In order to fully understand what user experience design is, let me describe what user experience designers do—something that can be done by describing the five core components of UX:
- Information Architecture (IA)
- Interaction Design
- Visual Design
1. Information Architecture (IA)
Information Architecture is about connecting people to content in a way that is most understandable to them. It creates a hierarchy of content on a page and uses different elements such as navigation to add structure. It takes the different types of information into context and organizes it in a manner to make it easy to find content.
2. Interaction Design
Interaction Design deals with the specific interactions between users and a screen. Visual Design responds to the user goals supported in Interaction Design to communicate the brand using graphics, images, fonts, color, icons, and so on.
Interaction design also uses prototyping to define specific behaviors and functions for different components. For example; on a mobile app design, does a sign-in page “ease” in, fade in, or slide to the right? This kind of transition should be explored in an interactive concept so the final product is implemented as closely as possible to the designer’s intention.
Usability deals with leveraging data to determine the validity of design decisions. While in any given company there are people from different backgrounds speaking to the goals of the business or specific engineering constraints, it is the role of the UX designer to champion for the needs of a user and communicate any frustrations/pain points felt during the use of a product.
This data can be obtained in a variety of ways—from focus groups to surveys, from lab-based usability studies to one-on-one interviews and site visits, eye tracking, card sorts, A/B testing, telemetry, and so on.
Usability testing assists with understanding the space of the product while defining user behaviors and needs. At a high level, it is good practice to validate hypotheses with real users and measure and validate a changing product to confirm that it is meeting people’s needs.
A prototype can be defined as a preliminary version from which other forms are developed. As a designer, prototyping offers a cheap and flexible way to test what looks great and is fit for purpose, whether it’s for a mobile app, physical product or a website. It also offers a way to iterate based on feedback from stakeholders and users in the context of usability studies.
This provides you with insight into the functionality of your design and any changes needed in order to make your work delightful and functional. It is a way to set design priorities, cheaply test out options, then figure out logistical constraints and conflicts regarding implementation. Ultimately, prototyping is important because it brings you closer to the final functionality of the product before investing time, resources and money into development.
5. Visual Design
Visual design is about using the visual aspect of a product to improve the user’s experience. While visual design is not all there is to design, it is a crucial part of a well-thought-out product. It communicates a lot about a company’s brand and can be influential in how desirable and engaging a product is.
The topic of visual design can be polarizing, as it is sometimes thought that if designers emphasize aesthetics they sacrifice usability. Great visual design can even cause us to overlook usability problems. However, new research findings suggest that aesthetics and usability can be viewed as being positively correlated.
Visual design informs us how a product works via color, visual hierarchy, typography and thus is a crucial part of the overall user experience.
So far we’ve looked at what UX design is, discussed tools, and defined the core components of UX. In the next part of this series we’ll ask why UX research is so important. See you there!