to stakeholders to review.

Once the design stage is complete, the project moves into implementation and testing. Exactly how these phases are approached can vary. Some companies may implement a single design right away, while others may build several approaches so that they can compare one’s performance against another’s. Either way, user testing is critical. Depending on the results of the tests, the design will be accepted or require revision.

Required Skills

UX designers should have an understanding of usability protocols, experience constructing screen flows, prototypes and wireframes, and practice conducting research and user testing. They often work with interdisciplinary teams and may interface directly with users, so strong communication skills are a must.

In addition, UX designers should be comfortable with design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and Flash, and comfortable programming in HTML, CSS, JavaScript and jQuery. Some positions may require experience with Silverlight, Ajax, Cocoa, XML, Python, Lua, JavaFX and JavaTV. Knowledge of Balsamiq Mockups or Axure RP can be useful for designing interactive mockups (in place of wireframes) without needing to write code.

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