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What is UX design?

A screenshot showing what UX design is like in Miro

Your guide to UX design

User experience (UX) design has become a critical element in creating successful products and services. In fact, it’s become an important subject even outside UX roles and product teams because of its direct impact on customer satisfaction, retention, and even the bottom line for businesses.

Whether you’re looking to master the craft or get a solid understanding, this guide has you covered. We'll dive deep into what UX design is, including why it matters, key design principles, and what to look out for when choosing a design tool.

Understanding UX Design: what is it?

UX design is a strategic discipline focused on enhancing people’s experiences with products. More specifically, it’s about making sure that users can seamlessly and efficiently engage with a product, all while enjoying it. While the craft of UX design is typically associated with digital products or services, such as websites or apps, you can apply UX principles to physical products and experiences, too — like designing retail spaces or consumer electronics. That said, this guide focuses mainly on digital experiences.

It’s important to note that UX design isn’t just a stage in the product development process. Rather, it’s an ongoing commitment to thinking about what your users want and need. It involves everything from mapping out how your users will interact with your product to repeatedly gathering feedback on their experience so you can make improvements. And because UX designers often think about how people behave, their role requires lots of empathy and ethical thinking — on top of conducting plenty of research.

UX vs. UI Design

While UX design and user interface (UI) design are similar practices, they ultimately serve different purposes. UX design focuses on crafting the overall user journey. Examples of common problems UX designers solve include how the user will get from one page to another, how efficient that journey will be, and how intuitive their experience will be. UI designers, on the other hand, focus more on the visual aspect of user experience — specifically on the look and feel of a product’s interface. That includes thinking about an interface’s color palette, what shapes the buttons will be, and what typeface the text should use — among other visual components.

Given the nature of their work, UX and UI designers work hand in hand to create a seamless and pleasant experience for the user. After all, an aesthetically pleasing interface is meaningless if the user can’t navigate it efficiently. Similarly, a well-thought-out user journey would be wasted if the interface had a harsh color palette or an illegible typeface.

Why is UX design important?

Now that you have a clear picture of what UX design is (and what it isn’t), let’s get to the bottom of why it matters. At its core, UX design serves two audiences: the product’s users and the business behind the product.

For users, a stellar UX is key to helping them navigate your product smoothly. That includes finding what they need, discovering content they would benefit from, and leaving with a sense of satisfaction. But as mentioned, it goes beyond user engagement. For businesses, a well-executed user experience makes a huge difference between a loyal customer and a fleeing visitor. When users enjoy their experience, they're not only more likely to stay engaged with the product. They’re also more likely to leave positive reviews, recommend it to others, and, of course, come back as users themselves. In the long run, all these positive outcomes help drive higher retention rates and, ultimately, more revenue.

In other words, it’s not about simply making your website or app look visually pleasing. It’s about investing in customer relationships by keeping your users’ needs and interests top of mind.

Principles of UX Design

As covered earlier, UX design takes empathy and plenty of research. But there’s a lot more that goes into it. So, if you’re wondering what good UX design is, here are some key principles to keep in mind:

Create user-centered design

Creating user-centered products is what UX design is all about. That’s why it’s important to get a clear picture of who you’re designing digital experiences for. Conduct user research to learn more about your target audience. Discover what their typical behaviors are, what challenges they encounter, and how you can solve them with your designs. This way, you’ll be on your way to creating products that truly resonate with your users, driving better customer engagement and satisfaction.

But user-centricity isn’t just practical for business growth; it’s also ethical. By conducting detailed research on your users’ wants and needs, you’re essentially empathizing with your audience as best as possible. Take designing a privacy policy pop-up, for example. Privacy policies are important, but the topic can be very dry. So, while it’s important to make sure that your pop-up is informative, it’s also worth designing it in a way that’s easy for users to read and digest the policy — rather than simply sharing lots of content that overwhelms them into accepting it.

Prioritize usability

While catering to your users’ wants and needs, it’s just as important to keep product usability in mind. And it goes beyond simply making sure your products work. It’s about minimizing the number of errors your users encounter, reducing their points of frustration, and enabling them to explore your product effortlessly.

For instance, when designing an e-commerce website, it’s worth making sure that your users can easily navigate the checkout process. This includes reducing the number of steps they need to take, avoiding asking for duplicate information, and providing clear instructions overall. On top of enhancing usability, facilitating a seamless and efficient experience also increases the likelihood that your users will complete their purchases and walk away feeling satisfied.

Design for accessibility

Accessibility is about making sure anyone can easily use your product no matter what their abilities are. It comes down to understanding what your users need, practicing empathy, and keeping ethics in mind. That said, it’s also important to align your approach with local and international accessibility standards, such as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Some common examples of designing for accessibility include adding screen readers for text-heavy content, making it easy to navigate a website solely using a keyboard, or adding alternative text to images. Essentially, it’s about making it easy to use your product by providing multiple ways to engage and interact with it — allowing people to opt for the option that best suits their needs.

Keep your designs consistent

Remember, a core goal in UX design is ease of use, and consistency plays a major role. Imagine if each page of your website functioned differently. Even if each page was easy to use, your users would have to adapt to a new digital experience every time they explored a new part of your website, slowing them down from completing tasks or finding the information they’re looking for.

Providing a consistent experience reduces the learning curve for your users, making it easier for them to find their way around. It also helps foster a sense of familiarity, predictability, and, in the long term, customer loyalty. Some examples of maintaining consistency include placing important call-to-action buttons in the same position across app screens or making sure a website’s navigation bar functions the same way across every page.

Practice simplicity

While your product should provide all the information your users need, avoid complex and overwhelming designs. When there’s too much content to navigate, your users are more likely to feel confused and frustrated, slowing them down in their user journey. For example, if someone looking to buy a pair of shoes on an e-commerce site had to take multiple steps simply to choose a different size or color, it would slow them down in reaching the checkout stage.

Practicing simplicity in UX design is all about providing a clear and straightforward experience. Some examples include limiting the number of features you provide to the most essential ones or avoiding overly intricate user interfaces. Keeping things simple empowers your users to navigate your product with minimal effort, setting them up for customer satisfaction.

Embrace user feedback

User feedback is a critical piece of what UX design is all about. While it’s important to conduct research on what your users want and need going into the design process, it’s just as important to confirm that you’re on the right track by hearing from the users themselves. But you don’t have to wait until they leave reviews or complain to customer support. Actively seeking user input can help you keep feedback in mind throughout the design process.

Consider engaging with users through surveys and usability testing. For example, if you’re designing a landing page to join a newsletter, gather feedback on the sign-up process. Make iterative changes based on their input, whether it’s about simplifying the process or improving error messaging. Relying on user insights reduces the chance of assumptions, strengthening the connection between the customers and the brand.

The UX Design Process

A UX design process is made up of several stages and techniques meant to help you solve user problems from many different angles — all while balancing business goals.

Let’s take a look at what a typical UX design process is like:

Conduct user research

User research sits at the heart of effective UX design. By learning about your users' behaviors, needs, and preferences, you unlock actionable insights that inform every subsequent stage of the design process. Take a company developing a new mobile banking app, for example. By interviewing potential users to learn about their needs, the company might discover a common pain point, such as budgeting skills or bill management.

This could lead to the company creating a new feature in the app — one that they can be confident will solve a user problem. In other words, solid user research makes sure design decisions aren’t based on assumptions but rather on real-world feedback. The result: a product that truly resonates with users.

Build user personas

Once you’ve conducted user research, it helps to distill those findings into user personas. Building user personas can help you bridge the gap between you and the user by humanizing their wants and needs. Essentially, you’re creating fictional characters based on very real data to represent the people you’re designing for throughout the UX design process.

Let’s say you’re designing an app for parenting. From research, you might know many users are busy, working parents. But by building a persona that you’ve named and attached a few key demographic details to — for example, Sarah, a 35-year-old senior executive with two toddlers — you’re allowing yourself to think about your users in greater detail. On top of making it easier for you to empathize with your users, it also helps you avoid making generic design decisions.

Think about information architecture

Information architecture (IA) is all about organizing content in a way that will make your product intuitive to use. Unsurprisingly, it plays a crucial role in ensuring a user-friendly design. Some examples of IA practices include site mapping, designing accessibility structures, or creating labeling systems. It’s all about making it easier to understand content and find what you’re looking for.

Take, for example, an online retail store. A robust information architecture ensures that customers can seamlessly move from the homepage to product categories and, eventually, to checkout. With thoughtful information architecture, users are less likely to get lost in a digital maze, making it easier for them to explore products and make purchases. That means it’s not just good for user experience but for the business, too.

Start wireframing and prototyping

Wireframing is all about building the skeleton for your product — similar to creating a blueprint for a house. The main goal is to depict the layout of user interface design, including where menus and buttons will live and how user journeys unfold. They can be detailed high-fidelity wireframes made in a digital tool or low-fidelity pencil sketches. Not sure where to start? Try either Miro’s website wireframe template or app wireframe template.

Prototypes, on the other hand, breathe life into your wireframes by portraying your user interface as accurately as possible. It’s not just about getting the color palette and typeface right but also about interactivity. Using the right tools, you can easily create an interactive prototype to give your teammates a realistic idea of your design. Miro, for example, lets you link between multiple objects on your board, allowing you to portray different user journeys. To save time on creating your prototype, use Miro’s prototype template.

Test it out with users

User testing embodies the UX design principle of embracing feedback. It shifts the design process from assumption to validation, making sure that the product genuinely solves the problems you set out to fix. By observing real users interacting with your product, you catch any overlooked friction points or misunderstandings — and make meaningful improvements early on.

For example, while testing an app you’ve designed, you might discover that users consistently struggle to locate a key feature. This helps indicate what design tweaks to make, allowing you to avoid guessing what to improve. And the sooner you catch what to fix, the more you reduce the chances of costly redesigns down the road.

Iteration, iteration, iteration

Speaking of making improvements, iteration is a key part of any UX design process. Iteration is an ongoing process of repeatedly testing and refining your product based on feedback from real users. But why is it important to keep adjusting your product?

Let's look at an example. A company that launched a navigation app for drivers many years ago might not have known that more of its users would be driving electric cars in the future. To keep its app relevant over time, it would have to gather feedback from users to learn about how their needs have evolved. This could inspire ideas for important new features, like being able to navigate to nearby charging stations — paving the way for iteration.

Beyond keeping a product relevant over time, iteration sustains user engagement, encourages customer loyalty, and fends off business competition. That’s why it isn’t just a nice-to-have but a vital part of any UX design process.

How to choose UX design tools

With so many steps to a successful UX design process, you’re bound to need a few tools along the way to keep the journey smooth. But what if you’re not sure what type of tool is best?

For one, keep in mind that UX design involves getting lots of feedback and making changes quickly. That’s why it’s worth looking for tools that enable commenting and collaborating on designs, ideally in real-time. For wireframing and prototyping, look for creative diagramming features that allow you to combine all kinds of shapes, lines, texts, and customization options — all while portraying user flow.

If your team’s existing workflow already consists of many tools, look for a UX design solution that easily integrates with them. Having the right integrations will help you easily transition between different stages of your design process, protecting your overall efficiency.

At the end of the day, it’s about knowing what gaps you’re trying to fill in your UX design process and looking for solutions that best fit your needs and goals. To make the best possible decision, be sure to talk to your teammates so you can be on the same page about what type of UX design tool to go for.

Elevate your UX design process with Miro

Miro is an all-in-one solution for taking your design process to the next level, with over 130 app integrations, plenty of UX design templates, and next-level collaboration features. Visualize your design research findings creatively, map user journeys in detail, or create high-fidelity wireframes and prototypes. Gather feedback right on your designs and make changes in real-time, enabling your team to work faster and smoother — even if you aren’t in the same room.

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