Product Design

The Role of a UX Designer Explained

Many of the companies you know and love are the ones who have figured out who their customers are and their needs. This knowledge is the key difference between companies that are growing and those that are staying stagnant. The more you understand your customer, the better experience you can provide them. In return, you will see results in higher sales, ratings, and user retention.

A key player in being able to improve your business is a user experience designer. You've heard of a UX Designer before, but what do they actually do? I can tell you from personal experience that many of my friends and family and even colleagues in the tech industry have heard the term but have no idea what I do. In this article, I will explain what UX designers do and why they’re essential for your business. 

What does a UX Designer do?

A UX designer designs the interactions a user has with a product or service. Mostly, we think of these interactions as being tied to digital experiences. In reality, UX also exists in the physical world.

UX Designers also think about how users interact in the physical environment. If you drive a vehicle like a Jeep Wrangler or Range Rover Discovery, the designer thinks about the physical buttons needed for the passengers. In this case, they’re bigger and have more texture than a standard sedan. The audience for these vehicles is the outdoorsy, adventurous type who goes out to cold, remote environments. Providing rugged buttons gives the owner the ability to keep their gloves and gear on while still using the buttons and knobs. 

Another great example of UX design thinking in the physical world is Disney World. People love going to their theme park because the company has gone above and beyond to ensure its top-notch customer service experience. All their actors stay in character when interacting with guests. They have optimized the way guests check in to rides. They’ve also thought about what color to paint the utility infrastructure to make sure that it fades into the background so that it doesn’t take away from the magical experience guests are supposed to have. 

The work of a UX designer encompasses the user experience from the first touch point a customer has with your company to the last interaction they walk away with. 

The UX designer is involved in designing how users (you) will interact in specific situations. The UX designer meets the user where they’re at. 

They consider the user's environment, state of mind, goals, etc. These parameters or scenarios can significantly affect: how an onboarding and check-out process is designed, how information is presented, to what kind of micro-interactions should be included in the product. 

If you have a product or service that involves people using it and you’re unsatisfied with its performance, a UX designer can improve it. The best part about working with a UX designer is working with iteration in mind. They design, build, and test. Doing so allows you to test and pivot quickly to create the most significant impact for your business. 

Let’s break down what a UX designer does further. 

1. Understand your challenges and goals

A UX designer has to be a great listener. They need to hear and understand the problems that you're having and what are the goals you want to achieve are. 

Another reason why the UX designer needs to be a great listener is that it’s easy to make assumptions and think you have the solution in mind. The designer's job is to understand stakeholder and user needs and advise you on what the right goal and solution should be. 

2. Confirm the problem

Before a designer begins crafting an experience, they first have to confirm that the agreed upon problem is what should be solved. This is when a designer becomes a researcher.

If you’re building a digital product from scratch, the designer is researching who the potential audience is, who the competitors are, what the constraints are, and what are potential approaches to take.

If you have an existing product or service then the designer is conducting interviews with existing and potential users, current employees, researching competitors, gathering data, conducting field studies, etc.

Designers set well-informed goals by first understanding your industry, business, and users. These goals help guide decisions made by the team throughout the project. If something doesn’t help reach the end goal, it gets put on the back burner. Every decision must be intentional and purposeful. Designers want to make their solutions as simple and intuitive as possible. The lower the effort to use a product, the higher the impact on the end-user and your business.

3. Create solutions

Given the nature of UX, we don’t create solutions in silos. The designer works with other teams to create a cross-collaborative product team. These teams include stakeholders, users, other designers, developers, UX researchers, etc. 

As with anything in life, there are different ways to approach a challenge. 

For a designer to design the best solution, they must work with developers and stakeholders to understand the constraints of the project. These constraints include timeframes, budgets, technology stacks, and many other things which can become their own topic that we can cover in a future post. 

Constraints can often feel like roadblocks to a solution, but on the other hand, it’s an opportunity for innovation. A great way to test a designer's solutions is to create prototypes. Prototypes can vary in complexity. They can be napkin sketches that illustrate a simple idea and can go all the way to creating a mockup that looks very close to the real thing.

4. Test. Iterate. Repeat.

Creating prototypes allows you to test your design.  You get feedback from different groups, such as actual users, designers, and stakeholders. User testing lets the designer know if their solutions are working as intended. By getting real-time feedback, the designer avoids putting out a bad product. In return, this test and iteration approach reduces costs and time in the long run. 

Have you ever used a product or service that makes you wonder, 

"Who the heck came up with this design?" That’s the reaction the designer is trying to avoid. They’re trying to avoid pain points and frustrations. Through user testing and interviews, the designer can see what works and doesn’t, reducing the risk of negative interactions with your product.

If the product ends up being used in an unexpected way, it can be a significant finding. The designer can then adjust and shape that interaction to be more intuitive or capitalize on the new opportunity.

Having a product that people love helps create buzz, increase sales, create advocates, etc. Product iterations are why people love Apple, Tesla, Google’s online services, Disney, and Nike - to name a few. 

When people find your product or service frustrating, unintuitive, and hard to use, there’s a high probability your users will go to a competitor. 

Some companies that have gone through this are Microsoft, Google (android), Electrify America, VW, and many others. Microsoft launched its music player, and within a few years, it failed. One of the biggest reasons was their inability to provide experiences and features that their users wanted. It did the same thing an iPod did and nothing more.

While the true definition of a UX designer is still ambiguous, I have found these four pillars to be helpful in identifying UX designers and understanding their roles. It's all about making the user, the very people who are using and interacting with your product, happier. This is achieved by working collaboratively to implement design solutions that address user needs, wants, and behaviors.

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