Wouldn’t it be easier to design effectively if you knew step by step what to do? That’s what we’ll learn today.
We’re going to break it down like so: user research, design, testing, and development are the four main steps in the UX design process. You’ll learn the principles behind each step and how you can apply them.
Although these steps are typically followed in this order for UX design, it’s important to remember that UX design is an iterative process. We’ll cover these foundations of the design process, and you can build your own program to your needs.
- Phases of the UX design process
Phases of the UX design process
The UX design process serves as an iterative manual for creating UX solutions. Each step may be referred to by a different name, depending on the organization. These procedures are provided so that designers and design teams can arrange their own processes for creating solutions.
There are specific steps you can take within each of these main stages of the UX design process to enhance the user’s experience of a specific product, app, service, or website — you can always tailor the design process to your company.
Let’s go over these phases and learn step-by-step how UX designers handle their tasks.
1. User research
User research is the first and most important stage of the UX design process. User research comes first because most products are designed primarily for users, so we must understand them. To determine whether users need your product, you must conduct user research.
It is critical to prioritize users in your design process because if they do not see a need for your product, it might fail in the market and you may be unable to complete the project successfully. User research is also important because we, as designers, may have biases and assumptions that influence our design solutions, and research helps us to clarify or confirm those assumptions.
This research step involves interacting with the product’s target users. The final design solution requires testing with actual product users; our whole design process should be user-centric.
The first step of designing goes hand-in-hand with the first step of design thinking, which begins with empathy. We use empathy during the user research stage of the UX design process.
Because you will be working with users from various backgrounds, your superpower as a designer should be empathy. Empathy allows you to identify, understand, and document user pain points. Why do they act the way they do? How do they interact with software?
Without user research, designers miss opportunities to improve a service or product. User research gives us the information we need to develop the product, and we can’t move forward without that information — it’s an essential component of any UX design project.
Techniques for conducting user research
The first step of UX research is setting the goals and objectives of your research. This includes the why, what, and how of the research.
Here, you decide on your research methodology. You could choose either quantitative or qualitative research, onsite or remote studies, or you can decide to use a combination of both methods.
The research method also affects the tools for data collection, time allocated to the research, and so on. You have several research methods to choose from. We have a guide that covers the main UX research methods, but we’ll also go over the two that will come up again and again in the UX profession:
- Interviews: Interviews are one of the primary ways of collecting data from target users. This is usually done one on one or over the phone. It is an in-depth discussion between an interviewer and a user or target user. Interviews are designed to help the interviewer or user experience designer identify user needs and wants. They can be done in person at the office or remotely over a Zoom call. Tools like recorders and notepads are essential during interviews to retain information. An advantage of this is that the designer can ask follow-up questions on any answer that is not clear; also, they get to watch the user as they answer and take notes on body language.
- Online surveys: Surveys are usually online forms with questions regarding the product. Researchers use them to get user perspectives on a launched or a budding product.Design teams collect and compile the gathered data in a database to review.A couple popular, easy-to-use tools for online surveys are Google Forms and SurveyMonkey. These tools keep the responses from users intact and easily accessible. The pro of this method is that it can be used to reach a wider and more diverse range of users. Cons include users may not be completely honest and expressive compared to one-on-one interviews.
Methods of analyzing user research
Once you get your research, you’ll need to review and organize it, delving deeper into findings from your research that require attention. Here are some of the main ways UX professionals present and analyze their research:
- Persona: Personas are fictional characters with real-life characteristics and experiences. They are needed to create a sense of empathy among team members and communicate user needs to stakeholders. They visually represent user needs and expectations that can be discussed with the team and stakeholders.
- Storytelling: This is a technique for analyzing user research. Storytelling reflects lived experiences of users. It is used to convey persona messages in a way that describes their needs and motivations in action.
- User testing: User testing in this phase involves an already-built product, where the team needs to get feedback on the usage and understand user needs. This helps them improve on current features and design additional ones if the current ones do not serve user needs. During this stage, we pay attention to how users interact with the product, and the moderating designer takes notes to improve their product.
- Card sorting: This method of analyzing user research is usually done by the team, where they review and analyze the data obtained from forms and interviews. Researchers use cards, sticky notes on whiteboards, or even card sorting software like Miro to group similar user experiences, motivations, needs, and expectations. This is helpful for creating personas, storytelling boards, affinity maps, user journeys, etc.
Now that you understand your users, the second step in the UX design process is to design.
The design needs to be a combination of good aesthetics and usability. Users want products with good design elements, but they should not rely simply on the looks of a platform. Your design must be able to satisfy their needs and solve problems for them.
Users are most likely to follow a specific process when performing a task based on their previous experiences with other products. As a UX designer, you must consider how your product or service can accommodate how the customer behaves. This is why you can’t skip the research stage.
One universal rule for UX is your product’s design is centered on functionality and usability rather than colors or images. (Visual designers or the UI team improve visuals.) After you’ve determined what your users expect from your product or site, their goals, and how they prefer to use a system, functionality should always come first.
A design provides you with something tangible to test on actual and potential users, which is critical in ensuring your designs are usable. Designing a satisfying user experience involves carefully designing a customer journey for the users and guiding them through an intuitive process to find what they are looking for. We’ll go over how to do this in the next section.
Methods of generating and evaluating the design
The design phase is where we simplify research and iterate on designs. Remember that these phases can be tweaked to fit the organization’s needs and structure!
- Brainstorming or ideation: This is the next step in the UX design process. Brainstorming is a generative method where designers collaborate with one another and brainstorm or generate ideas based on data collected and sorted in the earlier stage. Brainstorming can be in the form of card sorting, which we learned about in the last step, or sketches, which we’ll detail below.
- Sketches: Sketches, used for putting your thoughts on paper, are another generative technique in the design process. As a designer, from your research and brainstorming, how might you and your team organize solutions to solve user problems? What do you intend the final product to look like? From your analysis, what is your product’s best layout or feature position? Most teams sketch on white paper with pencils.
- Testing: This evaluative technique involves the target users using the product to identify areas for improvement. It’s a necessary technique for designing usable products, and different from the research phase above since you’ll be testing possible designs.
- Wireframes: There are two types of wireframes: high fidelity, also known as hi-fi, and low fidelity, known as lo-fi. These are usually generated from sketches and are more tangible than sketches because they can be prototyped and tested. Lo-fi has low-quality intentions for the final design. A sketch can be assumed to be a lofi. On the other hand, hi-fi is more detailed and looks more closely at the final product than lo-fi. They are digital versions of the paper design, mostly in black, white, and gray. Wireframes are generative methods of designing.
- Prototype: A prototype is an evaluative design method; it is a draft version of your site or product that takes you as close as possible to a good representation of your website and its user interface before any coding has begun. This allows UX designers to explore and experiment with ideas and check functionality and usability before any money is spent on full-blown development.
- Retrospective: This is an evaluative design process that involves regular team meetings where you reflect on how the process of designing your solution turned out, the feedback you’ve gathered from test users, and how to improve the design in the next stage of the design process.
You may be thinking, Haven’t we tested in both of the above stages? Yes! Testing is an essential component of any UX designer’s job and a fundamental part of the overall UX design process, just like all the earlier phases. This additional testing step is for the final iteration(s) of your design, and you want to be sure you set it up properly.
The importance of user testing
Testing enables UX professionals to adjust the initial product or website design before development, so UX designers must test their design solutions.
- Testing is an excellent way to see how customers use the product.
- It helps save the organization some money before development.
- It helps you to understand who your target audience is and how they interact with your product.
- It ensures you and your team have designed a solution your user needs and can access.
- It saves time and money by highlighting edge cases in the user journey that were missed during the user flow design.
- It helps you collect user feedback that is helpful to you and your team.
Your target users can identify some edge cases during this stage that might have gone unnoticed during the design phase, given that the designer and their teammates were the only ones able to use the product. Testing during this stage should only be done with actual users, not with friends, family, or other design team members.
Techniques involved in the testing phase
To effectively carry out user testing, there are certain setup steps the designer should consider, and they are:
- Goal setting: In this stage, the design team sets actionable goals for the user to take during the testing phase. Figure out the questions you want to answer with the test and create a task around it. For instance, do you have a new feature and want to see how the user feels about it? You can set up a task asking them to locate and use that feature. Watch their expressions and take notes.
- Recruitment: Recruitment of test participants is essential to the development of products. You should test your products with users, not friends and family or stakeholders; this is to remove or reduce bias and get efficient feedback from the user.
- Tool picking: Another technique that affects the testing phase of a product is the tool. Pay attention to the target audience and the mode of testing, as this can affect the tools you use. There are different types of user testing, but they are mostly moderated or unmoderated, remote or in-person. Moderated, in-person testing tools may differ from those used in moderated remote testing. Another thing to consider when picking tools is the diversity of the users. Do you need to consider accessibility? Do you have disabled users? How can you make this testing phase comfortable for them?
- Note taking: This is another essential technique. Documenting findings during the process and after is important. Notes are a helpful guide for the team to visit and brainstorm new ideas.
This is the last step in the UX process, where the design and documentation are given to the software developers. Developers are the ones who will code your designs into fully functional products, so you can expect that they will participate in discussions and breakdowns of design findings throughout the UX design process! Despite being at the end of the UX process, the design handoff is not the end — the design can still be improved based on the results and conclusions of user testing, and the cycle may begin again!
Techniques involved in the development phase
At the end of the UX design process, developers are handed the design to implement and bring to life. It is important that the entire team work together to ensure usability and usefulness.
- Communication: Communication is important in product development; it helps keep the entire team on the same path. Sometimes the design teams work alone and hand off to the development team; it is important that during this handover, the developers understand the solution and the findings before they start developing. So communicate in a clear, concise tone.
- Set realistic goals: From the handoff to the final launch, both teams should set realistic development goals, especially regarding timelines for development and testing. It is important that there is enough time to build the product without pressure.
- Involvement in the entire process: In some organizations, the entire product development cycle involves the entire product team, while other organizations tend to work independently. Regardless of the pattern you use, leave no one behind in the process.
We’ve covered the UX design process! But remember how we said you may uncover insights in testing that require iteration? The design process is a cycle, and you can use these steps again to iterate on your project.
As another closing remark, communication and collaboration are important additions to the UX design process. Collaborate with team members and communicate with stakeholders. Know the reason for the design and stick to the goals and objectives to design usable solutions. This process is only a guide, and you can expand on it as it fits your product, budget, and team.
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