The UX Design Process is the secret formula for making awesome websites, apps, and other digital products. But what exactly is the UX process? And how does it influence what users think and feel while using the product?
UX design has been around since the 1990s, but the concept itself is as old as time. As anyone who’s ever worked a customer service job will tell you, empathy is a powerful problem-solving skill. UX harnesses empathy to understand what makes the user tick — and in turn, create something they love using.
So, how do UX designers step into the shoes of their users? By guessing? Reading a few articles? Swapping bodies for a few hours? As cool as that would be, the answer is much easier than all that…by following a solid UX design process.
The UX Design Process
What is Design Thinking?
UX design covers everything the user thinks and feels while using a digital product. For a truly impactful product, the user should have a problem for which the product presents a clear solution.
The problem can be as simple as booking a hotel room for a weekend trip or as complicated as finding a primary care physician that accepts the user’s health insurance. No matter the difficulty, the product needs to get them from point A to point B in the most seamless way possible.
On top of being easy to use, the product needs to resonate with users in a meaningful way. If you know the target audience is 60-70-year-olds purchasing life insurance plans, you probably won’t use bright, bold colors and lots of slang, right?
The trick is to have the design meet in the middle of relevant and easy-to-use. To strike the right balance, UX designers usually follow design thinking principles.
Design thinking has five stages that guide the typical UX process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Let’s apply design thinking to the example of the hotel booking product. Pretend the user booked a three-day trip to Chicago and needs to find a hotel.
- Empathize: Consider the user’s wants/needs.
- Wants: hotel amenities, close to attractions, nearby restaurants, rewards programs, rooms with a view, etc.
- Needs: length of stay, budget-friendly, child/pet friendly, number of beds, etc.
- Define: Outline who the typical user is/what their goals are.
- The user: adults, 20-40 years old, married with 2-3 kids, make $50-70,000 a year, etc.
- The goal: booking a quality, reasonably-priced hotel room near Chicago’s best family-friendly attractions.
- Ideate: Brainstorm features that will help the user reach their goal.
- Features: filters, maps, restaurant/attraction recommendations, user reviews, safety ratings, event calendars, booking deals, etc.
- Prototype: Turn your branding and features into a usable product.
- Test: Test your prototype with your future users and find out what to add/fix.
- Examples of feedback: “This doesn’t tell me how far the hotel is from Wrigley Field.”, “I can’t search hotels by lowest price.”, “It would be great if this told me where I can find the best Chicago-style deep dish.”, “Why is the navigation bar so hard to find?”
As you can see, there’s plenty of overlap between design thinking and UX design strategy. When they’re used in tandem, the product benefits the business as much as the user. The best thing for the user is usually the best thing for your business.
What is the UX Design Process?
You’re probably thinking, “As long as I follow the design thinking process, I should be golden, right?” Well…yes and no.
Design thinking applies to every digital product, but the actual process of building the product differs from project to project. For instance, a full-scale web app is WAY more involved than a simple marketing website design process.
The typical UX design process generally follows these steps but may have some extra or repeated steps depending on the project. The trick is to intermingle those design thinking principles at each process stage.
The UX Design Process
You knew this part was coming…
Before you put anything about your product on paper, do your homework. Take a look at your competitors. What works? What doesn’t? Who uses the product? What do they want? And most importantly, what can you do better?
This is a prime opportunity to put yourself in the user’s shoes and empathize with them since you technically ARE a user. If your biggest competitors have key features hidden, slow load speeds, poor branding, or any other frustrating roadblocks, take notes!
User interviews are also a crucial part of UX design strategy. You can infer a lot about how the target users feel from independent research, but why guess when you can get real, usable feedback straight from the source?
Analyze your findings from the research phase to define and ideate before designing. Think of this stage as a UX evaluation.
Have a good idea of what the user’s primary and secondary goals are with the product. Along with user feedback, this will help you decide what design elements and features are helpful or not.
Also, pull together any data you got about your users to create user personas (AKA a fictional user profile). Even though the person isn’t “real”, it’s based on real metrics and will help guide your design choices, creating a more tailored user experience.
Now that the groundwork is in place, you can start conceptualizing the actual prototype. With the personas in the back of your mind, start thinking about user flows, original features, and creating a unique brand identity.
It’s time to create the prototype!
Building the actual product is always exciting because you get to watch your concepts come to life. Plus, with your UX design strategy, you’re creating a useful product and attaching it to a brand you’re proud of.
Remember that the product does NOT have to be perfect at this point in the UX design process. UX has become so popular in digital product design BECAUSE of its iterative nature. You can still get creative without completely ruining the product because you can always go back to the drawing board.
After you finish your prototype, put it to the test and validate your design choices.
Test the product with people that match your user personas to ensure it works for the intended audience. This gives you a little preview of how the product will fare in your competitive market before launch.
The best thing about user testing is that you can fix any product kinks before putting the MVP in front of real end-users. It also significantly reduces the number of unsatisfied users that will abandon the product and never come back.
How many times have you bought a tube of toothpaste because it said “4 out of 5 Dentists Recommend” on the package? Think of user testing as a similar guarantee because you wouldn’t put out a product that leaves users frustrated.
There’s no feeling more exciting than watching your hard work pay off. Especially when your users really enjoy your product and make it a part of their everyday lives.
However, this doesn’t mean that the product will always be perfect as is. You should always have a maintenance plan to keep everything working properly. Technology is ever-changing, and software updates will be necessary from time to time.
The digital product market is also evolving at the speed of light, and in the current competitive market, it’s only a matter of time before a new product comes along to steal your thunder.
Think about when Netflix first started as an online DVD rental service. They revolutionized streaming before anyone else and practically ended Blockbuster (RIP). And when other streaming services came along with bigger and better libraries, they created multiple original programs to keep their users returning to their platform.
If you want your digital product to stay relevant, keep your finger on the pulse and evolve with the times. UX design strategy never ends after launch, but keeps growing and changing into bigger and better products.
What are Best Practices?
Best practices are industry-specific methods for carrying out procedures that are generally practiced because they produce favorable results.
The UX design process and design thinking guide the project, but best practices are guardrails that keep the design team focused on creating a seamless experience.
People, technology, and industries are always evolving, and so are best practices. Just because something worked best ten years ago doesn’t mean it will always be standard practice. After all, could you imagine following a website design process from 2002? How dated and ancient would that website look?
We use these evergreen best practices as a fallback during the UX design process. Since anyone can spot these common themes in easy-to-use interfaces, we can see these best practices sticking around for a while.
CreateApe's Best Practices
- Know the difference between UX and UI: User experience and user interface design overlap quite a bit, but they are completely different concepts. Learn and understand the intricacies and nuances of both.
- Know your audience: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. What works for a 21-year-old computer programmer IS NOT going to work for a 60-year-old grandmother.
- Keep content scannable: Break your content into easily digestible pieces for better focus and reading comprehension.
- Simplicity and clarity are paramount: Cut down as many steps as possible to streamline the user’s path.
- Consistency in UI=intuitive navigation: If the user can recognize elements and patterns in the interface, they’ll feel more at ease using your product.
- Design for accessibility: Not everyone has the same abilities, so designing for accessibility ensures you’re creating equal opportunities with your product.
- Eliminate distractions: “I love all these pop-up ads” - said no one, ever. You’re also 279.64 times more likely to climb Mt. Everest than click on a banner ad.
- Optimize for mobile: Four out of five mobile users access online shops with their smartphones, so make sure your users can take your product on the go.
- Allow for personalization: Users don’t want to dig through your site to find content relevant to them. Personalize interfaces and curate content for a more tailored experience.
- When in doubt, don’t reinvent the wheel: If you’re not sure how a user will respond to a conceptual design element, it’s probably safe to say they won’t get it. If it ain't broke, don’t fix it.
So, Why is the UX Design Process so Important?
As tech becomes more present in our everyday lives, we need to find a way to keep products working for real people. The UX design process ensures that tech will always have a human touch because it’s validated by real people like us!
Creating digital products involves a lot of conceptualizing and ideation. But when you follow the UX design process and best practices, you and your team get a clear roadmap to an MVP. You’ll also know what to expect post-launch by putting the actual product in front of your users and fixing problems before they cause any major damage.
None of this is a guarantee that your product will become the next Uber or Air B’n’B. But the UX design process will give your team a more organized approach to product design and help you foster meaningful relationships with your users.
Need help navigating the UX design process? Contact us for a UX evaluation!
Read more about our approach to UX strategy.