What do UX designers do?
Ever wondered what the day-to-day of a UX designer looks like? From the outside, it can be difficult to understand exactly what a UX/UI designer’s roles and responsibilities look like. After all, with so many moving parts, it can be a difficult task to encapsulate everything that a UX designer does.
UX design is a job in which the role itself often wanes depending on the project at hand. This is because some days, a designer will be working with a full team conducting extensive user research, and the next, designing solo for a small startup.
In this article, however, we will cover everything you need to know about the roles and responsibilities of a UX designer, including:
- What a UX designer does
- The roles and responsibilities of a UX designer
- Why a UX designer needs to understand the user and the brand
- How a UX designer conducts user research
- UI design (including wireframing and prototyping)
- The three most popular design methodologies—Double Diamond Design Process, Design Sprint, and Design Thinking
What does UX design mean?
In short, user experience (UX) aims to optimize the interaction between a user and a product. A user experience designer, or a UX designer, optimizes and improves the interactions between the user and a product(s).
UX design is a career that doesn’t require a degree to enter, but it does require experience and practice in order to gain clients and create designs.
There are great free UX/UI design course resources available on YouTube, including the Designership YouTube channel.
If you’re looking for the best way to become a UX designer, check out The Designership’s Figma Masterclass. With 90+ videos across and access to an exclusive design community, it’s everything you need in your toolbelt to become the next unicorn designer.
What does a UX designer do?
A UX designer is responsible for the users’ overall satisfaction with a product.
As defined by Coursera, the designer achieves this through “[creating] satisfying and compelling experiences for users of a product…drawing on results from user research and workflow analysis.”
Think of yourself as the customer’s advocate, always looking for ways to improve the customer’s experience. You seek to make their experience with the product as pleasant as possible and achieve this through testing, research, and other design methodologies.
So, what are the roles and responsibilities of a UX designer? Depending on whether someone is working remotely or part of a team, these roles and responsibilities might change.
For example, if you’re working as a freelance UX designer for a small start-up, your responsibilities will look different to an in-house designer working in a large team with a product manager assisting.
Let’s take a look at some of the tasks and responsibilities you’ll likely encounter throughout the design process.
The UX designer role and responsibilities
Understand the user and the brand
An in-depth understanding of a problem and the user’s need is a key component of UX design.
Because of this, understanding the needs, challenges, and expectations of a user requires some understanding of psychology. After all, a UX designer needs to anticipate how the product will be perceived, and what needs it is fulfilling.
Surprisingly, UX design is incredibly intuitive. The truth is that UX design is borne of creativity meeting mathematics, and the anticipation of human reaction to a product or design. Among many other skills, both soft and technical, empathy is often touted as the most critical UX design skill.
“Once again, UI/UX design is all about human psychology. You design not a product—you design interaction with the user,” explains Olga Boichuk for UX Magazine.
“This is why you have to know your users, their human nature, their inclinations, weaknesses, strong points, and fears.”
In addition to understanding the user’s behavior, UX designers need to understand the brand they are representing and the expectations of key stakeholders.
Working in UX/UI design requires elite communication skills—when you’re coordinating across teams, clients, and often analyzing and reacting to raw data, you need to be able to work collaboratively.
Conduct user research
In UX design, conducting user research provides the essential foundation needed for any design process, strategy, or product. User research can be conducted in person, remotely, and with or without a team.
A UX designer needs to identify user needs, goals, behaviors, and pain points, and use them as a framework for user research. Understanding how these factors affect the users requires empathy and a keen eye for detail.
User research will look different depending on the project, product, team, and budget available. Larger companies will dedicate huge amounts of funds towards user research—after all, it’s the foundation for a successful product. User research with little to no budget is very achievable and can yield the same in-depth results as higher budgets.
Tools for user research might include surveys, one-on-one interviews, focus groups, or A/B testing. At some companies, a dedicated UX design researcher will spearhead the user research process.
Analyze collected data
After conducting user research and examining the data, a UX designer then will build user personas. These personas are based on the acquired research and help to identify the most important elements of the product or service.
The most influential part of the entire design process occurs during usability testing. Any good UX designer worth their weight in salt will agree: always test, test some more, and then do some more testing.
Usability testing is a designer’s way of identifying any issues with the product. Tying back to the need for empathy, testing also allows a designer to set aside any preconceived assumptions and instead gain a real insight into users and their needs.
Conducting usability tests can also reveal what needs to be amended. If something doesn’t serve the user, then it needs to be either removed or reworked.
As you begin to build out the design, you’ll begin the process of creating site maps, wireframes, or prototypes to give you and your team a better idea of what the final product will look like.
Wireframes, which are digital structural sketches that illustrate a concept, are used to clearly demonstrate the core elements of a design, and how they function. Both wireframes and site maps require planning and demonstrating interface elements, both of which a UX designer must have an in-depth understanding of.
A designer will need to be familiar with prototyping and is responsible for producing a replica. The testing phase of a product uses prototypes. That’s why it’s so important to have all key interactions and aesthetics of UI in place.
UI design, although sometimes fused with UX design, is a different segment of the design process. Many designer roles require experience in both UX and UI design, so understanding the fundamentals of UI is critical.
Conduct user testing
Now it’s time for the UX designer to validate the design by tracking how real users interact with the product or service.
User testing, or usability testing, is a key step in the design process and determines whether a product is suitable for finalization, or if something needs to be rethought. Based on the users’ feedback and fluctuations and changes in the market, a UX designer will work closely with developers, product designers, and product managers to make improvements.
The goal of this process is for the designer to detect any usability issues at any stage, and seek to improve the user experience. By closely monitoring the testing phase, a design can see exactly what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t.
A UX designer needs to adopt a proactive approach to solutions—rethinking, assessing, and providing design solutions. If something is showing to be amiss in the design, then something has failed in the UX design and research process.
Popular UX Design Processes
Many UX designers have a personal preference for their UX design process. However, these are the three most popular:
The Double Diamond design process
First created by the British Design Council in 2005, the Double Diamond Design Process has a simple structure; two square diamonds on an angle. The first diamond represents the research phase, while the second represents the design phase.
This design process uses both “divergent” and “convergent thinking”. This process creates several potential options or ideas. These ideas are then refined and narrowed down in order to identify the most promising. This process happens twice—once to validate the problem, and again to create a solution.
This design model has four stages:
- Discovery: identifying and analyzing the variables that affect the problem at hand, and providing context to the problem. Then identify any potential solutions
- Definition: the process of filtering through all the information from the Discovery stage, identifying potential blockers or compilations, and setting action plans with internal and external stakeholders.
- Development: this is the beginning of the actual design process and the creation of the solution for the problem identified in stages one and two.
- Delivery: final testing of the product, official sign-off to production, and launching.
Design Sprint by Google Ventures
The Design Sprint is a five-day methodology developed by Jake Knapp and the UX specialists of Google Ventures. This “five-day sprint” allows designers to gather clear data from a realistic prototype in less time. Design Sprints are the primary kickstart method for all projects at Google to this day.
As defined by GV, “the sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers”.
GV offers a DIY kit and basic sprint resources on their website. Held over five working days, the method follows this framework:
- Monday: map out the problem and select the important part to focus on.
- Tuesday: follow a four-step process of sketching possible solutions on a paper, focus on critical thinking over artistry.
- Wednesday: critique each solution, and decide which ones have the best chance of success. Using these solutions, create a step-by-step storyboard for a prototype.
- Thursday: transform the storyboard into a mock high-fidelity prototype.
- Friday: test the product and interview customers. Gather data on their reactions to the prototype, and reassess changes and/or project direction.
A methodology popularized by design firm IDEO, Design Thinking is a non-linear process that design teams can adopt in order to understand users, reexamine problems, and discover and test solutions.
Often used to understand and solve problems that are unknown or difficult to define, Design Thinking helps to reframe the problem into something “human-centric”, placing the greatest emphasis on the user’s needs above everything else. Using empathy as a framework, it seeks to discover how a user will interact with the product.
This methodology uses five phases:
- Empathize: research the users’ needs, often through user research. Gain an empathetic understanding of the problem that is being solved.
- Define: gather observations and data collected during the first stage, and then synthesize your findings to define their core problem or need.
- Ideate: challenge any assumptions and instead brainstorm solutions and ideas. The main goal of this brainstorming session is to collect as many ideas as possible, so collaboration and creativity are key here.
- Prototype: in this experimental phase, the goal is to identify the best possible solution for each problem found through prototyping. Rather than aiming for perfection, this phase should be used as an opportunity to create a diluted final product.
- Test: observation and collection of data. The product is then presented to users, and its performance is evaluated. As this design methodology is iterative, this phase will often signal the need to restart the process to redefine the core user issue.
UX design in the real world
Understanding the roles and responsibilities of a UX design is simple on paper. It’s important to understand these key concepts and the required skills to be a UX designer. However, in reality, day-to-day UX design is rarely as planned. Companies, businesses, clients, and even other designers will rarely follow these processes to a T.
Unfortunately, due to resources, time constraints, and lack of processes within organizations, designers are generally tasked to focus on the highest priority issues and execute solutions on time.
Some companies have dedicated resources for specific or individual tasks which removes this effect. For example, some companies will employ a dedicated user researcher that will provide synthesized findings to the UX/UI designer to design solutions for. This does free up valuable design resources, but it’s common within smaller companies.
It’s critical that you understand the UX design process, your role in that process, and how all the touchpoints work together to create a product. But know, that in the real world, it may be different. Give yourself the right tools to be battle-ready with The Designership’s Figma Masterclass, and be prepared for anything.
Working as a UX/UI designer takes a lot of skill and understanding of the field. Recognizing this, it’s no doubt that UX design can be an incredibly high salary role. Find out how much UX designers make on average with our in-depth report.