What does a UX Designer ACTUALLY DO?(Explained using GIFS)

My goal is to help you decide if a UX career is something you REALLY want to pursue without investing too much time and money upfront. You might be looking to transition from a different field into UX design but don’t have the work experience or relevant educational background.

Well, I am glad you are here.

A UX designer does a range of activities. From presenting solutions, analyzing tasks and activities, building prototypes & wireframes, gathering requirements, specifying interaction design to conducting usability studies.

In case you have not read it, the first article in this series on getting started in UX Design, was a personality checklist on whether UX would be a good fit for you.

 Is UX design a good fit for you? 8 personality traits you must have.
People who succeed in a UX design role have two things in common. Firstly, they enjoy what they do. Secondly, their…uxdesignmastery.com

I believe your personality has a huge say on how successful you will be in your career. The more aligned your personality is to what you do, the easier it will be to continuously learn the craft and execute it at a very high level. 
On to the next checkpoint.

What does a UX Designer ACTUALLY do?

The second article in this series looks at breaking down some of the most common on-the-job UX design activities you must be prepared to do to be successful in a UX role. Obviously, some of the UX activities will vary depending on what sort of company you will join (agency, software development company, etc), your UX project budget, how big the team is, and how much time you have on a project.

Fortunately, these UX activities are taken from a study of over 1000 UX professionals conducted by the Nielsen Norman group. So you will get a general but realistic overview of UX work. 

So let’s get started.

1. Presenting solutions/concepts

As a UX designer, you will be required to communicate your ideas and design solutions verbally, on paper, in a slide presentation, in a written document, as annotations, as a wireframe, and as a prototype. 

It sounds straight forward but what a lot of designers don’t realize is how unclear communication can result in your solution being completely misunderstood by clients, developers, or project stakeholders.
Here are some quick tips that I personally use in order to communicate effectively when presenting design solutions:

Explain the problem — what is the background or context to the solution being presented and why is it important
Try to tell a story or scenario around the solution that will better explain what is being presented
Explicitly ask if everyone understands to make sure your audience is on the same page and no one is lagging behind 
Intentionally pause. Don’t rush through your presentation but create moments that encourage feedback and questions
Repeat any feedback you receive. This will help ensure everyone understands what changes will be made.

2. Persuading others

Every now and again you will be required to defend your design decisions to a client, your team, or a product owner. A lot of designers find it hard to justify their design decisions because they, unfortunately, approach design as an art. You looking to create the coolest interface which is beautifully designed. Though that might sound reasonable, it not the best approach. You will end up frustratingly scaling back your design to something more pragmatic or arguing about subjective things like color and imagery.

 A better approach to persuading colleagues about a design approach is to test it with real users or back it up with research data. Find out what the target user group thinks about your design, make changes, and bring that into your design presentation.

3. Analyzing task or activities

An important part of the research phase of a project is to immerse yourself in what your user is trying to achieve. This is done by breaking down the project into key activities/tasks that you require the target user to perform. An analysis of the current state of those activities is needed to understand the pain points and opportunities that exist and should be addressed. 

Some of the most common ways I use to analyze a task is to:
– Gather and interpret analytical data from Google analytics or heatmaps
– Run an audit and perform the task yourself
– Watch a real end-user perform the task

4. Building prototypes and wireframes

Probably the most well known and often overemphasized UX activity. I do enjoy this part but I always create low fidelity deliverables that focus on user flows and functionality. I don’t want to spend time thinking about fonts, icons, colors, and imagery. I am fortunate to work with a UI designer so I definitely don’t have to worry about that part. Though important in the presentation of your solution, wireframing and prototyping builds upon key insights discovered in the research/discovery phase of the project. 

When we look at the full project timeline as a UX designer, you will probably spend more time researching and testing than crafting a beautiful prototype. The key here is not to produce polished designs but is to rapidly illustrate your ideas clearly enough for a UI designer/developer to understand and work from.

5. Collaborating with subject matter experts

As a UX Designer, you have to work with others on topics you might not have any experience in. For instance, you may be asked to redesign an investment banking workflow but not have any financial experience. It will be up to you to seek out this information from experts and end-users involved with that field through whiteboard sessions, UX design workshops, interviews, and on-the-job walk-throughs. You must approach each project as a novice and be willing to learn from others.

6. Gathering requirements

This activity ties into the collaboration with subject matter experts. At the start of a project, you will be required to gather as much information about the problem you are trying to solve in order to tackle it effectively. 

You can go about this through
– Interviews
– Surveys
– Analytical data
– Testing sessions
– Audit
– UX Design workshops

7. Specifying interaction design

When creating prototypes, you will be called upon as a UX Designer to specify the actual interactions a user will encounter. Depending on the size of your design team, this could possibly be done by someone with more expertise in micro-interactions and animation and your role in that setting is to ensure the interactions add and not detract from what the user is attempting to do. 

A great way to learn is by 
– Finding inspiration online (Google “micro-interaction” or “web animation”)
– Learning an animation tool
– Recreate interactions you find using the animation tool 

8. Conducting in-person usability study

Running an in-person usability study is probably one of the key skills a UX designer should master. It requires one to be organized, comfortable with guiding the user, asking the right questions, ability to adjust based on the user responses, and keeping silent when necessary. 

One must be able to watch the time but make sure to get the insights they need for their project research. Lastly, wrap up the session well by asking the participant to do a post-questionnaire, and thanking them for their time.

9. Making storyboards, user journeys, and Information Architecture

All the research, data, findings, and ideas can be translated into artifacts that help stakeholders, clients, and developers better understand what needs to be built. Storyboards outline how a user’s story will unfold shot by shot, for the purpose of pre-visualizing interactions. 

User journeys are a series of steps a user goes through to accomplish a task while Information Architecture is the design of data in a way that makes it easy to build for developers and navigate for users.

10. Conducting design review/heuristic evaluation

This involves personally running through a website or application and marking it against heuristics or best practices. This helps uncover existing problem areas and identify opportunities for improvement. Issues that are identified are categorized into high, medium and low levels of priority for resolving. To be able to run such an evaluation one has to be well versed with best practices and key user goals.

Bonus activity: Review data from analytics

Quantitative data is very useful in understanding what users are currently doing. From it, you can establish conversion rates, understand page performance, and uncover themes/patterns. Therefore learning a tool like Google Analytics will level-up your research skills drastically.

In conclusion

As you can see, the UX role is multi-faceted but it’s important to know when starting out as a junior you won’t be expected to do all these activities alone. Also depending on the size of the company and project budget, you may only be able to perform a subset of these activities. 

Personally, I have done all these activities as a Senior Designer and employ them quite frequently on every project.

If you really enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed creating it, show your love, share it, make it clap and leave a comment on which activities you do the most. 

Calvin Pedzai

Analytical problem solver who enjoys crafting experiences and currently is the Senior UX designer at an awarding winning agency.