Tutorial 2: An Introduction To The UX Design Process
“Hello again! 😎In this tutorial, I’ll be handing over to Claire, a fellow UX designer. Claire used to work as a nurse in London. She took the full CareerFoundry UX Design Program and became a professional UX designer. We were so impressed by her skills that we brought her on board at CareerFoundry. After a couple of years she transitioned into a freelance role, working with companies from all over the world. Now the apprentice has become the master, and she’s returned to teach you all about the wonderful world of UX, from user research and personas to wireframes and prototyping. So, without further ado, take it away Claire!”
So what are we going to do today?
Last time, Jeff introduced you to UX design with the help of some examples of good and bad UX. In this tutorial, I’m going to show you what a UX designer actually does on a day-to-day basis. In other words, what does UX design look like in action? By the end, you’ll have a good understanding of what the UX design process entails.
As you progress through this tutorial, think about the parallels between your current job and the UX design process—there are bound to be some! As Jeff mentioned, I used to work as a nurse, and there are more similarities between the two fields than you might think. Both require empathy and a highly user-centric approach, for example. So, as you read, think about how your current skillset might be transferred to UX.
In this tutorial, we’ll explore the following:
- What does the UX design process consist of?
- How do UX designers and UI designers work together?
- Design to development hand-off
- Practical exercise
1. What is the typical UX design process?
What does a UX designer actually do? This question comes up time and time again, especially among those considering a career in UX! As a UX designer, what I do can vary dramatically from project to project. However, the UX design process can generally be divided into four key phases: research, design, testing, and implementation.
Based on these phases, UX designers tend to follow a certain sequence for each project: carrying out user research, analyzing their findings, defining user personas, mapping out user flows, creating wireframes and prototypes, conducting user testing, and finally, handing the designs over for visual design and development.
Let’s take a look at each step in more detail now.
Every design process begins with research. But where does research begin in the world of UX design? You guessed it—it all starts with the user! As a UX designer, a user-centered approach is absolutely crucial; you need to understand what your users need, how they think, and how they behave. It’s therefore really important to engage with your users directly and figure out how they tick!
So how do I tackle user research? Usually, I will receive a brief from the Head of Product asking me to conduct initial research for a new product feature. I then start with competitor research to see what’s out there, before moving on to interviews with actual prospective users. I also survey and interview any existing users, as well as product stakeholders, to identify their needs, pain-points, and any opportunities for improvement.
Research is essential as it helps you understand the problem you’re trying to solve. It enables you to identify pain-points and challenges, validate or invalidate your assumptions, find patterns and commonalities across your target user groups, and shed plenty of light on your users’ needs and objectives. Ultimately, research ensures that you’re designing with the user in mind—the golden rule of UX!
User research analysis—Affinity mapping
Having conducted extensive user research, it’s time to analyze your findings and turn them into meaningful insights. In other words, what does the data tell you about the product you’re designing and the people you’re designing it for? At this point, I organize all my research—be it audio recordings of interviews or hand-written notes—and start to look for common themes and patterns.
One of my favorite research analysis techniques is affinity mapping. All you need is a whiteboard or a blank wall and some Post-it notes. On each Post-it note, you write down an observation or quote from your research, before grouping your Post-its into similar clusters. The end result is a wall or whiteboard filled with sticky notes and, most importantly, themes that can be used to draw meaningful insights from your data. You can learn more about UX research analysis in this video.
User personas & user flows
Armed with meaningful insights from the research phase, I then get to work on crafting user personas—one of my favorite tasks as a UX designer! A user persona is a fictional but realistic representation of a set of target users based on their goals, needs, and behaviors (all discovered during the research phase!).
A user persona is an extremely valuable tool in the UX design process as it reminds designers and other stakeholders that they’re designing for real people. Rather than designing for user group A and user group B, I will design for “Jane”, a mother of two living in London, and “Steve”, a recent retiree in the process of relocating to Rome. Can you see how personas help to humanize different target user groups? This helps the designer to build empathy with the user and to prioritize key features and design decisions based on real user data.
Once the personas have been fleshed out, it’s then possible to look at specific tasks that each persona might want to perform—such as making an appointment via a calendar app, or completing an online purchase. From there, I’ll create a user flow depicting the path a user like Jane needs to follow in order to achieve her goal.
Wireframes & prototypes
Once the steps in the user journey have been mapped out, I can start to define how the content on each page should be organized, as well as how these pages can fit together in a way that’s intuitive and easy for the user to navigate. This is where wireframes and prototypes come in.
You may remember wireframes from yesterday’s tutorial. A wireframe is like a blueprint, demonstrating the layout of the design and how it will function. A prototype is essentially a scaled-down version of the final product—a simulation or sample version which allows you to test your ideas and designs before you get them developed. Wireframes and prototypes tend to start off as rather basic, low-fidelity sketches, and then, based on feedback and initial testing, will evolve into detailed mockups that closely resemble the final design. You can learn more about the difference between wireframes and prototypes in this guide.
Testing is a fundamental part of the UX designer’s job, and a core component of the overall UX design process. Just like user research, it’s important to test your designs on real users; this way, you get authentic feedback from those who will actually be using the product. Testing also makes sense from a business perspective—you’ll catch any major design flaws before going into the development phase, which saves considerable time and money for the company!
The most common type of testing for UX designers is usability testing, which is a technique used to evaluate how intuitive and user-friendly a particular design is. After a few rounds of testing, I’ll use the results to improve the design, adjust the prototypes, and test again. This process of continuous testing and improving is known as iteration.
After several iterations of prototyping and testing, my design is ready for a visual makeover. This is where the UI designer comes in…
2. How do UX designers and UI designers work together?
It’s important to note that visual design doesn’t typically come under the UX design process; that’s the role of the user interface (UI) designer. So, once I’ve taken care of the layout and information architecture, the UI designer steps in to handle the aesthetics.
UI designers also have a solid understanding of the user’s needs and goals, but their speciality lies in the user’s visual experience. Based on the UX designer’s wireframes and prototypes, they design all the visual aspects of the product interface, such as color, typography, and spacing, as well as the interactive touchpoints that the user encounters, such as buttons and scrollbars.
So, now we have a user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing design—time to hand over to the developers!
3. Design to development hand-off
Regardless of the scope of a project, I always work closely with developers to reach the end goal. As a UX designer, it’s important to maintain a good relationship with the development team—they’re the ones who will bring your designs to life and turn them into functional products, after all! I try to be as thorough as possible when documenting the entire UX design process, and aim to have regular check-ins with the development team. The earlier you involve the developers, the sooner you can identify any design elements that might be tricky to implement from a technical perspective.
As you can see, the UX design process is extremely varied, and you can expect plenty of collaboration along the way. Want to learn more about what it’s like to work as a UX designer? Check out former CareerFoundry student Ryan Wu’s day in the life of a UX designer.
4. Practical exercise: Are you ready to start thinking like a UX designer?
In this tutorial, we explored the UX design process in detail. Hopefully you now have a good idea of what a UX designer does on a day-to-day basis. As we near the end of our lesson, it’s time for a practical task!
For today’s task, we want to turn the focus back to you. Think about the UX design process—do any of the functions or tasks that we discussed resemble anything you do in your current job? If so, write down what they are and how they’re similar to the UX design process.
Not sure where to start? Let’s consider some examples. If you work in marketing, part of your job might be to collect and evaluate marketing data—just like the research aspect of the UX design process. If you’re a teacher, you’re probably constantly reviewing the needs of your students and adapting the class to these needs—similar to how UX designers build empathy with their users. UX really does permeate many areas of our personal and professional lives, so there are bound to be more parallels than you might initially think.
It’s a wrap!
So there you have it: the UX design process at a glance. There’s just one more thing to do before you go—take the quiz below to test what you’ve learned!
Take the quiz below to make sure you've learned all the important information—and that it really sticks!