Why did humans invent the concept of money? Why did anyone think of adding a wiper to a car’s windshield? Why would a coffee drinker want a sleeve for their cup? What made Apple build the button-less phone?
Answer: User experience.
Every day, across the globe, enterprises and individuals alike are working towards improving the user experience of various products and services.
User Experience Definition
At its core, User Experience (UX), is how a user interacts or engages with an item. Don Norman, a researcher, professor and scientist, coined the term ‘user experience’ and defined it as
“encompassing all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
This can be any company, product or service — physical products, building architecture, or even a restaurant service.
What is UX Design?
User experience design, as a concept, took shape in the machine age in the 19th and 20th centuries, during the design of assembly lines to improve the production efficiency of industrial workers. Renowned mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor and automobile entrepreneur Henry Ford did pioneering work in the design of interaction between workers and their tools. For long after, UX design referred to the considered and deliberate design of any product or service.
It is only in the internet era that user experience design has taken a specific and limited meaning within the human-computer interaction space. Don Norman, who was a ‘user experience architect’ at Apple in the 1990s played a key role in popularising the idea as well as its practice. Today, user experience design, often shortened as XD, refers to the process of manipulating a user’s interaction with digital products — web, mobile, augmented reality, virtual reality etc. It is intended to improve the accessibility, usability, efficiency, and desirability of the application to the intended user.
UX designers use several techniques and perform various tasks to achieve this.
- User research: The first step in designing a user-centred experience is to understand users. A good part of UX design is about conducting research/surveys, meeting customers, observing user behaviour etc.
- User interface design: Typically, this is the process of building the user interface — the web page or the mobile app’s front-end — to eliminate friction and facilitate pleasurable interaction with the product. UI designers will focus on responsiveness, easy access to key functions etc.
- Visual design: This aspect of UX design is often about aligning the interface with the brand of the company that makes it. Visual designers will be responsible for fonts, colours, icons, buttons etc.
- Information architecture design: This is concerned with how easy it is to find and understand the information presented in the app. Information architects are in-charge of navigating a customer’s journey to the information they need.
- Accessibility design: This is the process of ensuring that all audience groups are able to access and understand the product. Accessibility designers work on shortening the user’s learning curve. In some cases, it might also mean making products usable by people with disabilities.
Depending on the size and scale of the product, the exact role of the UX designer might vary. For example, if it’s a small app, one UX designer might be responsible for UI, visual design and accessibility design. If it’s a large app with many functions/screens, there might be multiple visual designers or UI designers for each section of the app.
Why is UX Design Important?
Design is not how it looks; the design is how it works — Steve Jobs once famously said. Especially in the internet era, for digital products, user experience design can be the singular differentiator between a successful or failing product. Here is everything UX design impacts.
Customer acquisition: Studies show that “users judge a web site’s credibility in 3.42 seconds merely on the basis of its aesthetic appeal”. If you’re an Internet native, you’ll know that most users don’t even spend that much time on a website. Good user experience design can significantly impact whether a customer buys a product or not.
Customer retention: For digital products, UX is not a one-and-done thing. Users need to have a satisfactory experience every time they use the product for them to remain customers. Jeff Bezos says “Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas.”
Lower support and training costs: More intuitive the product, lesser the need for training and support.
Lower development and maintenance costs: A well-designed UX and application structure — prototyping and feature capture etc. — will enable better estimation, reduce scope creep and therefore, lower development and maintenance cost.
Improved user productivity: Thomas Landauer, professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado observed that inadequate use of usability engineering methods in software development projects has been estimated to cost the US economy about $30 billion per year in lost productivity. And this was in 1995. Imagine the costs now!
Better ROI: Forrester research found that for every dollar invested in UX design brings in returns of 100 dollars. This is an ROI of 99x!
Where do UX Designers Work?
It is a myth that UX designers find jobs only in digital product companies. In fact, today every company including major enterprises and startups have strong technology departments. Web and mobile applications are slowly coming to mediate all human interactions. Think of how you’re eating food, watching films, travelling, communicating, banking, payments, or even reading this article. Aren’t you using an app for that?
As the market matures and customers gain more comfortable with mobile and web technologies, the product with the best user experience will stand head and shoulder above the others. In that market, qualified UX designers will be high-demand. In fact, this is already happening: LinkedIn finds that UX design is one of the top skills in demand for 2020. Not just that, UX designers command attractive salaries too. From generalists performing multiple functions to specialists in specific areas like user research / graphic design, UX design as a career will evolve rapidly in the next few years. Setting a stable educational foundation, applying your learnings to real-world projects, and building a strong portfolio will help you ride the UX design wave with ease.
Unlike most technology careers, learning UX design does not require much by way of qualification. In fact, to enrol in Springboard’s online course in UI/UX design, all you need is an eye for good design and empathy for your user. If you have that, check out Springboard’s 1:1 mentorship-led project-driven course that comes along with a job guarantee now.