User experience design is a discipline with many facets. UX designers have a hand in every aspect of a website, from initial concept, to the final deliverable. Through all this, the UX design process is critical in creating the best site for the user and client. Below are the steps that a good UX designer goes through to gather all the information they need to design a high quality site.
The first thing a UX designer must take when approaching a new project is to learn as much as possible about the client, audience, and project itself. The best tools in a designer’s arsenal are the following questions:
Once these questions are answered, the process of developing a website can begin.
The biggest driver of how a website should be designed is the content. Content is the reason a user visits a page, and without useful, thought-out, well organized content, a website is meaningless.
Once a good portion of the content is decided upon and developed, a user experience designer will begin to create the content strategy of a website. This includes setting up naming conventions, most important items and possibly creating a sitemap based on the content.
Hierarchy should also be determined at this stage. This includes working with users and the client to decide what is most important on the website. This is where the “why?” question comes into play. The most important information and action items should directly contribute to helping the user accomplish their goals.
User research is one of, if not the most, important aspects of user experience design, and therefore the design process in general. User research can, and should, be conducted before, during and after a website is designed. User research can be as simple as an exploratory conversation with someone about how they use current website, what problems they may be experiencing, how they’d like to use a website, and what needs a website is/isn’t fulfilling for them. More complicated and in-depth user research includes, card sorting, first-click testing and running through possible scenarios. These research methods help UX designers solidify hierarchy, determine content and ultimately design the final website.
Based on the user research conducted, some previous steps may need to be revisited. In particular, the user-defined hierarchy may not match up with the client-identified hierarchy.
In these situations, both the user and client points of view should be considered. UX designers are advocates for the user, and usually lean towards their wants and needs, while clients lean the opposite way. These discussions most often times end up with a solution that works for both the user and client.
Once the final hierarchy is decided, UX designers turn their attention to solving any user-indicated problems that came up during the research phase. This could include changing any labels on the website to make it more intuitive and understandable, reviewing forms and submission processes and redefining content.
The final step in the UX process is the creation and delivery of wireframes. These pages are shaped by answers and knowledge collected in the previous steps, and the wireframes should be roughly determined already.
The hierarchy will dictate where items are positioned on a page or within the header navigation, with the most important item being first, and the rest cascading down in order of relevance.
The content already developed will allow the UX designer to accurately lay out pages with actual copy. User research will answer any functionality questions and determine the flow of the website.
As you can see, the design process for a user experience designer is a series of building blocks, beginning with a discovery phase and ultimately ending with a fully fleshed out wireframe.
Each step depends on the last, and the more information a UX designer can gather, the better defined the website can be. After the wireframes are developed they are handed off to the visual design and front-end teams to begin their portion of the full website build process.
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