User Experience can be a difficult role to define.
The process is one that requires multiple disciplines and enough experience with the process to guide the disciplines towards one goal.
In some cases, a UX designer contains all or many of the different disciplines themselves, in others they are the leader or standard-bearer for the campaign and a team of specialists come together to work towards a common goal.User Experience is a focus, a thread that runs through all of our disciplines, and which no discipline owns or controls. -@UXsters
The UX process starts with a thorough understanding of the problem or goal, be it a specific set of business rules to define or a broad abstract view (like: ‘be great at ___’), the end-game is set and a target becomes real.
Interviews with stakeholders, customers, employees, investors and anyone who has a view on the task at hand are gathered and sorted into common threads if they exist.
Building a thorough description of the user, who we are building this for, is the keystone process. This involves personas and/or user profiles and use-cases. Personas are very in-depth dives into a sample set of user, the goal of which is to provide a clear and human picture of a person or persons for whom we endeavor to provide this technology (Many times a picture is used to represent the person and can be tacked up to a wall as a reminder to the team about who, specifically, we are making happy).
User profiles tend to be simpler more generic categories of people who might use the technology – a kind of demographic of possible users and what they might be looking for.
High-level use-cases are a sample scenario in which the person(s) we’ve defined might seek a way to navigate the information-space or product line or service. I like to add the question of ‘why are these people engaging this?’ and try to answer that through this process as well, with the goal of brainstorming the user’s psyche along the way.
Information Architecture is being explored at the same time, to give a path for our user through the spaces that exist or are being created. Like a key to a map showing the user where to find their information, IA is a crucial step.
Depending on the nature of the problem, an Interaction Designer might be needed. Interaction design is the careful study and design of a click/tap-path through an application, asking “what happens when I do this?” for each element and process. Many times interaction design is part of the wireframing process as screens are brainstormed and drawn up but it is worthwhile to define the interaction process as a separate step for many complex projects.
Wireframing is the distillation of all the brainstorming, defining and writing and pouring it out as tangible representatives of the application. During the definition/architecting stages, low-fidelity wireframes are likely done in the form of sketches which the higher-fidelity wireframe team can use to guide them.
Typically, the product of the wireframer will be the first visual presentation to the client/stakeholder(s) and can have many rounds of revisions depending on complexities, input and any pivots during the process.
Visual Design can happen during the IA/Wireframing stages of a project but typically starts after the intellectual/information phases are complete.
A visual designer/graphic designer needs to have all of the data about user, application and interaction as well as a good view of the landscape of the space that the app will target, what has come before visually, what the user has been exposed to and will accept, typefaces, colors and, importantly, the relative importance of elements on a screen.
This is the what our user will see and how they interact emotionally with the application and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Prototyping can be done even before the visual design is close. Many times a team will take wireframes and stitch them together to create a prototype for the client or even more important, to test concepts out on real users.
In more than a few cases, a prototype that a user/stakeholder can click through will have an affect on the UI itself and can trigger another review cycle. I encourage early prototyping if at all possible.
User Testing – Test early and often. We are experts at what we do and our experience can guide us to the best practice within our sphere of understanding. Testing with real users will confirm or modify our understanding.
There is no magic bullet in User Experience. There are no perfect solutions. You cannot plug the project goals into an equation and expect a complete UI to pop out. It is a process and an evolution and we need patience and dedication to get through to the best user experience possible.
Due to the sensitive nature of some project intellectual property, please contact me directly for wireframe and/or user-flow examples.