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Seriously… What is UX Design?

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about MyCommV and its new UX centered design approach.  But what does that really mean? What even goes into designing a product with the users and their working experience in mind? Today I’ll pull back the curtain and reveal this UX Designer’s process and the complex machinations that go into creating MyCommV.

But before we get to the good stuff, a quick reminder: What is UX Design? User Experience Design (UX Design for short) is the process of designing a product, project, or really anything you interact with starting from the user and designing with them in mind. How will a user interact with this thing? Where will it be encountered? What expectation does the user bring to this interaction? These are the types of questions a UX Designer needs to ask as well as the ‘what are we actually making here’ type questions.

And then the process begins…

In the beginning, there was research

It’s not glamorous, it’s not highly technical, and it’s not exciting (to most people). It’s research. The most important step in the UX design process is the research that happens before you even touch a mouse. Finding out who your users are and what they expect is a big part of understanding what you’re going to design. A Tech working in the field has a different set of needs, expectations and assumptions than a Sale Rep working in the office with a group of other reps. Knowing about the user can radically change the thinking about what the product will be and how it will function.

Next comes what that users need from the product and what they want from the product. There are plenty of times where those two things are wildly different. Reconciling those disparate qualities is all part of the design work to come.

How is this research conducted you ask? There are lots of different ways to go about gathering this information but talking to people (in this UX designer’s opinion) is the best. Internal people who know the user base and know the existing products are a great resource. They know what people always ask about or for, and they know what technically might be needed. But nothing beats talking to the actual end user. It can be as simple as a focus group or as involved as a proper usability experiment, but the information the end users provides is invaluable.

And he said, “Let me use colored pencils”

That’s not a joke. Well it sort of is, but it’s also the reality of where an actual design usually starts. Even with all the computer graphics tools available, sometimes a good old fashion sheet of graph paper, a mechanical pencil, and a set of colored pencils is the best place to begin. There’s a lot to be said for the direct connection of holding something in your hand to access the ideas that are locked inside your brain. The design starts by flushing out ideas to solve the problems discovered while researching. What is the best way to show a job? How would you want to add a new prospect? Coming up with a variety of possible solutions and iterating on them is a great first step to focusing in on what will be the actual solution.

Then there where mock ups

For us here at CommSoft, mock ups are really a high resolution imagining of how the screens for a solution will look. Once the ideas have come together into something that makes sense and passes muster, it’s into Adobe Illustrator we go! Adobe Illustrator is a vector drawing program, meaning that all the shapes and lines you see are calculated and drawn as opposed to just being filled in pixels on the screen. This lets you make things as big or as small as you want without losing any clarity. The reason I use Illustrator instead of other prototyping tools like Balsamiq, Adobe XD, or Sketch is mostly because of how familiar I am with Illustrator. There are a lot of other factors too, such as turnaround time, who is the audience of these mock ups, and how similar this new thing is to a part of the system that already exists. After the mock ups are complete they get shopped around to all the interested parties for feedback, new ideas, changes, and eventually sign off. The mock ups then leave the nest, getting to have a life of their own. They go to customers to show off what’s new and exciting, and to developers to make them a reality.

And the UX Designer rested…

Except not really. Now that the product is past the idea phase, planning and documentation begins. There’s a lot more that has been thought through and planned out in the research, sketching and mock up phases of the process that can’t be shown in the mock ups. Data needs to be lined up with the elements that display them, interactions the user will have need to be defined and explained, and dynamically generated content needs to get hashed out. How the user navigates the new product needs to be documented, and how the pages are really laid out, a skeleton, also gets created. After all the T’s have been crossed and the I’s dotted, the UX Designer works with the developers to answer any questions they have when coding and begin the whole process over if something doesn’t work out the way we expected or a whole new problem is uncovered.

The rest is reality

Finally, after a product is coded, tested and ready to be used, the final testing begins. Usability studies are tests UX designers do to understand and find out how their solutions hold up in the real world. There is no better test than to watch a user interact with the thing you designed. New problems might show their faces, while interesting new opportunities are usually discovered. And then the process begins anew; researching, designing, mocking up, and executing the new discoveries provided to you by the people who started it all, the users.

-Andy Weeks, UX Designer



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