Even if you’re just getting started on your journey into the world of web development, you’ve probably come across the term UX/UI. You may have seen hiring ads from companies looking for UX/UI designers, offering salaries occasionally jutting into the six-figure range (glassdoor.com pegs the national average salary for UX designers at $87,883 as of July 25th, 2016). But what exactly is UX/UI design in the first place?
USER EXPERIENCE / USER INTERFACE
Have you ever noticed how some websites, apps, or computer programs just feel better than others? Some feel sleek, modern, and easy to navigate, while others feel clunky, dull, and/or confusing. Many engineering-minded developers focus solely on the functionality of their products, and are dismayed to find that customers are flocking to their more user-friendly competitors. This is where UX/UI designers come in. A good User Experience designer can provide a user with a more enjoyable experience, thereby making him or her more likely to come back (and bring a friend). A good User Interface designer can make sure that when a user accesses the website (or app, or software, or whatever), that the user will intuitively know exactly what to do, rather than getting lost in a confusing interface.
WHAT DO UX/UI DESIGNERS DO?
UX/UI designers can come in at any stage of a project (for example, telling the front-end dev team that they laid out a page all wrong, or smoothing out the rough edges on a erratically designed website), but they are generally most useful in the design stages, before developers actually start the coding process.
By drawing rough sketches, designing mock-ups, and creating wireframes, UX/UI designers can lay the foundations for a smooth, intuitive, aesthetically pleasing, and overall enjoyable product. These basic structural designs can then be handed off to graphic designers and web developers, who can implement the nitty-gritty details of imaging and coding.
But the UX/UI isn’t only about art, creativity, and imagination; it’s also about science, empiricism, and testing. Once a basic design is created and implemented (preferably in the form of a minimum viable product), good UX/UI designers will actually go out and test their designs with real users. Are users able to figure out what they’re supposed to do (click on the “buy” button, of course!) or are they getting confused and frustrated with the interface? Are users enjoying their experiences, or are they somewhat less than satisfied? Some of these questions can be answered through A/B testing (creating multiple versions of the same product and seeing which one users like better by monitoring clicks, purchases, or other data points), but some cannot. For this reason, UX/UI designers are often some of the most customer-facing members of a web development team, going out and talking to people, asking questions, soliciting feedback, doing surveys, focus-group testing, and other kinds of direct market research. UX/UI designers then need to integrate this feedback into revised designs, and initiate the iterative process that is essential to good, agile product development.
The world of UX/UI design is much deeper than that which can be discussed in this introductory blog post. Trying to learn these skills online may be challenging, due to the somewhat subjective nature of design-oriented disciplines in general. If you’re interested in learning more about UX/UI design, you’d be well advised to check out vocational schools, bootcamps, and college courses in your area.