Man prototyping a web app
Factor in user experience as a key element in developing your products. PHOTO: William Iven

User experience (UX) design is the process of building relationships between products and prospects or customers through a digital or physical experience that involves engineering, marketing, graphical, industrial and interface designs. UEGroup CEO Tony Fernandes in an interview with CMSWire called UX design an “interactive brand experience that takes the place of establishing credibility and connection in the way that logos and taglines did in the past.” 

A UX designer is charged with creating and helping organizations deliver user experiences, or how we interact with that organization’s product in a digital or physical world. “Everything from the way you interact with a software product to the location of an on-off switch and how it is shaped, is an example of elements that build UX. The sum of your interactions with a product becomes the experience that you have when you use that product,” wrote Adobe’s Nick Babich, in a recent blog post.

UX design, he continued, evokes feelings about a brand that either creates a connection or makes people look elsewhere. “It is often the difference between a solution that people try and abandon, and a product that is adopted into people’s lives,” Fernandes said.

How Design Thinking Applies to UX Design

Design thinking is an important part of an effective UX design strategy. It is a problem-solving process coined in a 2008 Harvard Business Review article (subscription required) titled “Design Thinking” by Tim Brown, CEO and president of design company IDEO.  According to Rebecca Linke’s article in MIT Management Sloan School, design thinking involves a process in which UX designers:

  • Understand a given problem
  • Explore a wide range of possible solutions
  • Iterate extensively through prototyping and testing
  • Implement through the customary deployment mechanisms.

Related Article: Why We All Need Design Thinking

Design Thinking Is Not Just a Process

The best and worst thing about design thinking is that it is described as a rote process, according to Fernandes, the CEO at UEGroup. “Processes do not inherently produce great results. We’ve all followed recipes but wound up with something inedible because we lacked the experience needed to cook or bake something well. Putting a strategy in place is different from having the right ‘cooks’ in the organization,” he said.  

Fernandes said he has interacted with people leading design thinking efforts that had never designed anything in their lives before getting the title. Rather than focusing on the process, he said those deploying design thinking strategies should focus on the goals. “The strategy should revolve around business goals such as reducing support costs, achieving great adoption and quicker training or quantifiable goals such as completing a task in a certain amount of time,” Fernandes said. Your strategy isn’t about just going through the design thinking process, which will not by itself necessarily achieve value to the customer or the organization, he added.

User Experience Design Principles

UX designers at the core of their strategy have various principles that guide them as they design customer experiences. According to Clark Wimberly, Content Designer at InVision, five important UX design principles include:

  • Digestibility - Making sure people just “get it” rather than having to think hard about what their customer journey means and how to accomplish tasks along the way
  • Clarity - Being absolutely clear on things like pricing, warranties, etc.
  • Trust - Ensuring prospects and customers know exactly why they are taking time and effort with you — and then delivering on those promises
  • Familiarity - Using familiar patterns, icons and presentational guidelines
  • Delight - Making complex things simple; improving a user’s life.

Fernandes agrees with Wimberly's list but added some of her own thoughts on UX design principles. 

  • Keep it simple
  • Make it valuable
  • Don’t imitate, innovate
  • Understand the user and design to their needs
  • Look at roles: who uses it and identify whether the customer is also the user
  • Design for the first touch and ongoing usage
  • Be consistent: be thrifty with concepts and design elements
  • Design an onramp that makes the product easy to engage
  • Make it something that people want to look at and talk about

Related Article: Poor User Experience Drains Productivity and Your Bottom Line

What is a Strong UX Design Process?

The process, shared by Fernandes, consists of several steps, each critical to success.

Discover the User

Take the time to understand who the user is, what they want to do and how they want to do it. In addition, learn about what constraints you are dealing with in terms of time and technical limitations. UX design is useless if it can’t be brought out in the real world.

Define The Problem

Many designers start producing graphics without first writing out a problem statement for what they are trying to do. Defining the problem, understanding the roles, nouns and verbs of the solution provides a foundation on which to build the design.

Experiment and Iterate with Novel Ideas

This is often the most important and overlooked part of the process, according to Fernandes. Designers should allow themselves to test the boundaries of a solution and approach the problem in a novel way. Many simply start by copying what others have done rather than starting from a place where the problem is pondered and creative solutions are explored.

Validate with User Testing

Involving the user in decision-making is critical. This is often best done by usability testing early concepts and continuing to get user feedback as the design gets more and more refined. Using simple interactive prototypes provides the freedom of getting rapid feedback without writing actual code. Iterating on the design and validating the direction are critical to a successful UX design process.

Follow-Up Even After Delivery

When the design is completed, it is important to keep an eye on its implementation. Often there is a deep chasm between the design and the actual implementation. The process needs to include follow-up, not only during the development but after deployment as well.

Check out this comprehensive UX design process shared on Twitter from InfoBeans:

Related Article: How to Create a Website That Converts: Key UX for Ecommerce

How Do Emotions play into UX design?

Emotional design is a component of UX design. “Emotions pay a huge role in UX design,” Fernandes told CMSWire. “When people interact with a poor UX design, they often say things like, ‘It didn’t feel right. It made me feel stupid. It didn’t look very credible. It feels really slow.’” Those types of feelings, Fernandes said, are influenced both by the steps that people take during the experience (i.e. too many steps, the wrong steps, the right ones) and the visual presentation of the experience (i.e. quality of the graphics, the cohesive branding, clarity of the information). “Modern tools such as youXemotions allow designers to get visibility into how people are feeling when using a digital product,” Fernandes said.  

The goal is to draw emotional responses among users by connecting them emotionally to the UX design experience. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, there are three components of emotional design:

  • Visceral emotional design - appeals to our first reactions when we encounter a product. 
  • Behavioral emotional design - refers to the usability of the product, our assessment of how well it performs the desired functions and how easily we can learn how to use it.
  • Reflective emotional design - our ability to project the product’s impact on our lives after we have used it — e.g., how it makes us feel when not holding it, or what values we find ourselves attaching to the product in retrospect. 

Related Article: Master the Art of Emotional Customer Experience

UI vs. UX Design

One important aspect of UX design is to understand its distinction with user interface (UI) design. A UX designer is a “user experience designer.” A UI designer is a “user interface designer.” UX designers are focused on how the product feels and whether there is logic embedded into how the product flows. UI designers actually build and design each screen or page with which a user interacts. It includes the design of buttons, icons, etc. UX design encompasses the entire experience that a customer has through its interactions. If designers were building the alphabet, for example, a UI designer would construct each letter, and the UX designer would decide which order they should go and how many seconds should pass before a user is introduced to the next letter.

UX Design Tools and Software

Naturally, UX designers need digital tools to do their jobs. Here are some examples of some popular UX design tools:

Great UX Design Examples

How do you put it all together? There are several examples of great UX design. Check out some of the examples below.

Got any great user experience (UX) design examples? We'd to love to hear more.