What Does a UX Designer Do?

It’s a job title you’re hearing more and more these days, but what does a UX designer actually do? UX stands for User Experience, and one way to think of it is that it’s the “feel” in “look and feel.”

Traditional design has been focused on “the look,” or the design of each individual screen or graphic, but as digital technology—and our understanding of digital interactions—has grown, we’ve begun focusing more and more on “the feel,” or UX.

Design needs to encompass the entire experience—not just each screen or graphic, but how a user moves from screen to screen, how feedback is provided to the user, and how it all comes together to provide a positive experience. And that’s where UX comes in. UI and UX designers often work hand in hand, but their focus is different, and it’s important to understand why.

Each job and each project is a little bit different, but there are five main steps for UX designers.

1. Research:

It’s extremely important to understand the market and to try to get into the heads of users. What do they need, what are they looking for—and what aren’t they getting in the current market? Start with the client brief, but don’t stop there. Once you know what the client wants, and what they think their users are looking for—dig deeper. And don’t forget to look at the competition—a competitive analysis can provide a lot of valuable insight. What’s already out there? How can you help your client improve upon it?

Image: Sargatal2

2. Create personas:

Based on the research you’ve done, and the info in the client brief, the next step is to identify key user groups and create representative personas. Instead of just thinking of a big group of potential users, such as students, or social media managers, give them names and more specific personal details—John, the student, or Kate, the social media manager. It might feel a little awkward at first, but thinking of them as actual people will help you walk through the different user scenarios and consider all of the angles.

3. Initial Information Architecture:

Once you’ve done the research and created personas, it’s time to define the initial IA, or Information Architecture. Whether you’re designing an app or a website, and whether this is a new product or a redesign, make sure you think through all of the steps that a user might take while interacting with your product. No matter how small or insignificant it might seem—include everything. Sketch it on a whiteboard, draw it on paper, or use a program, whatever works best for you. The key is to get it all down so you can start making sense of it.

4. Wireframes:

Once the initial IA has been determined, it’s time to move into something more advanced—wireframes. Wireframes represent each screen or step that a user might take while interacting with your product. These should be clickable, although they don’t need to have full functionality. And of course, at this point, you aren’t worried about the UI, or interface design—although you’ll want to make sure the client is well-informed on this point, to avoid any confusion. The focus here is on determining the flow and identifying which key features to keep in, and which may need to be left out or revised. You’ll also be identifying and designing, all of the small interactions that create the overall experience, like success and error screens. At this step, you’ll likely be working with both the client and with your UI counterpart, who will be working on the overall visual design language, waiting for final direction on the screens and graphics that will be needed. The wireframes are your blueprint, and final wireframes will drive both development and visual design.

5. User Testing:

UX design is a process, and at this point, it’s important to bring in outside voices to test your assumptions. If you can do a full moderated review, that’s great. There are wonderful user testing agencies that provide highly professional and detailed testing and results. But if you can’t do that, don’t worry—find others at your agency who can help with testing. As long as they aren’t part of this project team, they can still provide fresh eyes and valuable feedback. Remember to pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal feedback—it’s not only about what they tell you, but what you can observe of their behavior. Are the steps clear? Are your users getting hung up or confused at any point?

Image: Vasabii

UX Designers keep revising

UX is highly informed by user behavior, so even post-launch, UX designers continue to learn more, driving future updates. They launch with the best possible product, but they’re always prepared to learn and grow.

UX Designers think outside the screen!

While a lot of their focus might be on user flow and specific actions within the site or app, UX designers know there’s more to UX than just what happens on the screen. Especially in a world where mobile and wearable technologies are everywhere, it’s important to remember that user experience happens in the real world—and good UX designers keep the big picture in mind.

Related article: How I designed a website (this one) in 8 days

UX jobs—what’s out there?

Depending on the company, there are several different job titles that might cover the work described above, including UX Designer, UX Architect, Interaction Designer, UX Engineer or UX Researcher. In some companies, the UX designer is more focused on 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.

Here are a few interesting listings to review, and how they define UX:

Experience Researcher at Airbnb

“The Experience Research team’s mission is to provide the robust, rich, and actionable research that product teams need at every stage of the product development cycle. As a researcher, you are embedded with a team of designers, PMs, and other cross-functional partners. You not only conduct best-in-class multi-method research, but you develop deep, research-driven product expertise.”

UX Engineer at Google

“You’ll partner with researchers and designers to define and deliver new features, translate concepts into living, breathing prototypes, and iterate on interactions, animations, and details to deliver the perfect experience. UX Engineers also collaborate closely with UX Researchers to user-test new concepts and assist engineering.”

UX Research at Google

“User Experience (UX) Researchers work to answer the most challenging questions in design. They reveal what users need from our products by conducting primary research, exploring behaviors and motivations, and working with teams of designers, product managers, engineers, and others to develop new features. They inspire change by delivering exciting presentations about their findings. Most importantly, researchers help the UX team understand what makes a user’s experiences feel more intuitive, accessible, and even magical.”

User Experience Designer at Adidas

“You will work in a fast-paced organization to enable a premium, personalized and connected experience. Gathering insights and investigating data you will leverage existing foundations and develop new capabilities to create the new.”


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About the Author Anna Lucas

Anna Lucas has enjoyed a long career in marketing and technology, and is always interested in hearing a good story. You can find her on Medium.