Anytime you interact with a product or service, you have a user experience. This might entail navigating a mobile app, browsing a website, interacting with a physical product (like trying out a new running shoe), or taking advantage of a service (checking into a hotel or using public transportation for example).
The term user experience (UX) refers to all aspects of this interaction. Think about the last time you used a new product. Were you able to accomplish your task? How easy was it? How did it make you feel? UX design seeks to make products and services that are easy, effective, and delightful.
When you accomplish this, you earn loyal customers who’ll recommend that product or service to their friends and family.
Don Norman, a cognitive psychologist and designer, coined the term “user experience” in his 1988 book The Design of Everyday Things. Norman became the first official user experience architect during his time at Apple in the 1990s.
The role of the UX designer is to make a product or service usable, enjoyable, and accessible. While many companies design user experiences, the term is most often associated with digital design for websites and apps. While the exact process varies from product to product and company to company, the general phases of design tend to stay the same.
Before we dive into the essentials of UX design, it’s helpful to define a few terms you’re likely to encounter while working in the field. Here are 10 to get you started:
A/B testing - A method for comparing two versions of a product or service to evaluate which is more successful
Accessibility - The concept of whether a service or product can be used by people of all abilities, irrespective of their situation
Card sort- A session where participants organize information into logical groups to help determine information architecture
End user - The person who will use a finished product or service once it has been purchased
Human computer interaction - Field of study examining computer technology design and the interaction between humans and computers
Information architecture - The structural design of information to make it more understandable
Mockup - A realistic visual model of what a final webpage or application will look like
Persona - A fictional representation of an ideal customer to help you understand their needs, goals, and behaviors
Prototype - A sample or simulation of a final product used to test and gather feedback
User flow - A diagram that maps out each step a user takes when using a product or service
Wireframe - A web page layout stripped of visual design used to prioritize page elements based on user needs
As a user experience designer, you’re responsible for the users’ overall satisfaction with a product. Think of yourself as the customer’s advocate, always looking for ways to improve the customer’s experience. Let’s take a look at some of the tasks and responsibilities you’ll likely encounter throughout the design process.
1. Understand the user and the brand. Think about what problem you’re trying to solve for the user (and how this aligns with brand goals).
2. Conduct user research. Identify user needs, goals, behaviors, and pain points. Tools for user research might include surveys, one-on-one interviews, focus groups, or A/B testing.
3. Analyze what you’ve learned. At this stage, you’ll build user personas based on your research to help you identify the most important elements of the product or service. Start to map out what the user flow will look like.
4. Design. As you begin to build out the design, you’ll create site maps, wireframes, or prototypes to give you and your team a better idea of what the final product will look like. At this stage, a user interface (UI) designer will add in visual or interface elements.
5. Conduct user testing. Validate the design by tracking how real users interact with the product or service (usability testing). Identify any problems with the design and develop solutions.
6. Present your work. Deliver the design solution to your client or company.
UX designers leverage a wide range of hard and soft skills to bring a successful product or service to market (or improve upon an existing product). Many of these skills transfer from other fields, so even if you’re new to UX design, you’ve likely developed a few already. Focus on these essential skills, and you can begin to build a strong foundation for a career.
Communication skills will help you effectively interview users and present your solutions to clients or management.
Empathy allows you to think about problems and solutions from the user’s point of view.
Collaboration skills empower you to work in harmony with your team, taking feedback, exploring solutions, and leveraging expertise.
Critical thinking encourages you to challenge your assumptions and innovate new solutions.
Research, including the use of interviews, surveys, and observation, guides you to make the best decisions in the design process.
Information architecture helps you organize and prioritize large and complex sets of information.
Wireframing (building a skeletal framework for a website or app) enables you to explore design solutions in an efficient way.
Prototyping is essential for testing functionality and identifying problems.
While not essential for UX designers, fundamental visual design and coding skills can help you understand how your design fits in with the greater product development process.
UX design is an exciting and always evolving field, so you might encounter a number of job titles associated with UX (UX designer, interaction designer, product designer, and service designer among them).
As a UX designer working at a smaller company, you’ll likely have a more general role with responsibility for each step of the design process. At a larger company, you might focus on one specialty or facet of UX design, like information architecture, UX research, usability analysis, or interaction design.
As you gain experience, you’ll have the opportunity to advance within your specialization to become a UX subject matter expert (SMX) or move into a managerial role as a project manager, product manager, or director of user experience.
User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design often go hand in hand, but the two fields have some important differences. While UX encompasses the overall experience a user has with a product or service, UI focuses on the graphic design and interface.
Working as a UX designer means you can apply your creativity and analytical skills in a wide range of fields that might interest you. Your work will vary from day to day and project to project, giving you the opportunity to continually learn and grow throughout your career.
The average base salary for a UX designer in the U.S. is $85,277 according to Glassdoor . UX design was listed as one of Glassdoor’s 50 Best Jobs in America for 2021 based on earning potential, job satisfaction, and overall number of job openings . Keep in mind that how much you earn will depend on a number of factors, including location, industry, company, and years of experience.
UX design is a diverse and evolving field, and there’s no one path to a successful career as a UX designer. The overlapping skill sets of many professional fields, including graphic design, architecture, interior design, software development, and industrial design, transition well into UX design.
Following these few steps can help you build a foundation for a career in UX design.
1. Take a course in UX design. Even if you have no specific prior experience, you can start getting career-ready with a course or certification in UX design. Look for a course or program where you’ll learn the fundamentals, get hands-on experience with the latest UX design tools, complete projects for your portfolio, and network with others in the industry.
By completing the Google UX Design Professional Certificate, available through Coursera, you can equip yourself with the job-ready skills you’ll need for an entry-level role in UX design.
2. Practice your skills in the real world. You don’t need to wait to get hired as a UX designer to start gaining experience. Volunteer your skills for a charitable organization, non-profit, or business of a friend or family member. Alternately, you could redesign a user experience you’ve had in the past that wasn’t as good as it could have been. This is commonly referred to as an unsolicited redesign.
If you’re already working full time in another field, practice your UX design skills on the job by identifying a potential challenge and designing a solution.
3. Build a design portfolio. While you don’t necessarily need a degree to get a job in UX design, you will want to demonstrate your skills through a portfolio of work. Compile the projects you’ve finished in your coursework, volunteer work, and unsolicited redesigns. Continue to add your best work as you gain more experience.
If you’re ready to get started as a UX designer (or learn more about what UX design is all about), consider the Google UX Design Professional Certificate, available through Coursera. You can equip yourself with the job-ready skills you’ll need for an entry-level role in UX design.
1. Glassdoor. "User Experience Designer Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/user-experience-designer-salary-SRCH_KO0,24.htm." Accessed March 25, 2021.
2. Glassdoor. "50 Best Jobs in America for 2021, https://www.glassdoor.com/List/Best-Jobs-in-America-LST_KQ0,20.htm." Accessed March 25, 2021.