There is no silver bullet for excelling at UX Design. That said, there are a couple of skills we can work on in order to become better professionals and, more importantly, to get the opportunity for working on more challenging and rewarding projects. Here are 10 things you can do to improve your ability as a UX designer, accompanied by some suggested tutorials and articles to help you take things further.
1. Get Involved with the Business Goals
Before anyone starts thinking of the concept of the design, it’s key to grasp what the intended outcomes are. Ask yourself:
- What is the company or client trying to achieve?
- What’s the problem being solved?
- Have they done any previous research?
- What do they expect from you as UX Designer? What do you have in terms of resources? When is the deadline?
- Are there any business or technical constraints?
There are many ways to approach a single problem. That’s why it is crucial to understand the context of the business you’re working with before planning any research methodology. List all the things you need to find out. Consider the time, resources, business and technical constraints you will possibly encounter. Once you’ve done all that, you can start thinking about a user research plan.
2. Get to Know Your Users
This is an important one: do user research. Understand user behaviours, needs, and motivations. Research will inform and help with your design strategy. By doing research, you will get the necessary insights to make data-driven decisions.
Most of the time research helps to find out whether a particular feature should or should not be designed. You need to find out:
- Who are the end users?
- What are the user scenarios?
- What do users intend when using the product?
- What platforms and devices do you need to develop the product for?
“I don’t know how to do research.”
Whether you work in a big company or a startup, you can put effort in doing research. You can do it even yourself. All of us should join together and put an end to the myth suggesting that UX Designers aren’t able to carry out research!
The end goal is to add value to the process by cutting down the number of times we develop a product, service, or feature that won’t be used. It’s about saving time, money, and being sure that everything released to the market will have a real impact on business.
3. Dive Into User Testing and Iterate on Design Solutions
Test designs as many times as you need. It doesn’t matter if the team thinks your designs are great and you are doing a great job, what really matters is what users need and the desired outcome. How innovative you think your designs are is meaningless if they are not driving change or facilitating decision-making.
“If you want a great site, you’ve got to test.” – Steve Krug
Whenever possible, test wireframes, not final designs. By doing so you will speed up the process of testing and your life will be made easier. Just think about it: after testing, you will likely have to make changes on the design screens, so the fewer elements in the interface, the quicker you will be able to make those changes.
Lastly, think about the outcome of the test. What are you trying to find out? If you can’t answer this question maybe you shouldn’t do the test at all, at least in the way you have planned it.
4. Get Used to Measuring UX
There’s no sense in making deliverables just for the sake of it. Instead, you should be creating things which add value, so you need metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators) in order to be able to measure the UX value. Think about the following:
- How will you measure the success of the project/feature? How will you translate that success into metrics?
- Are the users able to accomplish their goals?
- Do users perceive your product as easy and handy?
- Would users be willing to recommend the product to a friend?
By setting metrics and getting data, the communication between developers and product people will become simpler and clearer.
5. Learn to Get a Seat at the Table
I had once a situation with a product manager. He enjoyed showing to the product and development team that he knew more about the users and their needs and problems than the UX team.
This happened mainly because he was at the first meetings with the company. He had the business context and had met some users. That product manager thought he knew every single feature and requirement necessary for the success of the product.
He told me what elements of design were needed in the interface and how the user flow should be. We had some “heated discussions” in the following days. Whilst working on the design screens I realised what I was doing was nonsense. I had no idea where to place the elements or how to design the navigation. I had so many unanswered questions…
It’s never worthwhile to work in this way. I needed to face the problem, so from that moment I challenged every single assumption he made and asked that he validate it. The situation become better and better over time. Challenge and question as much as is needed.
6. Stand out by Learning a Cutting-Edge Technology
Learn by doing. Do you remember the time when your manager told you to design a mobile interface and you’d never done one before? You took a look at the Google and Apple Design Guidelines, browsed some mobile patterns websites… But as you know, it takes time to become an expert in any field, and you need to get a deep understanding of any technology to really excel at it.
As UX Designers we work in a changeable environment and we always have to keep up-to-date. It’s a lot of pressure. Start learning as soon as you can and take it slowly, don’t rush. You can work on cutting-edge tech projects even if you don’t work in a big company. Don’t limit yourself even if others do. Think of a collaboration with one of your dev colleagues. Most of them are always on the lookout for a designer to help them craft their ideas.
7. Get Started with Conversational Design and Voice UI
Think of the huge amount of new user scenarios that come with the rise of smart home devices such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa. The potential user interactions are endless since users have the freedom of giving any voice command at any time.
It’s really worth taking time to look at this field. And I’m not only referring to smart home devices, but chatbots, and hybrid user interfaces where users interact either with their voice or hands.
8. Strive for Creating Stories
Storytelling is by far the most trending skill in UX Design for 2019. Maybe you feel like you aren’t ready for telling stories, but think about this: we all know stories. Some narrative elements you can take from them are the plot, theme, structure, setting, characters and the tone & voice. Think of the character of your product. Is your product more similar to The Minions or Batman? Can you imagine the difference in the tone & voice?
What really makes a difference is to create truly memorable stories. But what does it mean? To capture your users attention and hold them until the end of the story. Take examples of some of the greatest novels and movies such as Les Misérables or The sixth sense. Can you think of a life without stories? It would be pointless and meaningless.
“The story is much more about the audience than it is about the characters and it’s more about the audience than it’s about the storyteller.” – Julian Friedmann
Focus on your users. Think of ways to tell impactful stories that connect you with your audience. This is also a big opportunity for professionals coming from other industries such as filmmaking or journalism to jump into the digital world.
9. Say “Hi” to UX Writers
Many UX Designers are good at writing articles and engaging with users, so why not move into UX writing? The time has come to give copy the importance it has always deserved. I can not agree more with the words of Jeffrey Zeldman:
Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it's decoration.— zeldman (@zeldman) May 5, 2008
Copy is just as important as other elements of the interface such as color or typography. For example: pretend you have designed an interface and you undertake A/B testing to find out whether you should use blue or red for the CTA on your homepage. The results show that the red colour performs much better.
The development team implements the change in production, but still sign ups don’t increase. Why not try two different copies for the CTA and see if the results change?
10. Map the User Journey for Multiple Devices
When it comes to designing great user experiences, you have to look at the entire user journey and think of the big picture. Users might well utilise different devices depending on where they are on their journey. They might even interact with different devices at the same time.
For example: a woman sitting on the couch is about to play a Netflix movie on the smart TV through her voice using Google Home. At the same time she is reading the latest news from NYT using her smartphone. In addition to that, while she is waiting for the page to load, she grabs her laptop to finish a booking in Airbnb.
How can we design great user experiences taking into account such a multi-tasking scenario? How can we bring value to that user? How can we anticipate their needs? That’s the challenge!
It’s good to take a look at trending topics, new design tools and cutting-edge technologies, but we should be asking ourselves what we like the most in the UX field, whether it is research, interaction design or data analysis. We should feel lucky to work on such a vast field, full of opportunities to keep learning and become better over time. 2019 is the year to shine. Just take your pick and go for it!