Careers in User Experience Design

Unless you work in UX or in automotive design, you might not think about the user experience inside your car. I recently wrote about automotive UX, but really most products, if not all products, have UX factors. That is why the job prospects for a career as a UX (user experience) designer look very good.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for Web Developers and Digital Interface Designers is $77,200. (Though of course, this can vary by level of experience and geographic location.) Unsurprisingly, this is a field that is expected to grow significantly in our digital-centric world. Demand for UX designers is expected to grow by at least 8% by 2029.

What is UX and what does a UX designer do?

Any time you interact with a product, a website, or app, that’s the user experience. 

If you go into a store and walk around unable to find what you want, that is a poor user experience. Are there signs to get you where you want to go? That’s navigation, not unlike the menu on a website or signage on a highway or in a theme park. 

The crossovers are many. Are you stuck waiting around just to check out at Walmart? What about checking out on walmart.com? Different tools but still UX.

A UX designer makes sure the product is straightforward to use, and that it’s a seamless experience for the consumer. But isn’t that what a web designer does? On a small site or for a small company, the two jobs might be combined, but they are separate jobs these days. 

The web designer builds the skeleton and skin of the site. The UX designer optimizes how the site functions, and the flow of the user experience. They absolutely should be working together. 

The UX designer also is involved in marketing, and often with other teams, clients, and customers.

Tasks might include:

  • Analyzing marketing data about customers.
  • Conducting surveys, focus groups, or other research to see how people use the site/app, and what they think.
  • Testing the UX in real time as a customer
  • Information architecture (maps or other organizational graphics) that shows how the site is laid out, and how the user moves through it.

People enter the field via a number of paths. Now, there are college courses and degrees in UX or software development or graphic design but the skills needed include not only computer skills, but data analysis, project management, and UX-design-specific training. Communication skills are also a major asset, given how much time UX designers spend collaborating with others. Non-degree devoted to UX design as online boot camps, training programs, and certification programs can teach the skills necessary to become a UX designer if a job does not require a degree.

Have you seen this very simple kind of UX survey somewhere?
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

A UX Intro

I was looking through some materials I used in teaching a course that included a unit on UX. The user experience is abbreviated as both UX and UE (which somehow in itself seems like a bad user experience). UX is how a user interacts with and experiences a product, system, or service. In that course, I had students looking at the UX of websites, but it can be applied to many other tech and non-tech instances.

Basically, you look at a person’s perceptions of the ease of use, and efficiency of a site. Companies are obviously interested in that and so designers need to use it in the creation process.

It seems odd that although the questions asked of users seem very subjective, the attributes that make up the user experience are objective.

Here are several basic terms used in UX.

Affordance – is one of the concept features that measures how well a user understands a feature without knowing how to use it. An example on a webpage or an object would be that something that need to be pushed or clicked looks like a button that should be pushed.

A/B testing – a controlled experiment for comparing two versions of the design. For example, you might present two color palettes of the same webpage design to determine if the colors make any significant change to a user.

Wireframes –  a simplified representation of your website or application consisting of just lines and text that can be hand-drawn or electronic and in this early stage true visual design and color are not presented.

wireframe for a user profile page

Mockup – is a richer visual version than a wireframe, including graphics, layout, and style. For products, these can be actual objects that users can hold or see as 3D objects.

Prototypes – are a further step toward the final product or website. This version can be responsive and there may be website items to click or enter data. They usually contain images and content such as text. Product prototypes can be physical objects, but a plastic or metal object might be made from paper or even just a 3D digital version. Technically, wireframes are prototypes but they are “low fidelity” and lack details.

Accessibility is something that is unfortunately too often overlooked. The common perception is that it is about users with disabilities, but that is too limited. Many users have “special needs.” Blindness would certainly be an accessibility issue but so would color blindness. A website designed for desktop users can present accessibility issues for all users if used on a smartphone.

There are many other terms used. The collection and analysis of UX data is itself an entire unit of study that would include things like clickstreams, diary studies, eye tracking, heat maps and card sorting.