I have a day job as a user experience (UX) consultant for a digital agency. Mostly when I tell people what I do they look perplexed. This is understandable. As careers go UX is relatively new, although it’s been around for quite some time as human factors, human computer interaction (HCI) and even information architecture.
UX is the intangible design of a strategy that brings us to a solution.
– Erik Flowers via UX is not UI
UX is not a single thing that I do. It’s more a collection of activities that I undertake to ensure a product or website is usable and effective for the target audience. I may not do all activities for every project so I have to determine what to pull from my toolbox for the problem I am trying to solve within the time and budget allocated.
I do a lot of user research, studying analytics, running workshops, conducting usability testing and presenting my findings back to the client.
UX cannot happen without some input from the end user. There are many techniques for developing empathy for your users but my preference is ethnographic research (in the field, observation and interviewing). I have worked with too many clients that think they know their users well enough to know what they need and want – they don’t. Users will constantly surprise you and I have tested well-designed prototypes that have confused and frustrated people. I have made assumptions and been proven wrong. My failures are chance to learn and refine. You have got to love a job that expects you to get it wrong.
The work of a UX designer has become synonymous with walls of sticky notes. This is more accurate that you might think although these days, due to lack of wall space and a geographical dispersed team, I prefer to use Mural.
Image via Center Center blog
UI is user interface design and like many UX professionals I also undertake some UI work in my role. I do a lot of sketching and design wire frames (blueprints of a screen) which show the relative positioning of elements e.g. form fields or news listings. When most people think of wireframes they think of polished and well presented, and I have created those although most days they tend to look more like this:
I consider the interactive elements of interfaces, which might include the answers to questions like – what happens when the user taps submit? How many items should display in a list and what kind of information should be included for each one? How many images should go in a carousel? How does the user interact with a map? How will this work on a tablet or mobile?
What I don’t do is visual design and I’m not required to think too much about look or feel, as that is in the hands of the Graphic Design team, who also cross into UI design. I also don’t do any content writing, strategies or plans as this is the work of our Content Strategists. Together we make up the Experience Design team and this multi-discipline approach is essential for creative problem solving. In our design ideation sessions we like to include project managers and technical consultants as each discipline brings something unique to the final solution.
UX has become a very popular job lately and there are a plethora of online courses that have sprung up teaching UX. Some of these have helped to perpetuate the myth that UX=UI and this is disheartening as it dilutes the importance that both disciplines bring to problem solving.
If you want to know more, please leave a comment. I can talk for hours about the merits of my work.