A Step-by-Step Guide Through the UX Design Process
User experience is key to the success of your digital products. We’ll take you through the four phases of the UX design process that will help you reach your goals.
In order for your product to succeed, it’s critical that users gain value from it. Hidden beneath the simplicity of that statement lie the complexities of the UX design process used to deliver that value.
Depending on how specific you get, the UX process can entail a few or many phases. For the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on the four primary phases of research, design, testing, and implementation.
As we go through each phase, we’ll talk about the goals and activities particular to that phase. But before we get started, let’s make sure we’re all working from the same understanding of user experience design principles.
A Brief Overview of UX Design Principles
If you can see it, click it, tap it, type in it, swipe it, or even hear it, it’s part of the product’s user experience design. Everything a user interacts with while using a digital product results from a UX design process.
To look at it another way, UX design helps to understand and build the what, where, when, why, and how users experience.
UX designers learn about business and user goals to develop a deep understanding of what a user needs or expectations to achieve when using a product for a specific purpose.
The user experience must be designed to cover all possible use cases so regardless of circumstance, users can interact with the product with confidence. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the times and places in which the user interacts.
By understanding the needs, motivations, and behaviors of users, designers can deliver different paths by building empathic interfaces that allow users to carry out their tasks and increase their satisfaction with the product.
So, to put an incredibly complex process simply, UX design relates to anything a user interacts with while using your product. Now let’s dive into the UX design process.
UX Research Comes First
Before you can begin designing or prototyping, your design team must understand what their real users need to do and why they need to do it, along with the business needs and goals. While team brainstorming and ideation are important, you need to complement those efforts with UX research.
Your qualitative research may include user interviews or focus groups with your target audience. You may choose to analyze reviews of a competing product. While uncovering your future users’ needs, this research also reveals any pain points they currently experience.
Consider supplementing your qualitative research with a quantitative survey distributed to a mass audience. Use the data to rank the importance of product features, to determine users’ preference of one feature over another, or to evaluate market perceptions of competitors’ products.
As you go through this first research phase, you will find that different users have varying needs and pain points. Develop multiple user personas to document your product’s primary user types and then share these personas with your entire product team.
Next, as the final outcome of the UX research, it’s good to define a list of product requirements. This clarity helps the business and development team to understand the concept and direction of the product before moving on to the design phase.
Now It’s Time To Start Designing
Next, you’ll move into the design phase of the UX design process. You’ll want to start by building user flows, then moving on to wireframing and prototyping, and finally creating the visual design. This phase of the UX design process answers the when, where, and how of your product’s user experience.
User flows are simply diagrams, or flowcharts, that depict your customer’s journey through your product’s features and processes. These diagrams tell you when a user should be doing a particular task by highlighting decision points and indicating the need for error messaging or alternate paths in case of system failures. Later, user flows can help create your information architecture and be used by the development team to reveal integration points between systems or other technical architecture requirements.
Once you’ve nailed down your user flows, it’s time to build low-fidelity wireframes that explain where and how users interact with your product. Wireframing provides the layout and UI elements needed to perform specific tasks throughout a process.
While not visually appealing, a wireframe is a valuable tool in early-stage user testing to validate the usability and selection of UI elements before you get into the high-fidelity design. So, put a pause on the design phase while you complete user testing research on your wireframes.
Now it’s time to develop your first working prototype. By allowing your users to click and tap through a prototype, you can get excellent feedback on where your UX is crystal clear and where your users might get stuck. You will save time and money by getting this feedback before you invest in developing the full solution with your development team.
Once you’ve validated your interaction design with usability testing, you’re ready to begin creating the high-fidelity mockups. Color schemes, fonts, button styles, and spacing are just a few UI design components. The placement of content, images, icons, and other graphical elements also needs to be considered.
When your visual design is complete, you’ll do another research iteration to validate your product design or learn what areas need some fine-tuning.
Use Iterative Testing To Validate Your Designs
Notice that as part of the wireframing, prototyping, and visual design steps, you needed to jump forward to do some user testing research and validate your user flows and UI decisions. So while testing is the third phase in the UX design process, we recommend a more iterative process. You should expect to go back and forth between phases as needed — design and testing — until you’re ready for implementation.
In the design phase, each UX deliverable got more detailed and robust. Great user experience designers frequently iterate so that every deliverable along the way can be refined to reflect user feedback before it moves into more detail. The result is a thoroughly vetted UX to hand off to your development team that will hopefully need few adjustments or rework.
Turn Your Designs Into a Working Product
The final phase of the UX design process is implementation. Finally, you get to see all your hard work built into a fully functioning product! Before you start celebrating, you’ll need to work closely with your development team on the implementation. The development team participates through the design phase, in different meetings to see the UX process, results of user tests, or simply to communicate the idea of the design.
This type of collaboration helps developers understand the user experience, features, components, elements, and interactions before starting the implementation. Also important, this mitigates the amount of back-and-forth between UX and the development team and reduces potential misunderstandings.
Part of our UX deliverables here at December Labs is a UI kit. This kit contains all the specifications about the user interface elements. Many developer questions can be answered by referring to the UI kit as the UI is being built.
During implementation, you’ll want to lend your designer’s eye to work in progress throughout the development process and solve any misunderstandings or confusion between UX and developers as early as possible. You also need to be available to define alternative solutions if the development team runs into a problem.
The implementation phase is also a great time to continue user testing with internal peers or staff in other departments. As features are ready for formal QA testing, share the testing URL around the office to get feedback. While you may not be able to incorporate all suggestions into the initial launch, you can use the feedback to build out your next product iteration.
The Complex UX Design Process Hidden Behind Great User Experiences
Most often, popular software is also the easiest to use. Users often take the UI design for granted — if they think about it at all. By now, though, we hope we’ve shown you how complex the user experience design process is and given you some ideas on how to create user-centric products.
If you need a user experience designer or a user research expert for your next product development project or redesign, a firm like December Labs can help. Our design team is experienced in building human-centered UI/UX that will delight your customers. We’re excited to learn about your project!