What is UX design?
In the days before User Experience design, the greatness of a website or application was largely decided by those who designed and built it and their clients. The fact that there was a user, a human being, interacting with the technology was often neglected.
Springing from the theories of cognitive psychology researcher, Dr. Donald Norman, UX design is now a professional discipline in its own right and, in some web design outfits, you might expect to find a UX designer sitting alongside the regular design team.
User Experience design is NOT synonymous with usability, although usability is a large element that comes under the UX umbrella. It encompasses other user-relevant dimensions, such as HCI (Human Computer Interaction), ergonomics, accessibility and system performance. It overlaps with wider business functions such as marketing and product evaluation. In a nutshell, UX design is all about ensuring that the website or application is not only functional, but a pleasure to use.
Bringing users to life
One of the ways that User Experience designers put the user at the forefront of the design process is by creating a number of user profiles and developing them into ‘personae’: fictitious characters who can be placed in various hypothetical situations; the website (and its sub-systems) can then be fine-tuned with each user’s requirements in mind.
Not only are there many potential types of user, but those users now have a growing number of ways to interface with a website or application. They may be logging in with a mobile phone or via a dial-up connection; what works well in Chrome may cause frustrations in Explorer. User experience design has to contend with any factor that might affect the user’s relationship with a website or application.
Evaluating user experience
Of course, it’s one thing to create characters and then implement design solutions to suit them, but how can UX designers evaluate the real effect of their interventions? One method is by utilising A/B testing software and analysing the way in which users respond to subtle differences in the user interface. However, since UX is a largely qualitative factor, much of the evaluation process involves interacting with users via surveys and feedback applications.
Is it worth employing a UX designer?
Ultimately, the individual parameters and budget considerations of a design project have to be considered alongside the potential benefits of optimising User Experience design.
Small companies and start-ups might decide to include UX design in the overall responsibilities of the design team or to outsource certain processes. However, employing a dedicated UX designer from the beginning is usually more efficient, since the system can be continually evaluated at every stage.
As a rule of thumb, the more complex and interaction-rich the project, the more important it is that UX design is prioritised. Even in more simple projects careful attention to sub-systems, such as checkout processes, can provide significant benefits to the client. Rather than an additional expense, UX design needs to be considered as a potential investment.