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How to Become a User Experience Designer

Instructor: Martin Gibbs

Martin has 15 years experience in Human Resources Information Systems and has a PhD in Information Technology Management

If you build it, they might come. User experience is what sets applications apart: If you want to make a difference and build sites that will engage users, you will enjoy being a user experience designer. We'll cover some steps for making this career choice.

User Experience (or UX)

Think about how easy is it to pick up an iPhone and text someone. Or to login to a travel site and book a flight. These devices/applications are not this way by accident. If you remember the days of green screens, or work with an older computer system, you definitely know the definition of user UN-friendly. So how do companies like Apple, Expedia, etc. do it?

The answer lies partly in user experience, or UX. A skilled team of user experience designers (UX designers) focus their energy and resources on building a product that is easy to use, intuitive, and relevant.

Would you enjoy making websites and applications user-focused? We are all users, and therefore already have a leg-up. Although there is much more detail to user-focused design, anyone with the right motivation, and willingness to learn new skills, can become a UX designer.

What Does UX Designer Do?

The short answer: A UX designer makes stuff user-friendly.

There is a great deal more that goes into making applications and sites useful and usable. This involves a great deal of research into your users.

A UX Designer makes things user-friendly. Think of the accessibility and the ease-of-use of many apps you use every day. They didn't just happen that way. Many were well-thought-out, tested, re-tested, and tested again.

Once you have the basic specifications for a new application, you can start work. Let's quickly cover the major types of activity.

Research

Research of current and future users is key. You will need to interview stakeholders and learn what they like, don't like, and would love to have.

Personas

A persona is like a character sheet: Each persona describes a type of user that could use your application. For example, Age 20-25, female, Nurse practitioner. Personas help you understand WHO is accessing the site/application. This knowledge aids in tailoring content or adjusting functionality to meet that demographic's need.

Wireframes and Testing

Think of a wireframe as a shell of the application: The layout is there, but without a lot of functionality. As you get closer to the final design, functionality gets added in.

Visual Design

For many UX designers, this is the best part! You get to add polish to the final product: Fonts, images, typeface are added and tweaked to present the final product.

Usability Testing

Once the product is working and looking great, you need to take it out to a wider audience. Usability testing puts the application in users' hands, and you want them to try to break it! They need to find any flaws, errors, or gaps in the application.

The following graphic displays the many facets of UX design:

UX Design major functions

How Do I Become a UX Designer?

If you put your mind to it, you can do anything. However, it also helps to have some skills and education to work toward your goals.

If you are interested in delivering first-class user experience and want to break into UX design, here are some skills that can be built.

Formal Education

Because it's a fairly new career path, there aren't many bachelor's degrees offered in UX design. However, a degree path in information technology or computer science will help. There are other valuable education paths you could take, including psychology and anthropology.

After all, we are studying humans and their interactions with computers. The graphic below shows the fields of study that are relevant to UX design. You're not required to have doctorate-level expertise in all of these areas of course! However, it shows how important multiple areas of knowledge are. The focus is no longer on computer programming alone; the USER becomes the focus. And users are humans.

UX Designer Education Paths

There are some universities that do offer UX design coursework: Rutgers, Carnegie Mellon, Kent State, among others.

You are not limited to formal education to learn these skills! There are great resources at places like study.com. Your own company may have others performing these roles. Forums and other user groups are also great sources of information.

Software Skills

You don't need to be a programmer to be a UX designer; however it is helpful to develop your skills in the following software:

ProgramBenefit to UX Design
Adobe Illustrator/ Adobe Photoshop / Gimp Graphical design elements, develop prototypes of applications, layout, etc.
HTML, Javascript, CSS Develop web applications
Visio or other flowchart software Build process flows; show program flow and decision steps

Lesson Summary

A user experience designer, or UX designer is a professional who focuses on end users and how they react/interact with software. Work includes research, prototyping, developing shells of the application called wireframes, and conducting usability testing to ensure the product is user-ready. As with any field in technology, information technology education and/or experience is helpful. However, the study of psychology and anthropology is also very beneficial to the profession.

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