The role of a UX designer in development process is often unclear. They may seem to only create boring boxes and arrows, but, in fact, these are tools that help to push the digital product in the right direction.
How? Well, the job description of a UX designer is much wider than the name of the role might suggest. There are three little misunderstandings about UX designers that may seem to be over-promises but are, in fact, underestimations.
1. UX Design is just about users
There are many anchor points whenever you want to build a successful digital product, and users are just one of the dimensions here. The other one is business, which needs to be satisfied to make sure the product converts to revenue streams. Another anchor point is technology, because it defines the boundaries for the product’s development.
It doesn’t make any sense to develop a system that nobody will use or pay for, either due to lack of functionality or an ineffective business model. It also doesn’t make any sense to design a system that cannot be developed, either from a technological or financial point of view. Balancing between these boundaries successfully is one of the most important challenges of UX design. A good understanding of business and at least basic understanding of technology are two great assets of a good UX designer.
2. UX Design is just about experience
Of course, the better the experience, the louder the “wow” you will hear from the users, but such result is not the ultimate goal. Considering that the product is a tool in the hands of a business owner, the UX person needs to think about how to direct users towards the conversion points. To do so, a UX designer needs to attract them, keep them engaged and make sure they will not leave. This task very often touches upon areas that are only indirectly related to the product.
Experience is something that happens at every single touchpoint between the user and the product, or even the whole brand. Having an idea who to attract, how to attract them and how to find the touchpoints, as well as the ability to learn from users’ actions are great assets here. And lastly, all of this requires some technological solutions to be used – solutions that trigger costs and may cost even more when a wrong technology is selected.
3. UX Design is just about design
Usually, a UX designer is not someone who will come up with the final version of the interface. He or she may happen to be a UI designer as well, but this is a whole different story. Many tools and techniques in our hands don’t apply to design per se but to collecting knowledge about users and the market, planning and experimenting. For example, underestimating research and the strategy that comes as a result of research may be one of the worst mistakes one can make when building a product. No matter how bold your idea is, delivering a feature or a set of them based on untested assumptions may be a hit or a miss. At the same time, developing it is always a cost. It becomes a question, then, if a feature should be developed or not, and user research plays an important role in answering it. Note that this becomes even more interesting for highly innovative products, when you want to solve a problem that has not been addressed by any other product so far.
UX design is a jenga game
If I were to summarise the role of UX designer, I would probably say that it boils down to finding the right balance between user experience, profitability, and technological feasibility. Jenga seems to be a good analogy here: sometimes you need to remove a peg, move it to another position, or put another one on top.
In UX, these pegs are various things; sometimes, it is the user interface that may explain to a user what the product is all about better or allow them to perform some tasks more easily. Sometimes, it is a business requirement that is impossible to be met, so you need to search for another way of how the product should convert, even if it means shifting the business model. Sometimes, it is talking to the developers to find what constraints and possibilities the technology gives us so that we can avoid problems the whole. Or perhaps, a better technology could be used in place of what was initially intended – either to limit the costs or drive higher revenue.
The jenga game is not just one stage of the process, though – whenever you plan something, you need to validate it. This CAN be a role of someone else, e.g. a UX researcher, but ultimately it needs to lead a decision on what direction we should take next.
That said, UX design (should it even be called so) is the art of learning and making proper decisions based on the lessons learned. It is a process, though. We do not have magic cards up our sleeves and will not tell you that for sure that this will work and that will not – a lot of this is a matter of experimenting. Some mistakes can be, with high probability, avoided at the very beginning. The rest is optimisation.