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What is User Experience Design, Anyway?

The architects building brands behind the scenes

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That common question: “So, what do you do?”

It’s one we’re all faced with often but for the user experience designer, it’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. If I simply say, “I’m a user experience designer,” I’m often met with a glazed expression and an awkward silence. I sometimes say, “I design websites and mobile applications,” but then people tend to think I’m a developer or a graphic designer.

In our defense, the entire field of user experience design has difficulty defining exactly what it is we do and the role we play. As a standalone discipline, the role of UX is still fresh and, quite frankly, a little controversial.

On one hand, we’re investigators. We interview, analyze, and sort out the who, what, why, and how of a project. We establish the foundation upon which the team designs and builds the site or app. On the other hand, we’re planners and problem solvers. We create site maps, information architectures, content outlines, user stories, and various other tools that serve as a roadmap for what users encounter. These define how they navigate the site, and how they accomplish their goals. But the fun doesn’t end there. Once the practicalities are sorted out, we slip into the creative role and explore the visual manifestation of this information through wireframes and prototypes. These are the blueprints that visually describe what we’re building.

Is this the end of the user experience journey? That’s where the lines start to blur.

Many industry leaders describe user experience design as a holistic approach to determining how a user interacts with your brand or product, resulting in positive user emotions and accomplished business goals. They consider it a combination of thoughtful interaction design, intuitive information architecture, engaging visual design, and relevant content — spanning each discipline respectively. Because user experience design IS designing for… well… everything the user experiences.

Others debate that UX is a standalone discipline with clear and critical deliverables — a definitive step in the process.

At FortyFour, we agree… with both.

A UX designer arguably sets the stage and writes the script. But a UX designer doesn’t single-handedly deliver this glorious experience. The entire team brings the digital miracle to fruition. The UX designer, the visual designer, the content strategist, the developer, the analyst, the marketer — you get the idea — are all keepers of the user’s experience. And it’s success-critical that the team is in lock step, checking and challenging each other from, “what are we building?” to deployment.

Test. Rinse. Repeat.

User experience design — as a stand-alone discipline — is a critical and relevant component to building a successful website or application. But user experience design — as a philosophy — is shared by the entire team. Every player should be mindful of the user’s experience every step of the way.

So, what do we do? We’re part of a team that builds digital experiences you’re going to love.

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