Chapter 1

An Introductory Guide to UX Design

~ Daniel Schwarz

Author avatar (Daniel Schwarz)

What Is UX Design?

Designing or improving the user experience of an app, website, or any other screen-based interface is known as user experience design, or simply, UX design. However, if we’re to really unravel the question — what is UX? — we first have to understand what constitutes bad UX. Generally, users describe bad UX as at least one of the following:

  • Having a lack of value: an inflated cost or a deflated experience 👎
  • Having lousy usability: difficult navigation, vague information, etc. 🤔
  • An inducement of negative emotions: confusion, anxiety, frustration, etc. 😔

Consider airports, which notoriously deliver bad user experiences.

What is UX design?

When we’re at security and it’s not clear as to which items must be taken out of our bag, or which medications should be declared, all the while our travel documents are restricting the use of one hand, and there’s nowhere to rest our bag while all of this is happening, and there’s a queue of travelers behind us…this is a terrible user experience.

Frustrated users are less likely to convert and less likely to engage in the future.

Why does this happen? Why not improve the user experience? 🤔

The Business Value of UX Design

Great question. In this scenario, there’s no business value in improving the user’s experience. Since airports don’t compete for customers (most cities only have one airport anyway), they selfishly won’t waste their money on UX design because they know that they’ll acquire customers anyway. Competition drives innovation, hence, a lack of competition essentially means that there’s no need to bother trying to improve.

Thankfully, most industries are rife with competition. It’s typical for businesses to compete with other businesses for customers, and while UX design isn’t the only ingredient in a successful company, the winners are those that invest in UX design.

Business value of UX design

Example: eCommerce

Generally speaking, online stores suffer from cart abandonment rates of 69.57%, meaning that users add items to their shopping cart, but then abandon it. Where consumers spent $738 billion dollars online in the U.S. and Europe in one year, the eCommerce industry lost out on an additional $260 billion due to cart abandonment.

Abandonments happen for various reasons, but most of them are UX-related:

  • Mandatory signups
  • Confusing order totals
  • Complicated checkouts
  • Perceived lack of security
  • Surprise charges at checkout

Essentially, UX design has business value in this scenario. Good UX design, that is.

Business Goals vs. Ethical Design

Wait, why would bad UX design have business value? 🤔

Reverting back to the airport scenario, it’s worth noting that the real customers are airlines and stores that rent commercial space, so it’s actually in the airport’s business interests to coax users into those spaces, which they do so by intentionally designing a bad user experience, resulting in users spending money on expensive food and in-flight upgrades to alleviate their stress. In this scenario, the user isn’t actually the customer — they’re the product — and they’re being sold to thirsty airport stores and shitty airlines.

So in actuality, airports do engage in UX design — successfully, actually — but the twist is that the UX is bad by design, which is quite common but obviously unethical.

Luckily, these tricks aren’t working as well as they used to. Airlines are ceasing operations, users are deleting their Facebook accounts, and so on. In short, what’s happening here is that these companies are sacrificing ethical design in order to meet business objectives, and now they’re in the shit (for the lack of a better explanation).

Summarily, this shows that ethical design is the only logical approach to UX design.

  • Because it’s the right thing to do
  • Because it’s what’s best for business
  • Because it’s slowly becoming the law

Finally, let’s bring this back to the topic of apps and websites.

What Does a UX Designer Do?

A UX designer’s role is to identify problems that are burdening users and design effective solutions, and improve the user experiences of solutions that exist already.

Problems have business value because users will pay money to have them solved, which involves — to be brief — user research, UX research, and high-fidelity design.

UX designers are welcome to engage in all aspects of UX design, but it’s also fine to specialize. Where UX is a measurement of the user’s overall experience, your role as a UX designer might be to focus on only one aspect of the user’s experience. If you were working at a mid- or large-sized corporation, this would almost certainly be the case.

What does a UX designer do?

Specialized UX Roles

It’s easy to confuse UX design with UI design and even UI with visual design.

Visual design is how it looks — i.e. the imagery, colors, typography, and even animation. It forms the visual identity and effects how users feel about the brand.

UX vs. UI vs. visual design

UI design is mostly about usability (ease-of-use) and accessibility (ease-of-access, especially for those with disabilities), where the objective is to reduce task time, ease cognitive load, and basically help the user complete their objective efficiently. So while visual design is solely about form, UI design is about how the form aids the function.

UX design is the design of the overall experience — i.e. its usefulness, value, usability, accessibility, visual aesthetic, and so on. Visual design and UI design both contribute to the user’s experience, so they’re a part of UX, and if we were to specialize in only one aspect of UX, we would still require a basic understanding of all of the other aspects.

Product design comes before anything. Product designers focus foremost on usefulness and value, and it’s also where a lot of the user research material comes from. Without it, businesses either wind up failing as a result of building something that isn’t useful, or with no other choice but to exploit users using unethical design.

Designers can be visual designers, UI designers, UX designers, product designers, some of the above, or all of the above. Designers that are all of the above are referred to as full-stack UX designers. Either way, it’s fine to use “UX designer” as the umbrella term, since all of these UX roles ultimately contribute to the user’s overall experience.

During the course of this series we’ll cover the various aspects of UX while teaching you how to ethically design fantastic user experiences that result in long-term success.

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