What Is User Experience (UX) Design?
- UI vs. UX: UI design looks at the small details and each interaction, while UX design focuses on the big picture.
- Project management: UX designers work on various projects, from websites and apps to products and service experiences.
- UX design outlook: The job outlook for UX designers is good, with experts predicting job growth in this market between now and 2031.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated on August 28, 2023 to include new data and information.
In the digital age, the way a product or service feels to users can make or break its success. At the heart of this sensation lies user experience design, often simply referred to as UX design.
What Is User Experience Design?
User experience design is the process of building relationships between products and customers (or potential customers) through a digital or physical experience that involves engineering, marketing, graphical, industrial and interface designs.
Tony Fernandes, CEO at UEGroup, called UX design an “interactive brand experience that takes the place of establishing credibility and connection in the way that logos and taglines did in the past.”
UI Design vs. UX Design
To understand UX design, first, it’s important to understand how it differs from user interface design, or UI design.
UX designers focus on how the product or service feels and whether there is logic embedded in how the product flows. They look at the entire experience or the big picture. UI designers, also called interaction designers, build and design each screen or page a user interacts with, including the design of buttons, icons, etc.
If designers were building the alphabet, for example, a UI designer would construct each letter, and the UX designer would decide which order they should go in and how many seconds should pass before a user is introduced to the next letter.
Related Article: UX Research vs. UX Design: Exploring Key Differences
What Does a User Experience Designer Do?
The scope of the UX designer role differs from company to company. However, they are generally charged with creating and helping organizations deliver exceptional user experiences, in both the physical and digital world.
“Everything from the way you interact with a software product to the location of an on-off switch and how it is shaped, is an example of elements that build UX. The sum of your interactions with a product becomes the experience that you have when you use that product,” wrote Adobe’s Nick Babich in a blog post.
UX design, he continued, evokes feelings about a brand that either creates a connection or makes people look elsewhere. “It is often the difference between a solution that people try and abandon, and a product that is adopted into people’s lives,” Fernandes said.
What Types of Projects Do UX Designers Work On?
When someone asks, “What is user experience design?”, it’s essential to understand the answer doesn’t come down to a single type of project. Instead, the realm of UX design encompasses a range of industries and mediums.
- Websites and Web Applications: UX designers create website layouts that are navigable, visually appealing and aligned with a site’s purpose or business goals. User experience design plays a crucial role in determining how a user flows or navigates around a website, accesses information and makes decisions based on their online journey.
- Mobile Apps: UX designers look to create seamless mobile experiences by focusing on touch interactions, screen transitions and ensuring apps are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
- Software Interfaces: From desktop applications to cloud-based platforms, UX designers delve deep into user workflows, ensuring that software is easy to understand and use and decreasing the need for lengthy training sessions or tutorials.
- Physical Products: Many associate UX design with digital products, but it’s also critical for tangible items and plays a significant part in the product development process. Think about the intuitiveness of a new camera, the layout of buttons on a remote or the ergonomic design of a chair. Each of these has undergone some form of UX design.
- Service Design: Beyond products, user experience design also extends to services. This involves mapping out and optimizing all touchpoints — and potential pain points — a customer has within the entire user journey, whether it’s visiting a bank, dining at a restaurant or checking into a hotel.
- Emerging Technologies: As technology evolves, so does the domain of UX design. Designers now find themselves working on projects involving augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), voice interfaces and even robotics. These interfaces present unique challenges and exciting opportunities for user experience design.
What Are the Top UX Design Skills?
UX design is more than just crafting beautiful interfaces; it’s about understanding the user’s journey and ensuring it’s as intuitive and delightful as possible. To excel in the world of UX design and truly understand, one must cultivate a unique blend of technical and soft skills:
- User Research: At the heart of the user’s experience is the user. Proficiency in conducting interviews, surveys and usability tests ensures designs are grounded in end user needs and behaviors.
- Wireframing and Prototyping: Creating low-fidelity wireframes to high-fidelity interactive prototypes allows a UX designer to visualize and test their concepts before full development.
- Information Architecture (IA): Structuring and organizing information in a user-friendly manner is pivotal. A sound grasp of information architecture ensures that users find what they’re looking for easily.
- Visual Design: While UX isn’t just about aesthetics, an understanding of color theory, typography, layout and other visual elements helps create a user interface that is both functional and pleasing to the eye.
- Interaction Design (IxD): This skill involves designing interactive elements in a way that’s intuitive and drives a positive user experience.
- Usability Testing: A crucial iterative process that involves evaluating a product by testing it on users, ensuring the final design is as user-friendly as possible.
- UX Metrics and Analytics: Interpreting data and analytics allows UX designers to gauge the success of a design and make data-driven improvements.
- Collaboration and Communication: UX design is often a team effort. Being able to articulate design choices and collaborate with developers, product managers and other stakeholders is essential.
- Accessibility and Inclusivity: Designing with all users in mind, including those with disabilities, ensures products are usable and inclusive.
- Continuous Learning: The field of UX is ever-evolving. A commitment to lifelong learning and staying updated with the latest tools, trends and methodologies is a must.
In essence, mastering these UX design skills is foundational for anyone seeking to champion the industry.
Popular UX Design Tools and Software
Naturally, UX designers need digital tools to do their jobs. Some popular UX design tools include:
Zeplin is a collaboration tool that can help UX designers — and interaction design teams, among others — simplify the journey from design to development. The platform allows UX designers to upload mockups directly from popular design tools. These mockups can then be transformed into developer-friendly guidelines and code snippets.
This platform allows a UX designer to craft mind maps, flowcharts and visual diagrams, capturing and structuring complex user-centered ideas with ease. As part of the UX design toolkit, this visual design solution facilitates brainstorming, project planning and easy communication.
Known for its prototyping and wireframing capabilities, Axure allows UX designers to bring interactive designs to life, test user flows and iterate rapidly. UI and UX designers alike can use this tool to ensure digital experiences are crafted with target users in mind.
Cloud-native tool Figma offers an intuitive canvas for collaboration. Its real-time design and prototyping capabilities allow UX practitioners and those in the interaction design field to breathe life into their concepts. This platform supports synchronous design activities, and offers robust vector editing features, dynamic prototyping and extensive component libraries.
Mockplus is a UX design tool with an intuitive drag-and-drop interface that’s ideal for visual design and graphic design and allows designers to easily craft and prototype interactive UIs. Beyond basic prototyping, its capabilities extend to testing intricate user interactions, and its features like stateful components, rich icon libraries and dynamic linking make it a favorite among many UX and UI design teams.
While primarily considered a project management platform, Trello holds its own in the world of user experience design. The tool offers a canvas of boards, lists and cards, enabling UX professionals to organize design workflows, maintain user personas, track project milestones and foster team collaboration.
UX Design Job Salary & Outlook
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies UX design and UI design under the category “web and digital interface designers.” Its definition of user experience design includes: “Design digital user interfaces or websites. Develop and test layouts, interfaces, functionality and navigation menus to ensure compatibility
Each year, 11,000 new or existing jobs are filled by new UX and UI designers, and the BLS expects UX designer jobs to grow by more than 16% between 2021 and 2031. The salary for UX designers varies by industry, with the mean annual wage sitting at $101,740 as of May 2022.
Related Article: How UX Design Customer Metrics Can Improve Customer Experience
How Design Thinking Applies to UX Design
Design thinking is an important part of an effective UX design strategy. It is a problem-solving process coined in a 2008 Harvard Business Review article titled “Design Thinking” by Tim Brown, the then-CEO and president of design company IDEO.
According to Rebecca Linke’s article in MIT Management Sloan School, design thinking involves a process in which UX designers:
- Understand a given problem
- Explore a wide range of possible solutions
- Iterate extensively through prototyping and testing
- Implement through the customary deployment mechanisms
Design Thinking Is Not Just a Process
The best and worst thing about design thinking is that it is described as a rote process, said UEGroup’s Fernandes. “Processes do not inherently produce great results. We’ve all followed recipes but wound up with something inedible because we lacked the experience needed to cook or bake something well. Putting a strategy in place is different from having the right ‘cooks’ in the organization,” he said.
Fernandes added that he has interacted with people leading design thinking efforts that had never designed anything in their lives before getting the title. Rather than focusing on the process, he said those deploying design thinking strategies should focus on the goals.
“The strategy should revolve around business goals such as reducing support costs, achieving great adoption and quicker training or quantifiable goals such as completing a task in a certain amount of time,” he said. Your strategy isn’t about just going through the design thinking process, which will not by itself necessarily achieve value to the customer or the organization, he added.
5 User Experience Design Principles
UX designers, at the core of their strategy, have various principles that guide them as they design a user experience. According to Clark Wimberly, content designer at InVision, five important UX design principles include:
- Digestibility: Making sure people just “get it” rather than having to think hard about what their customer journey means and how to accomplish tasks along the way.
- Clarity: Being absolutely clear on things like pricing, warranties, etc.
- Trust: Ensuring prospects and customers know exactly why they are taking time and effort with you — and then delivering on those promises.
- Familiarity: Using familiar patterns, icons and presentational guidelines.
- Delight: Making complex things simple; improving a user’s life.
Fernandes agrees with Wimberly’s list but added some of his own thoughts on UX design principles:
- Keep it simple
- Make it valuable
- Don’t imitate, innovate
- Understand the user and design to their needs
- Look at roles: who uses it and identify whether the customer is also the user
- Design for the first touch and ongoing usage
- Be consistent: be thrifty with concepts and design elements
- Design an onramp that makes the product easy to engage and understand user flow
- Make it something that people want to look at and talk about
What Is a Strong UX Design Process? 5 Steps
This process, shared by Fernandes, consists of several steps, each critical to success.
1. Discover the User
Conducting user research and taking the time to understand who the user is, what they want to do and how they want to do it, is critical. In addition to user research, learn what constraints you are dealing with in terms of time and technical limitations. UX design is useless if it can’t be brought out in the real world.
2. Define the Problem
Many designers start producing graphics without first writing out a problem statement for what they are trying to do. Defining the problem, understanding the roles, nouns and verbs of the solution provides a foundation on which to build the design.
3. Experiment and Iterate With Novel Ideas
This is often the most important and overlooked part of the process, according to Fernandes. Designers should allow themselves to test the boundaries of a solution and approach the problem in a novel way. Many simply start by copying what others have done rather than starting from a place where the problem is pondered and creative solutions are explored.
4. Validate With User Testing
Involving the user in decision-making is critical. This is often best done by usability testing early concepts and continuing to get user feedback as the design gets more and more refined. Using simple interactive prototypes provides the freedom of getting rapid feedback without writing actual code. Iterating on the design and validating the direction through further user testing is critical to a successful UX design process.
5. Follow-up Even After Delivery
When the design is completed, it is important to keep an eye on its implementation. Often there is a deep chasm between the design and the actual implementation. The process needs to include follow-up, not only during the development but after deployment as well.
Check out this comprehensive UX design process shared on Twitter from InfoBeans:
— InfoBeans (@infobeans) January 3, 2018
How Do Emotions Play Into UX Design?
Emotional design is a component of both UI design and UX design.
“When people interact with a poor UX design,” said Fernandes, “they often say things like, ‘It didn’t feel right. It made me feel stupid. It didn’t look very credible. It feels really slow.’”
Those types of feelings, Fernandes added, are influenced both by the steps that people take during the experience (i.e., too many steps, the wrong steps, the right ones) and the visual presentation of the experience (i.e., quality of the graphic design, the cohesive branding, clarity of the information architecture). “Modern tools such as youXemotions allow designers to get visibility into how people are feeling when using a digital product,” Fernandes said.
The goal is to draw emotional responses among users by connecting them emotionally to the UX design experience. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, there are three components of emotional design:
- Visceral emotional design: Appeals to our first reactions when we encounter a product.
- Behavioral emotional design: Refers to the usability of the product, our assessment of how well it performs the desired functions and how easily we can learn how to use it.
- Reflective emotional design: Our ability to project the product’s impact on our lives after we have used it — e.g., how it makes us feel when not holding it, or what values we find ourselves attaching to the product in retrospect.
Related Article: Create a Positive Emotional Connection for a Better Customer Experience
Great UX Design Examples
How do you put it all together? There are several examples of great UX design. Check out some of the examples below.
Millennials Are Screwed
Millennials Are Screwed is a feature article that appeared on Highline, HuffPost’s digital magazine. The piece, written by Michael Hobbes, delves into the economic challenges faced by the millennial generation.
Machines for Life
Machines for Life is a feature article written by Ryan Dombal that appeared in the music publication Pitchfork. The webpage, which covers Daft Punk’s mission to “make music breathe again,” also includes photos from Nabil.
Riding the New Silk Road
Riding the New Silk Road is a feature article in The New York Times that includes photography and video by James Hill. It delves into the ambitious development of a new global trade route, reminiscent of the ancient Silk Road.
The Deep Sea
The Deep Sea, by Neal Agarwal, is an interactive and educational webpage that allows users to scroll down and discover what’s in the depths on the ocean. The experience takes users all the way down to 10,910 meters deep, discovering sea creatures and explorers along the way.
The Apple Watch page on the Apple website utilizes UX design to enhance the user experience. It takes advantage of features like minimalist aesthetics — a clean layout and lots of white space — stunning imagery, hierarchical typography, intuitive navigation, interactive design elements and more.
Blue Apron Homepage
The Blue Apron homepage marries culinary allure with user-friendly design. For those with a keen eye for user experience, the page offers notable features like vibrant imagery, a structured layout that allows for easy, intuitive user flow, interactive elements, mobile responsiveness and clear calls-to-action.
Got any great user experience (UX) design examples? We’d to love to hear more.
The Value of UX Design
UX design isn’t just about creating a pretty interface — it’s about understanding and optimizing the relationship between users and products, services and experiences.
When businesses prioritize UX design, they’re not merely chasing aesthetics, they’re also investing in tangible benefits that bolster their bottom line and foster brand loyalty. In fact, a study by Forrester found that every dollar invested in UX can yield a return of up to $100. This statistic underscores the fact that well-implemented UX design can lead to increased user satisfaction, which translates to more conversions, higher sales and repeat business.