This is a question I get asked quite a lot recently, and in no way it is easy to reply to, UX design covers quite a lot of ground when building a website or app. I’ll do my best to define my understanding of UX design through experience.

Blast from the past

UX design is not a new science, dating back to the 1940’s when we started building new machines and systems that required a lot of user interaction and since the goal of some of these machines was to make them mainstream, there was a lot of thought given to ergonomics and human-psychological aspects of these machines.

The ENIAC, simple as pie.

Back then as now, it turned into a multi-disciplinary field involving most of the stuff that makes us human, just to try and understand how we interact with stuff and what was the easiest way to do so. I can start to talk about psychology, social interaction, cognitive stuff, but I wont bore you with that stuff.

What it is (and what it’s not)

UX design is not about how things look (a website, a button, a header, you get it…) its about the user, and providing them with the experience you intend to. Experience you say? Yes, experience. It’s all about defining what your goal is, it doesn’t really matter if you are designing a website for a hotel, or the latest and awesomest web service, in the end its making it easy for the user get to your goal.

Whitney Hess wrote a very nice article last year on Mashable about the 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design.

On a dark desert highway

Let me exemplify a bit. Suppose you (or your company) gets hired by Hotel California to design and build a nice website for them.

You can never leave.

Where do you start? Well as a UX designer you should start listening. What is the client trying to achieve? How does he/she intend to use the website to achieve that goal? Every website/web service has a goal.

Continuing with my example, Hotel California would like to let their guests check out any time they like get more people to book and stay at their hotel. That is their goal. Listen, think, listen again and think some more. Sure, pretty pictures and a booking form will get the job done, but don’t just throw it in there somewhere or even worse (and I really saw this recently) hide your booking form in a third – level page. Big no no -unless your goal is to lower Hotel California’s bookings because your family owns the competition and you don’t want people booking rooms at Hotel California- then good job, you are a skillful UX designer (see how your end the goal changes everything?).

Now, UX designers don’t just jump to design and code, we have a set of tools in our toolbox we use and we’re all comfortable with our own design process.

Mix and match your tools

We all have or way of doing things, whether its because we’re comfortable with it or just because it plain works for you. UX is no exception, even though there are a set of tools to use, I’m a huge advocate of taking and using what works for you, we all do things differently. Here’s what works for me:

  1. Gather requirements (previous website, client chats, spec sheets, etc)
  2. Build Flows and Sitemaps
  3. Make up personas to have a clearer idea of who will be interacting with your site
  4. Sketch up some wireframes (test and iterate these)
  5. Build prototypes and do some user testing, you get invaluable feedback this way
  6. Graphic comps (or visual design, whatever floats your boat)
  7. Markup

This is my UX process, I find it effective and I’m comfortable with it. Your set of tools may be different but in the end keep in mind it’s all about the user getting to the goal you set.

Its not just one step

Keep in mind UX design is not a step in the process, it is the process. From discovery to building sketches, testing, iterating and coding the actual interface, UX design is building for the user and building for your end goal. The user must feel comfortable, must find an easy way to do what they’re set out to do, what the end goal of your website is set out to do.

My golden rule: keep it simple

Engineers and hardcore users will generally have no trouble finding or performing an action on your site. But this is not usually the case for most of your users (unless you’re building something for a very specific niche). So one of my own first rules of UX is this: keep it simple. Keep the interface uncluttered, most important actions easy to reach and visible and try to avoid cluttering the interface with stuff the user will most probably never use.

What is your goal? Keep it in mind, keep it very visible, and keep it within reach.

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