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Quick summary

A breakdown of the different aspects of UX, its business value, and why ethical design will be a top priority in 2019 and beyond.

On the agenda

  • What is UX?
  • What is the value of UX?
  • What does a UX designer do?
  • Why is ethical design important?

What Is UX?

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. Consider airports, which notoriously deliver a bad user experience.

Generally, users describe bad UX as:

  1. Lack of value: inflated costs, deflated experiences
  2. Poor usability: difficult navigation, vague information
  3. Negative emotion: confusion, anxiety, and frustration 😔
What is UX design?

Consider the airport scenario, for example:

When we’re at security and it’s not clear as to which items must be taken out of our bag, or which medications must 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 travellers behind us…this is 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. So, in this scenario, there’s no business value in improving the user 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 69.89%; meaning, users add items to their shopping cart, but then ditch the cart. So 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.

Abandonment can happen for various reasons, most of which are UX-related:

  • Crashes and errors
  • Confusing order totals
  • Perceived lack of security
  • Surprise charges at checkout
  • Payment methods not desirable
  • Forced signup (i.e. no guest checkout)
  • Generally, long and complicated checkouts

Basically, 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 happened here is that these companies sacrificed ethical design in order to meet business objectives, and now they’re in the shit, for the lack of a better explanation.

Summarily, this makes ethical design the only logical approach to UX design.

  1. Because it’s the right thing to do
  2. Because it’s what’s best for business
  3. 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 primary objective is to reverse-engineer problems that users are facing and come up with creative ways to solve them, thus improving their experience.

Problems have business value because users will offer money to have them solved.

Solving these issues involves user research, sketching, wireframing, user testing, usability testing, and screen design. And of course, UX design is also about visual design as well; since, as humans, we find that aesthetics also add to the experience.

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 this user experience. If you were working at a mid- or large-sized corporation, this would almost certainly be the case.

Specialized Fields

Designers often confuse UX design with UI design, and even UI with visual design.

Visual design is how it looks — the imagery, the colors, the typography, the emotional appeal; basically, how it makes users think and feel — the identity, brand, and aesthetic.

Difference between UI and UX

UI design is mostly about usability (ease-of-use) and accessibility (ability-of-use, especially for those with disabilities), where our aims are 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 overall experience — usefulness, value, usability, accessibility, enjoyability, aesthetics, and so on. Both visual and UI design contribute to user experience, however, we shouldn’t compare them as if they’re all totally different concepts, because even if you were to specialize in a certain aspect of UX, you would still be required to have at least a basic understanding of all other aspects of UX design.

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

What does a UX designer do?

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 the term “UX designer” as the umbrella term, because all of these aspects come together to influence user experience.

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

Learn more in our ebook, A Beginner’s Guide to Designing UX.

Daniel Schwarz, author

Daniel Schwarz

Daniel Schwarz is a UX/UI designer, web developer, and maker by background, but a writer, editor, 5x author, and teacher at heart. Currently a design blog editor at SitePoint (ex Toptal), writer at .net Magazine and Web Designer Magazine, but occasionally a collaborator with top design companies such as Adobe and InVision.

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