What Does a UX Designer Actually Do?

A man sits at his desk and focuses on his work.

by Nick Babich

posted on 08-25-2017

User Experience (UX) Designer is a job title you’re likely hearing more and more these days. While UX design is a field that feels essential to product development, its function still remains a mystery to many because of its relative newness. Thus, when someone says “I’m a UX designer,” it is not always immediately clear what they actually do day-to-day.

This article is dedicated to those who are genuinely still unsure what a UX designer does.

What UX Design Is All About

For a long time design has been associated with graphic design (“the look” of a product). As digital technology and our expectations about digital interactions has grown, we’ve begun focusing more and more on “the feel” part of a design, also known as the user experience. If UX is the experience that a user has while interacting with a product, then UX Design is the process by which a designer tried to determine what that experience will be (Note: We can’t really design experiences as a formal entity. However, we can design the conditions of an intended experience).

A UX designer’s role is directly involved in the process of making a product useful, usable and enjoyable for its users. If you want to learn more about UX design, consider reading the article, What You Should Know About User Experience.

Responsibilities of UX Designer

How do UX designers work on a day-to-day basis? The answer to this question, as with many questions, is: it depends. A UX designer’s responsibilities can vary dramatically from company to company and sometimes even from project to project within one company. Despite the variety the role offers, there are some general functions a UX designer can be expected to perform irrespective of the company they work at.

Below I’ve summarized the 6 main responsibilities of UX designer:

1. Product Research

Product research (which naturally includes user and market research) is every UX designer’s starting point for a UX design project. It provides the foundation for great design as it allows designers to avoid assumptions and make information-driven decisions.

Product research is important because:

From the technical side, product research is a data collecting process through channels like:

Collected data is analyzed and converted into quantitative and qualitative information. This valuable information will be used for decision making.

2. Creating Personas and Scenarios

Based on the product research results, the next step for a UX designer is to identify key user groups and create representative personas. A persona is a fictitious identity that reflects one of the user groups for whom they are designing.

An example of a persona by Clark Andrews.

Personas aren’t the users they want, but the users they actually have. And while personas are fictional they should represent a selection of a real audience and their behaviors. The goal of creating personas is to reflect patterns that they’ve identified in their users (or prospective users).

When a UX designer has identified personas, they can write scenarios. A scenario is a narrative describing “a day in the life of” one of their personas, including how their website or app fits into their user’s lives. Whether they’re designing an app or a website, and whether this is a new product or a redesign of an existing product, it’s important to think through all of the steps that a user might take while interacting with their product.

A cartoon example of a narrative scenario.

3. Information Architecture (IA)

Once a UX designer has done the research and created personas, it’s time to define the Information Architecture. Information architecture is the creation of a structure for a website, app, or other product, that allows users to understand where they are, and where the information they want is in relation to their current position. Information architecture results in the creation of navigation, hierarchies and categorizations. For example, when a UX designer sketches a top level menu to help users understand where they are on a site, s/he is practicing information architecture.

An illustration of the information architecture.

4. Creating Wireframes

Once the IA has been determined, it’s time to create wireframes. A wireframe is a design deliverable most famously associated with being a UX Designer. Basically, a wireframe is a low fidelity representation of a design. Wireframes should represent each screen or step that a user might take while interacting with a product.

Wireframes have following properties:

Illustration of smartphones displaying shopping lists.

5. Prototyping

A lot of people use the terms “wireframe” and “ prototype” interchangeable, but there’s a significant difference between two design deliverables — they look different, they communicate something different and they serve different purposes. While wireframes are similar to architectural blueprints (e.g. a building plan), prototype is a middle to high fidelity representation of the final product.

Prototypes have following properties:

Examples of prototypes.

6. Product Testing

Testing helps UX designers find out what problem users experience during the interaction with a product. One of the most common ways that a UX designer might do product testing is by conducting in-person user tests to observe one’s behavior. Gathering and analyzing verbal and non-verbal feedback from the user helps UX designers create a better user experience. Not to say that being in the same room while someone struggles to use your product is a powerful trigger for creating empathy with users.

Two people laughing while working together at a computer.

There are a lot of other testing methods available. If you’re interested in learning more information about user testing, read about The Top 5 User Testing Methods.

UX Design is a Never Ending Process

UX design is a process of constant iteration. A UX designer’s work doesn’t stop with the product release, in fact, UX designers continue to learn which drives future updates. They launch with the best possible product, but they’re always prepared to learn and grow.

UX Jobs—What’s Out There?

If you overview different UX designer job descriptions, you’ll find that the list of responsibilities on each can vary significantly — in some descriptions, the UX designer role is all about research and usability testing, while in others it’s more technical role, responsible for building the prototypes and working more closely with the engineering team. All because the role of a UX designer depends heavily on the nature of the company and the difference between one UX designer role and another can be dramatic. The biggest difference is between startups and big companies:

Conclusion

While the UX designer role is complex, challenging and multifaceted, UX design is really fascinating and satisfying career path which could take you in many directions.

Topics: Creative Inspiration & Trends, Design

Products: Creative Cloud