User experience designers who are experts in every aspect of UX are extremely rare – that’s why they’re called unicorns. Becoming an all-around expert is a daunting task, but there’s a more practical approach you can take, and that’s training and developing the 12 faculties of UX design.
These are all foundational UX skills which machines won’t be able to achieve any time soon. Long-term success requires human designers with a solid understanding of these concepts.
There are a few simple steps you can take to begin building a broader knowledge of these skills, as well as identify areas where you need to dive deeper and work harder on improving.
Let’s go ahead and look at what you can do to become a better UX designer by having a better grasp on each of the 12 faculties of UX design.
1. Focus on the “why”
Many UX designers sometimes make the mistake of approaching a problem with solutions focused on the “how” and “what.” While this doesn’t necessarily always lead to a wrong outcome, there are better ways of identifying and fixing a problem.
Arguably the best way to approach a problem that you want to find a solution for is to focus on the “why.” Why does the user need help? Why is your product or service the right one to provide that help? Why should they use your solution instead of others provided by your competitors? Then, ask yourself what the larger purpose of your work is and how it can make the world a better place.
Asking isn’t enough, however; you need to have processes in place that force you to also answer them before actually moving forward with a project. That way you’ll be able to communicate thar purpose and passion to both stakeholders as well as customers.
- Begin by crafting basic templates for user journey maps and personas.
- Use these tools to identify potential pain points for your users and opportunities that will help articulate the “why” of the situation.
- Put processes in place and checklists that will offer you the confidence and tools to push back against any potential one-off solution requests from your business.
2. Move forward with a clear vision of your desired outcome
Now that you have a better sense of the “why,” you can begin building a vision of what your solution might look like. Try to resist the urge to jump straight into screen designs or visual solutions, even if you’re an experienced graphic designer.
You need to work on cultivating the discipline required to focus on where you want to take your users. How does success look like for users at the end of the workflow you’ve mapped out for them? Do they want to download an app, contact a rep, access information, or make a purchase? How should that experience feel like for the user? What problems and pain points do they have with the current experience?
Taking your time and creating a clear vision of what success would look like allows you to craft a story that will resonate with others. This story can get the entire business behind your plan, so you’ll have full support to make the world better for your users.
- Establish a clear vision of what success would look like for both your business and for your users by connecting the “why” to concrete problems and pain points. Consider tailoring this presentation of your vision for different audiences.
- Come up with possible solutions, but don’t settle on the first one that comes to mind, or any specific design. Make sure you don’t get trapped chasing any moving targets as your focus will likely shift from goal to goal.
- Create storyboards to help those who aren’t on your team understand your vision for success, and share these storyboards to build focus, enthusiasm, and unity.
3. Use empathy and research to see the world through your users’ eyes
People expect research to cost a lot of money and require a lot of time to complete. Many also worry they might not know how to do it right, which results in design teams moving forward with solutions that are based on best guesses instead of actual data.
Conducting user research and empathizing with users is crucial to the success of product or service’s design. This means understanding and identifying people’s contexts, their emotions, goals, and motivations.
Formal research can be very valuable if you have the necessary resources and time, but if you don’t, at least consider speaking to your users through whichever channels are available to you. If speaking to them isn’t an option, then at least try to empathize with them through user journeys and empathy maps.
Most designers already possess an inquisitive desire to know and understand users. It’s essential to create an environment which encourages them to question their assumptions and correct them if needed, defend the decisions they want to take, and advocate for users.
- Talk with your team about the journey and empathy maps and write out how they influence your solution.
- Use any existing channels (focus groups, social media, email marketing, etc.) to talk to your users and base your solution on actual data instead of assumptions.
- Asking a colleague or a friend for their take on something during the development process is a valid option too. Listening to your instincts and checking them against others’ opinions can sometimes be just as helpful as formal research.
4. Decide on the measurements for success
Evaluating and validating designs is another step that is often considered too complicated. The process can be simplified by learning the language of the Experience Success Ladder and using it to frame how you’ll improve your users’ experience.
The Experience Success Ladder can help you assess your product or service’s value, as well goals to aspire to moving forward.
Each rung of the ladder is a higher state of user emotional satisfaction and meaningful value:
- Establish your key metrics for success, come up with a plan to gather these metrics, and at the start of each project, get a baseline measurement so you can see your progress over time.
- Come up with a common vocabulary which everyone can use to evaluate success and communicate it internally.
- Come up with procedures and a plan to continuously measure success through analytics, user interviews, usability evaluations, and so on, and make adjustments to your approach as needed.
5. Reduce friction through context, structure, and flow
This step takes the user experience from the functional rung to the usable and comfortable rungs. This faculty is also known as information architecture and it is the practice of deciding which way to arrange a product’s individual parts into something coherent that the users can understand.
This process can help you answer questions like:
- What are your users’ main goals and how can they use your product or service to achieve them?
- How will a user flow through the experience you’ve crafted?
- How will they find the information they need to accomplish their tasks?
- What is the quickest and easiest way of getting them from one place to another?
- How is the user’s environment affecting their experience?
Just like a house, good user experience design relies on having a strong foundation and good architecture. Review the user flows you’ve developed and decide how to build your product’s structure in a way that solves user problems without any needless friction. After this, think about which tactical elements will fit within your structure and remove whatever gets in the way.
For example, there are many designers who come from a marketing background and are used to the copy being promotional. A user, however, will need the content to be informative and help guide them when using the product or service. Anything more than that will simply clutter their experience. This is an example of different needs for different structures and user flows.
Consider your user flow’s environment, its hierarchy and top priorities, and think about how you can develop the best way for your users to navigate it.
- Before you design any tactical solutions, look at your basic architecture, create user journey maps, and establish some ground rules for what will keep users flowing through your experience.
- Create some quick wireframes that will help you uncover any fiction in the process. You can do this either through internal team reviews or you can conduct user testing and pay attention to whatever small things can trip users up, as well as designs which despite possibly looking nice, aren’t really what users need.
- Come up with some best practices that will familiarize your team with common friction points in your products, services, and user flows.
6. Interaction design as an artform
Many novice designers begin with principles that are grounded in static design. They focus on how UIs look and feel during a single state on the screen, forgetting that a big part of users’ experience comes from those in-between moments, the transitions between different screens and states.
Good designers also need to focus on these moments between actions and screens because they validate users’ actions and bridging these gaps will further elevate the user experience.
The art of interaction design transforms mechanical technology into an experience that is intuitive. It helps people easily familiarize themselves with a system, achieve objectives without any hassles, and remember how to do it again when they return.
- Before you get started on high-resolution designs, sketch out every possibility and state, so you can create a map of the entire experience and its various scenarios.
- When building a prototype, especially if you’re building it for testing purposes, try to represent the product’s various states and the transitions between those states. This will provide you with better feedback from users on how the design may end up feeling.
- Consider and plan for different responses on different devices, ensuring that they’re realistic for digital production. Consider how something feels on desktop devices versus mobile devices, particularly because of the screen real estate that they provide.
7. Become a great prototyper
Every design has a balance between what’s technically suitable for it and what will offer users true delight. Drawing a quick sketch on a piece of paper is always better before sitting down in front of a screen. This will ensure that instead of thinking about the solution as a one-off design, you’ve thought through it systematically.
There are many designers who feel that wireframes need to be polished, perfect drafts. Sketching is something you get better at with time and practice. Early wireframes and rough sketches are great for helping you think through important questions. They can help you visualize consistent styles, a balanced hierarchy, and the finer points of how you’ll provide users with a great experience.
- Use a pen and paper and practice sketching your ideas before using a computer.
- Consider hierarchies and design libraries when beginning a project to help you quickly roll out balanced and consistent interfaces.
- Create a shared design library with your team and use it on all your projects, thus saving you time and creating brand consistency.
- Ensure that everyone on your team has a good understanding of visual design fundamentals (typography, color theory, etc.).
8. Improve your UX writing skills
Good product writing makes the user experience flow much clearer and fosters trust and confidence. Bad writing will only clutter the interface and prevent users from achieving their goals.
Writing is a skill that requires continuous practice in order to master it. Not every designer is good at writing, but all of them need to be able to identify how copy works across a design’s every level. Constant practice is the best way to achieve that.
- Try to take a step back from visual design and write actual copy instead of placeholder text. Writing actual copy that users will see, even if you’re creating a wireframe, will help you think through the entire user experience.
- Review your organization’s brand voice and tone guidelines to keep all your writing on brand. A fun start-up will sound different that a big, already established corporation.
- Keep accessibility in mind when writing copy. Use a clear hierarchy of headings and subheadings, make your text short and easily scannable, and use keywords that match the users’ language.
- Avoid any jargon and be on the lookout for any opportunities to trim your copy and make it as succinct as possible, while still keeping it informative.
9. Lean on technology instead of users
Your goal should always be to know your users so well that you can be able to prompt them with a message at any given moment that will assist them in their flow. Designers sometimes rely on users to tell them when and where help is needed, but to become a great UX designer, you’ll need to do better than wait for your users to ask for help.
What can you do outside of the screen to help users move forward? What will delight users and how can you leverage the system to do the heavy lifting instead of the user? These kinds of questions will help you find new ways of using technology to do the work for users.
- Look at your metrics, user journey, and personas to find moments where you can add something to the experience to take it to another level.
- Consult with your technical teams to better understand your product’s technical possibilities and limitations. Familiarize yourself with what is feasible and where you can improve.
- Look for moments in user interviews or usability tests where despite the experience working as it should, users are still working harder than they need to.
10. Master UX and advocate for it
As your skills develop and you become more mature as a UX designer, you’ll be faced with more opportunities to advocate for user experience. Many experts in other fields may still be new to the concept of UX design and its value, which is why you should help them understand how powerful it can be.
This means you should be able to speak in a language they understand, showing them your designs’ ROI. Carefully consider how you talk about the designs you create. Think about how a realtor shows houses and doesn’t just focus on the house itself and its features, but instead tries to sell you on the experience you’d have living there.
Great UX designers focus on value instead of vanity and are able to convey a business case for the work they’re doing. They have certain communication skills and a business knowledge which allows them to answer common questions and address objections from stakeholders, such as:
- What is the ROI?
- Will this support our business goals?
- How will this add to the user experience?
- Why should we invest in this?
- What are the risks of not investing in this?
- There’s no budget or time for this.
- Other projects take priority.
- We’re not interested in this right now.
Being a great UX designer means more than just having great ideas; you also need to be able to convey those ideas and get buy-in for them. This requires business, communication, and storytelling skills.
- Learn your business’s language and familiarize yourself with the key business metrics that are most important to your stakeholders so you can make a good case for design needs in general business budgets and timelines.
- Match business metrics to specific UX metrics so you can calculate the ROI of UX and show how truly valuable your work is.
- When presenting your work to an outside group, tell them about why you built it, how, and the value it will offer them.
11. Invite collaboration and criticism
Avoiding reviews and critiques of your designs is unavoidable, it’s part of the process. Mature UX designers, however, know not to take criticism personally, and instead understand that it’s all about getting it right for the users. In fact, sharing perspectives and ideas with others may be one of the most rewarding parts of user experience design. Look for opportunities to give and receive feedback from others with honesty and kindness.
Think of it like building a bridge between your design team and other business units. They have specific expertise and can look at things from different perspectives than you, potentially offering crucial insights that help make your product a success.
- When you offer other designers constructive feedback, try to say things like “I like/wish” or “I would try.” Talk to them about what you like about their designs and follow that up with what you’d like them to change and why, offering suggestions on how to make those changes.
- Tie your conversations to user personas and journeys as much as you can so everyone knows about the data that informed the design.
- Recognize the effort that was put into the design and be open with your feedback. Keep in mind that you all have the same goals, and they are to balance user needs with both business and technical requirements.
12. Lead others by example
As you grow and become a design leader, you’ll want to ensure that you’re also modeling these faculties for others. Set up systems and practices which reinforce these concepts, thus fostering an innovative and collaborative environment. Help everyone on your team learn through doing and reinforce everything using constructive feedback.
A mature and effective UX designer needs leadership skills and to be able to answer questions like:
- Why is design important and what value does it provide?
- Why are we building this product/service?
- How does this feature/idea fit into the bigger picture?
- What would make this solution even better?
- How costly would it be to invest in this? How beneficial?
- How can we get people on board with this idea?
- Who else should be involved in this?
- How will we measure and monitor success?
At the end of the day, you need to be confident enough to present and defend your work and the reasoning behind it in a way that others will understand and appreciate, even if they don’t agree with every fine point.
- Always tie things back to the “why” and explain your design choices as they relate to what’s best for users.
- Advocate for real user testing because it’s difficult to argue with feedback when it comes directly from users.
- Advocate for building systems which foster organizational design thinking, thus encouraging more consideration for end-users when making business decisions.
The 12 faculties discussed above can serve as the foundation for becoming solid, mature design leaders with a well-rounded UX design career. Consider where your strengths lie and in which areas you can grow and improve your skills.
If you’re looking to hire someone for a UX position or are managing a UX team, these faculties can be a starting point for your hiring process, job descriptions, and professional development.
Remember that everyone has different levels of expertise in each faculty, but that’s alright; every project and team require a higher degree of mastery in some areas than in others.