What is a User Experience Designer? A question rarely asked today, but a quick search on Google demonstrates that there is still much discussion around the role of user experience (UX) and what user experience design means.

When I started working in the field of web design almost 20 years ago, the term ‘User Experience’ was still very new. At that time experience design was mostly limited to aesthetic appeal – if the visual design was pleasing on the eye and critical bugs had been cleared, then the application was ready to go. For me, this all changed in 1999 when I became involved in web accessibility and designing for users who rely on assistive technologies. Our research at that time found that even simple tasks, such as selecting a date in a form, could be impossible for people using a keyboard rather than a mouse, or a speech browser.

Amanda Cano

Amanda Cano

Principal User Experience Consultant

“Recognising the need is the primary condition for design”

Charles Eames

The inability to complete even the easiest tasks meant the significant advancements that arrived with the internet, such as online shopping or searching for basic information was out of reach. We also found that these problems did not exist just for people who relied on assistive technologies and by solving these fundamental problems for assistive technology users, we also solved usability problems for all users of an application.

The first recorded evidence of the term ‘User Experience’ was in 1984 by Brenda K Laurel in “Interface for Mimesis” but it was Norman Nielsen’s reference to ‘User experience’ in 1994 that brought UX design into the mainstream. Before 1995 digital experiences were limited to office workers but now, digital experiences affect us all and are intrinsic to our daily lives. Getting it right has never been so important.

UX User Experience sticky notes

Pain points and challenges

So, what does a User Experience Designer do? Type this question into Google, and you can view millions of answers and anecdotes. The user experience for an application is created by the team, and everyone in the team has a part to play in ensuring the application delivers the best possible experience. If the team is responsible for the user experience what is the role of the UX Designer? The role of a UX Designer is to solve problems. The questions a UX Designer should be asking are: what problem do I need to address and who am I solving the problem for? To define the problem, you also need to understand what the business is trying to achieve and how you’ll know when you’ve been successful?

Once you know the answers to these questions you can begin to devise your UX strategy. The approach will explain what the problems are, how you will solve the issues, who you are addressing the issues for and how you will measure whether you have managed to solve the problems and what the outputs will be. Only when your UX strategy is in place should you start thinking of delivery.

Team facilitation

I believe the whole team is responsible for delivering the user experience and the UX Designer’s role is to educate the team, so everyone understands what the problems are and how we (the team) are going to solve them.

Education is an ongoing process throughout the lifecycle of the project – for the UX Designers as well as the rest of the team. It’s not something that should only be done at the beginning of a project. We need to determine throughout delivery whether we are solving the problems and meeting the goals – continuously measuring success during the project lifecycle not just when the application has been delivered.

Without understanding the problems that need to be solved, we can still build beautiful applications, but we run the genuine risk of developing features that no-one wants or needs. By starting with the problems that we need to solve we have put the groundwork in place for a successful UX strategy and delivery.

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