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UX, short for “user experience,” is an essential component of today’s business world. In fact, in his influential book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen concludes that a focus on the user’s experience of products (and not on company profit), is what drives today’s best companies. Consider what Joshua Porter, the Director of UX at HubSpot, recently wrote: “Companies like Apple are searching for better ways to delight customers, even it means cannibalizing their existing businesses.”
All of this is backed up by the job market: 87 percent of managers surveyed by Adobe said that hiring UX Designers is their top priority. While 75 percent said they plan to double the number of UX Designers on their teams within the next five years.
So What is UX Design, Exactly?
UX design is the process of creating digital products and experiences that are relevant, and meaningful to your users. Essentially, a UX Designer has to consider the Why, What, and How:
- Why would someone use the product?
- What can they do with it?
- How easy and fun is it to use?
The answers to these questions can touch on a number of different aspects, including branding, web and product design, usability, and more. In fact, UX design is closely related to (and often overlapping with) other design fields, including:
- UI (user interface) design, which concerns the stylization of the interface screens and touch points that a user encounters. UI design involves nitty the gritty design choices around typography, visual elements, and micro-interactions, such as whether to provide a toggle or a button.
- Interaction design (IxD), which overlaps with both UI and UX design and which some consider to be a bridge of sorts between the two. Its scope is broader than UI, involving the functionality and process flow of interface elements, so interaction designers typically have front-end web development skills.
UX design can involve UI design and IxD, but generally, it is broader than both in that it takes the user experience into consideration before and after users are interacting with screens.
For this reason, UX Designers are often directly involved early on in the product development process, when the product is no more than an idea (and they may be consulted right up to product launch).
What Does a UX Designer Do?
In a 2014 survey conducted by usability expert Jakob Nielson, approximately 1,000 UX professionals reported 210 different job titles, with wide-ranging roles and responsibilities. “The strongest finding from this research,” stated Nielson, “is that there is no single defining characteristic of user experience careers.”
That said, we can still identify a few responsibilities that commonly fall to UX specialists, including:
- Conducting research. This is a major component of the work as it is the engine that will drive development and innovation. Data collection, surveys, interviews, user diaries, and focus groups are some of the methods UX Designers use to gather knowledge about target users.
- Developing personas. In this phase, UX Designers consolidate and interpret their research to construct representative users and communicate their needs.
- Information architecting. Based on the above, what is the optimal way for the user to encounter, navigate, and interact with the company’s product?
- Wireframing. The initial set of static screen layouts and interaction designs — usually screens that chart content and the functionality for the user’s journey.
- Testing. Of a working prototype, to determine what changes need to be made as you proceed with development.
On large teams, UX Designers may specialize in only one or two of these roles, such as conducting research or prototype testing. However, they can be consulted at every step of the product development process.
What are the Roles of a UX Designer?
As mentioned above, common job titles tend to be quite varied, with UX Designers working across many different industries.
Here, however, are some of the most common UX-related job titles you may encounter during a job search:
- User Researcher
- Usability Tester
- Data Analyst
- Information Architect
- Experience Designer
- Interaction Designer
- Information Architect
- UX Strategist
- UX Architect
- UX Product Manager
- UX Analyst
What is the Average Salary of a UX Designer?
Both Glassdoor and the UX design outfit PingPong calculate the current average salary of a UX Designer to be $97,000. Junior designers make somewhat less, while designers with more experience can earn well over six figures.