THE UX PROCESS
WHAT IS USER EXPERIENCE?
While I'm sure you have your own definition of User Experience, allow me to share mine with you. To me:
User Experience (UX) = what users think and how they feel about something.
UX Design = creating experiences that are useful, usable, satisfying and rewarding.
As a UX Designer I understand customers and deliver the best experience possible for them.
HOW DO WE GET THERE?
The answer is completely integrating User Experience into the development process.
Regardless of what industry, type of software or channel/medium you're developing for, UX should not, cannot be integrated at the midpoint (or later) of a project, as doing so will create an overall suboptimal experience.
UX DESIGN IS A PROCESS OF GROWTH AND REPETITION
No world-class user experience has ever been perfect on its first try. On the contrary, those websites and applications that are the most beautiful and satisfying are so countless rounds of feedback and reiteration. With the ultimate goal of creating satisfying beautiful experiences in mind, during the course of development an experience must first be useful (have a purpose) and then be useable, followed finally by aesthetics. It doesn't matter how beautiful the appearance of something may be, if it functions poorly, or functions correctly but doesn't serve a business purpose or appeal to its consumers, it won't succeed.
So how does UX Design integrate into the development process? What do UX Designer do? Let's review the specialized knowledge and skill sets a UX Designer brings to a project.
RESEARCH & PLANNING
The phase of development where UX tends to be overlooked the most. Including user experience in your development plan will save you both time and money in the long run. Here, is an overview of some of the key processes, which I typically lead or am involved with, at this stage:
User & Stakeholder Interviews
Familiarizing yourself with your everyone who will be both creating and using the product is the key to success. Interviews can take many forms (one-on-one, group discussions, lunch-and-learn, on-site/off-site), but the important thing is to conduct them and in doing so gain a solid understanding of both the target market and the team one would be working with.
Involving UX this early in the process is essential, as through your UX Designer customers are given a voice from the beginning, and the team can help avoid any design ideas that may take the project off its rails later on.
Competitive Analysis & Heuristic Evaluations
Researching the competition (and if a product already exists, performing a Heuristic Evaluation) will not only provide insight into what does or doesn’t work, but help familiarize the development team with common design components that users are already familiar with.
Knowing the end user or the ultimate consumer, for whom the product is being created, is essential. Based on the data a UX Designer has gathered from the stakeholders and users, Personas are a great way to establish a neutral point of reference that can help settle disputes, and that can be easily referenced throughout the project to ensure it's on the right track.
With a strong understanding of your target market and the basics of what needs to be accomplished, it is now time to design the visual components of what your project will ultimately become.
Having thorough documentation that specs out the project will help avoid ambiguity, and flesh out any edge cases that may cause user frustration.
Sketches, Low & High Fidelity Wireframes
Starting with rough sketches I create basic user flows, high-level sitemaps and low fidelity wireframes. From there, I create more granular, annotated (high fidelity) wireframes, which include interaction design. I work in tandem with Visual Designers who create first rough mockups and then polished assets, which are used in the actual product. As with everything else in creating UX, this process is reiterative. A UX Designer and Visual Designer will typically conduct several rounds of feedback and revisions together before an agreeable solution is reached.
TESTING & ASSESSMENT
Using specialized knowledge and experience UX Designers run repeated and variable testing to acquire accurate and actionable feedback. Knowing what test to run and when, and how to create and conduct tests without bias are essential skill sets of a good UX Designer.
Paper & Rapid Prototyping
Creating a simple paper or animated (Flash or HTML) prototype allows for testing of multiple ideas quickly and ensure that the direction of the development will satisfy clients and their customers’ alike.
Internal & External Testing
Testing early, often, and throughout development will allow for key friction points to be discovered and addressed before they flare up, as fixing them later would be too costly in terms of time or resources. This testing also helps discover optimal ways to create new and improve existing features. There are a number of different test types in my arsenal which I use to achieve different user experience goals.
While qualitative data is a strong way to assess user experience, it's not enough by itself. Gathering quantitative data through analytics tools is another essential part of the UX process.
And yet a UX Designer, no matter how experienced, and even when part of the development process from the beginning, cannot alone create a world-class experience. They need help, and this is where organizational culture, teamwork, and understanding comes in.
CULTURE, TEAMWORK & UNDERSTANDING
What I believe to be the single most important hat a UX Designer must wear is that of a caring, patient mentor. For no matter how experienced, creative or intelligent a UX specialist is, and even if they're part of the development process from the beginning, they alone cannot create an optimal user experience.
UX Designers need input from their clients and support from their team. Leading by example and gaining traction through results will lead to buy in. Moreover, education, persuasion and promoting positivity toward UX are the day-to-day realities of a UX Designer in any workplace. Being in an environment that is adverse to, or hostile toward UX is counter-productive and will result in experiences that are a fraction of what they could be. A UX Designer must constantly be thinking about how they can empower others by educating and training them. In turn, the leaders of an organization need to support and make sure that their UX Designer has a voice.