What's so difficult about UX design

A portrait of product-related jobs - the user experience designer

Many exciting new jobs have been created in the field of digital product development in recent years. The user experience designer is one of those new jobs that has meanwhile become indispensable in numerous companies and agencies. The User Experience Designer develops interaction concepts for digital products or products with digital elements - be it websites, mobile apps, software products or navigation systems. But it can also be the touch control panel of a washing machine.

Products or services with a good user experience are more important to users than ever before and many companies invest in user experience teams and employees with the appropriate skills. The job market is good and the career prospects for user experience designers are promising.

If you would like to become a user experience designer, this article provides an overview of the tasks and the necessary skills of good user experience designers and of training and further education opportunities.

What you do as a user experience designer

With the User Experience Designer everything revolves around the perfect user experience and developing the right ideas and concepts for it. The following five tasks are part of the everyday life of the user experience designer - he helps the team to develop products and services that are close to the user needs and the mental model of the user. The focus of all tasks is on the optimal product experience with products and services that simply work well and make life easier and better for the user.

  1. Research
    During research, the user experience designer gets a better picture of the users and tries to understand problems and behaviors. With methods such as contextual user interviews, personas and empathy maps, the foundations for the optimal product experience are laid here. Without research and knowledge of the target groups, it is often difficult to develop good ideas. This type of research is usually called user or design research and knowledge of the corresponding methods is very important for user experience designers.
  2. Evaluation
    During the evaluation, the user experience designer uses his technical expertise to evaluate an existing product or service. Usually this is done with a so-called heuristic review, i.e. a systematic and written evaluation according to certain user experience criteria. The evaluation of existing products and functions does not play the greatest role in the everyday life of the user experience designer, but is nonetheless important in order to create a good starting point for optimization.
  3. Prototyping
    The most important task of the user experience designer is prototyping. With the image of the user and their behavior in mind, the user experience designer develops ideas that he outlines with the help of pen & paper and various prototyping tools. The generation of ideas often takes place together with the team or the customer in creative workshops. The User Experience Designer makes the ideas tangible and understandable for others. In addition, the prototype is a good basis for user experience and usability tests, which serve to validate ideas and concepts with user feedback.
  4. Validation
    The validation of ideas and concepts with the help of user feedback is also an important task for the user experience designer, in which he is actively involved or in which he himself carries out user experience and usability tests. In larger companies, however, there are often specialists such as the user researcher or user experience manager who are primarily responsible for the tests.
  5. collaboration
    Nowadays, ideas and new concept approaches are less and less likely to arise alone, but are developed together in a team or with the customer. The diverse perspectives make it easier to develop ideas than if you were sitting alone in front of the computer. The user experience designer often organizes these idea and sketching sessions with the team in order to include other people's ideas at an early stage and to accelerate his own work.

The pie chart shows an example of how much time a user experience designer spends on the individual tasks. Depending on the company, the weighting of the individual tasks can be completely different.

What makes a good user experience designer

In addition to technical knowledge of methods and processes, a basic understanding of technology and, of course, design talent, there are certain attitudes and skills that distinguish a very good user experience designer from a less good one. Everyone who aspires to become a very good user experience designer should bring the following 7 skills.

  1. Creative
    The user experience designer has a very creative job, as new ideas and conceptual approaches are always in demand. It is difficult as a user experience designer without creativity and imagination.
  2. Analytically
    The work of the user experience designer is also about understanding relationships and deriving patterns, which he then translates into the correct product functions and user flows. Analytical-abstract thinking is an important prerequisite for this.
  3. Empathic
    In order to empathize with the user, it is important to be emphatic. If you are not emphatic, it will be difficult to establish a connection with the user.
  4. Communicative
    Collaboration and work in a team is becoming more and more important in agile product development. In addition, concepts and ideas must be well presented and justified so that you can convince critical customers, colleagues and bosses. For user experience designers, communication is an elementary skill for success.
  5. Curious
    The work of the user experience designer is also strongly influenced by technological change, which is constantly creating new possibilities for products and their design. In order to always stay up to date, curiosity and willingness to learn is an important basic requirement.
  6. Passionate
    The user experience designer is often a personality who is passionate about the constant improvement of products. He wants to create the best product experience for the user, that is what drives him. The passion for the user experience drives him, because it is not always easy to advocate this topic in companies and with customers.
  7. Holistic thinking
    The User Experience Designer also manages to bring very complex functions into simple and easy-to-use interfaces. In addition, he also establishes recurring patterns within a product - the so-called design patterns - which make it easier for the user to find his way around. To do this, he must always have an overview of the product in its entirety and then refine and design the relevant details.

How to become a user experience designer

Anyone interested in a job as a user experience designer currently has good job prospects, because many companies are looking for talented user experience designers. A classic way to become a user experience designer is to study or train in the field of digital media and digital design. There are now many courses and academies in Europe. On the Education Interaction Design Map, Prof. Stefan Wölwer from the HAWK Hildesheim / Holzminden / Göttingen has created an overview of all study options - from the Bachelor in Interaction Design at the Schwäbisch Gmünd University of Design to the 2-year Interaction Design Master at Malmö University.

In addition to the classic way of studying, there are also many opportunities for committed career changers to continue their education. In many companies, user experience designers focus more on the appropriate talent and skills than on adhering to classic career paths. This is due, on the one hand, to the fact that the demand is simply great and, on the other hand, because there are no defined career paths in this job.

Online courses, blogs and books are ideal for self-study. A list with all possibilities would make this article too long, so only an overview of my personal favorites can be found here. If you have favorites yourself, share them with the others via the comments.

Online courses

  • UIE’s All You Can Learn - a collection of currently more than 230 different seminars on the topic of UX.
  • Interaction Design Foundation - the Interaction Design Foundation also offers online courses on various topics.
  • Coursera - Coursera also has special online courses on UX, such as this Interaction Design course from the UC San Diego Design Lab.

Blogs

  • Smashing Magazine - one of the leading blogs on UX, coding and design.
  • UX Booth - also one of my favorite blogs that always offers articles on new and current UX topics.
  • 52 weeks of UX - every week Joshua Porter and Joshua Brewer share their latest thoughts on UX with us.
  • Luke Wroblewski - Luke Wroblewski is currently Product Director at Google and has many articles and presentations on product strategy, UX and mobile on his website.
  • User Experience Blog - a German blog on the subject of user experience. Ulf Schubert has been very active here for several years.
  • Usability blog - here all those interested in UX and usability will find extensive methodological knowledge and new study findings on the subject of usability.

Books

  • About Face by Alan Cooper - an American standard work in an updated version that offers a good overview of important UX methods and their applicability. Alan Cooper is a pioneer in working with personas and has also written a very good book about it.
  • Designing for the Digital Age by Kim Goodwin - also a standard work that offers a good overview of the most important approaches and methods.
  • Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf - In this book, Jeff Gothelf transferred the principles from the Lean movement to UX work. A helpful book for all UX designers who work in the field of agile product development.
  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Normann - a real classic on the subject of design of everyday objects by the co-founder of the Nielsen Normann Group in an updated version. Exciting for user experience designers because many principles can be easily transferred to digital media.
  • Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner's Guide to User Research - in this book the most important user research methods are described in great detail and extensively. The book is very suitable for anyone who wants to get into the subject.
  • Creative Confidence by David Kelley and Tom Kelley - an inspiring book from the IDEO founders that helps you to discover and develop your own creative potential. Since creativity is very important for user experience designers, it is recommended read.

Incidentally, your own project is also ideal for self-study and looks good in your portfolio. You can find out more about a good UX designer portfolio in the next part of this job portrait. If you should already have your first interview by then, you can get good tips on the right application in Petra's article.

This overview is the first part of the job portrait of the User Experience Designer. The second part is about applying as a user experience designer and what makes a good UX portfolio.