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What is User Experience Design?

A positive user experience will ensure your customers keep coming back.

UX Designers Working on Digital Products

Every feature or element of your product — whether you designed it that way or not — impacts user experience (UX) and how users think about your brand. Good news is: you can control and influence this experience.

What is UX design?

User experience design (also known as UX design), is the process design teams use to actively shape users’ emotions as they interact with a digital process, product, or service. It focuses on making an experience as easy, smooth, and enjoyable as possible. In turn, helping users get to a desired action in the most intuitive, efficient, and relevant way.

The UX design process involves constant iteration as user experience designers (UX designers) use user research and data to learn how people perceive and interact with a product. They then use that information to continuously refine and improve the product’s experience as it develops. Even though UX may, to some, simply be a layer of design, it really is the mediator between what you offer and the consumer.

In the words of UX expert Don Norman:

“No product is an island. A product is more than the product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service – from initial intentions through final reflections, from first usage to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly.”
Don Norman
inventor of the term “User Experience” (Nielsen Norman Group) coined the term in the 1990s.

Why is UX design important?

As we know from our own experiences, how a user feels when navigating a website or service is as important as their consideration of the brand, company, and information. People shouldn't have to struggle and wrestle with your product to get to a desired goal. Instead, they should enjoy interacting and engaging with you. UX design makes that possible.

Because UX designers are dedicated to having a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and their limitations, they are in the best position to create a user-friendly digital experience that brings value, including:

  • Understanding problems = Designing solutions isn’t possible without understanding pain points we need to solve. By observing how users interact, you will become more aware of specific user behaviors that do or do not meet your product’s goals.

  • Increased engagement = When a user is unable to get from point A to point B on a website or mobile app with ease, they leave. We've all been there at least once, where we rarely return. UX design is all about catering to this ease, which means you can expect increased engagement with your product, more returning users, and a decreased number of users abandoning out of frustration.

  • Increased revenue = A product’s or service’s sales increase when it satisfies users. UX design helps increase organic engagement as it tailors to user’s individualized experiences, which most often impacts conversion rate.

  • Reduced development time and costs = You can save money by rapidly testing product or design concepts to validate them before committing to time-consuming coding. There is no such thing as failure, as long as we learn from our mistakes. Once you test, get feedback, and enhance your design concepts, you can release the improved product -- saving everyone time, pain, and constant rework.

  • Competitive differentiation = UX design gets laser-focused on your users and your users only, helping you become more tailored and concentrated on maximizing the quality of relationships with your target audience.

What does a UX designer do?

A UX designer's primary role is to understand users' needs and expectations, and advocate for those users throughout the design process. A good UX designer is able to balance advocacy for users and a company's business goals, and steer the design of a product in a way that accounts for both.

Their role and skill sets span many fields, from interaction design, information architecture, visual design, usability, accessibility, and human-computer interaction. Regardless of the field, the foundation of their work remains the same.

A UX designer’s process is not linear and requires teamwork and constant collaboration with researchers, UI designers, and developers. In this process, they strategize a plan to build changes or new features that better engage users. This planning can include the creation of design strategy, frameworks, wireframes, interactive prototypes, flow charts, site maps, and usability reports to help bridge the gap between how a product looks and what that product delivers.

Working in partnership with UI designers

User interface design (UI design) is usually a part of the UX design process that focuses on the visual look of a product. UI and UX design are often confused as the same thing, but they are different: UI design more narrowly considers the visuals and aesthetics of the interface users see, whereas UX is a broader process of identifying and solving user problems.

The UI designer’s role is to construct visual components, including graphic design, icons, color scheme, branding, and typography vital to building a positive and productive user experience. UX designers then design the functions behind these visuals — where aesthetics meets the data, and where and why the end-user navigates through your product or service.

The UX design process

The Highland UX design team builds a successful user journey by first determining how best to assess a user’s needs and then, deciphering how to follow the user's interactions as they progress through your product.

At the heart of every project, we include the following steps:

1. Data collection

UX designers are problem solvers. To do their job, they must first understand underlying problems. At Highland, we partner with our research team to collect qualitative and quantitative data through ethnographies, contextual analysis, usability testing, UX research, shadowing, and more. In addition to user feedback, we do our own digging to uncover deeply hidden issues to make sure we establish a solid start for design. This first step is vitally important to the overall success of the UX process.

2. User segments

Next, the Highland team of UX professionals creates user segments to represent each key user group. User segments are designed to reflect the types of users that spend the most time with your product — by extension, these can be customers or prospective customers. A segment provides information about who is likely to use your product, what their focused, common needs, and objectives are, and why they’re engaging with you. These are different from user personas which often focus on demographic characteristics.

3. User flows

From a segment, the design team maps out what user journeys look like as these segments move through your digital product or service. These user flows act as a sort of notebook or scaffolding for the product design and illustrate a malleable guide from the development stage to the final product. They show us, functionally, what steps a user takes as they interact with your product: How does your product fit into the user’s life? When is value delivered? When and how is it derived? How does the user feel as they engage with it?

Once understood, the Highland team prioritizes critical components to design and deliver first — guiding direction for an MVP that’s data-driven and aesthetically engaging.

4. Wireframing

The Highland design team uses user and team-generated data to start conceptualizing the product. We use sketching, whiteboard flowcharts, and wireframing to share and communicate ideas. This includes components that need to be ingrained versus those that are nice to have.

These act as a sort of notebook or scaffolding for the product design and illustrate a malleable guide from the development stage to the final product. Though wireframing rarely includes any user-testing of product experience or product development, it’s a vital component in shaping design-thinking strategies at initial stages, and collecting feedback across stakeholders, users, and team members.

5. Prototyping

Based on these meetings, Highland creates mockups or prototypes of the finished product. A prototype is an interactive wireframe and is a scaled-down version of the final product. These may be as simple, low-fidelity as a constructed paper model or as high-fidelity as a working product. They don’t have full functionality, but they look and get the feel across so we can start testing user interactions with new design concepts.

Our software engineers and product development team get involved early in the design process, because they make the product execute its tasks. Ongoing communication and collaboration across our teams aid in our work to launch successful products.

6. User testing

Now, we do more testing. Why? Because no one wants to launch a broken product to the world! Testing prototypes on actual users is the best step to advance a usable, interactive version of the final product. Highland takes a vigorous approach to test interaction, user flows, the quality of user experience, and identify any adjustments needed to modify or change system behavior.

7. Launching the product

Once a final product has been tried and tested, it’s time to launch. The process doesn’t end here. If you want a product to grow and improve with industry trends and ever-changing user expectations, then UX design must also be ongoing. Otherwise, you could deliver a product that begins feeling old and clunky and still attached to previously set business goals.

It's all human-centered

Good UX design is always human-centered. And, that’s what Highland does. Our team is a collaborative group of design researchers, design strategists, UX designers, UI designers, and developers that are empathetic and technically savvy. We focus on understanding people’s perspectives for whom the design is created, ensuring that your platform translates into a positive user experience.

Leaning on us to apply intuitive design principles through your products and services, you’ll be able to create that useful and pleasant experience that often is the reason customers continue to use your site or app. As a result, your business will continue to thrive as you bring customers the value they deserve — keeping your existing users happy and opening the door to new customers.

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