The first web site was plain and unassuming. The content was a list of links to other pages with more links. All text. No extras. No distractions.
As hardware became more powerful and software more sophisticated, the Internet browser kept pace. Web programmers churned out the code. Graphic designers added the visual color and appeal. Web pages remained static but creativity flourished.
People wanted more. In response sites became dynamic and heavy with information text and links.
In 1995 a shift occurred. Aesthetic considerations became secondary to usability and functionality. The words “user experience” began to hum around technical circles. Today, it’s mainstream buzz for businesses, bloggers, webmasters, creative agencies and digital marketers.
User Experience Design (UXD) is the process of enhancing people’s interactions with a web site through beneficial accessibility and usability.
Do More, Mean More But Show Less
This mockup is a rough sketch of a web page created by a UX designer. On the surface it does one thing and one thing only. It tells the visitor that their transaction is still proceeding.
Closer inspection reveals a few more elements designed to affect visitor perception and behavior.
• 1: This simple thank you acknowledges the visitor.
• 2: It’s an encouraging textual thumbs up indicating to the user that they are doing well.
• 3: With small mobile screens easy to understand visual cues are important. The progress bar is symbolic yet its message is clear.
• 4: The back and forward button gives the user selection and control. The order of the buttons are intuitive.
The page has two other purposes - to keep the user engaged and going forward to complete the transaction the company needs them to.
Besides illustrating what a UX designer does, the mockup also shows what a UX designer does not do. The mockup represents the order of the elements, the body text, button text and the placement of elements on a page. The mockup is far from the final version of the page.
One of Many Problem Solvers
A UX designer will create many sketches and mockups. These will be presented to Marketing for feedback on the content and intent. From the collected corrections and insights, the designer creates another set of sketches. The cycle is repeated until the set reaches a state where no further improvements are possible. Throughout this early phase of design it’s the UX designer that must maintain the emphasis on a positive user experience.
The UX designer will then work with a User Interface (UI) designer. The UI designer is responsible for the overall visual look and appeal of a website. A front-end developer will work with the interface designer to create the final page and update the website. Once the page is live, the Marketing department will monitor visitor interactions and analyze the data from them. The UX and UI designers are off to the next project.
Enter The User Experience Designer
UX designers are one of LinkedIn’s most in-demand positions with a growing list of requirements.
• Familiarity with development methodologies like Agile or Lean UX which advocate short iterative cycles where feedback and analysis occurs throughout the cycle instead of at the end.
• Knowledge of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) at minimum.
• Knowledge of the UX discipline is required. This includes knowing principles and techniques and current best practices. A UX practitioner knows how to create and conduct user testing. Proficiency in the use Microsoft Visio, Balsamiq mockups, Omnigraffle or similar diagramming software is expected.
• The best designers are also the best communicators and listeners no matter the audience. A UX designer must be comfortable presenting their ideas and educating others on UX design.
In the last five years more universities have begun offering full programs for UX design. Online courses and intensive bootcamps have come into their own. There are degrees, diplomas and certifications available depending on the student’s situation and career goal.
User experience design is an interdisciplinary course of study. It’s a career that’s applicable to nearly every industry worldwide. If you’re like Dr. Watson with a good eye and feel for design, then by all means look this career over.
By the way, all the graphics in this article were created with tools, techniques and doodles used in the UX field. It’s not at the level of Michelangelo but they do get the message across, don’t they?