Should you start by analyzing your competitors or... by building the user persona for your new software product?

Then, should you jump straight to paper sketching or...?

How to approach user experience design, more precisely?

What are the key steps to include in this process? And what's the right order to carry them out?

What are the specific activities to perform? What deliverables should you create at each step?

Let's get you some answers now.

Here's how our own UX design process looks like. Take it as a tried-and-tested 8-point checklist.

One that you can use to make sure that you complete the end-to-end cycle when designing the user experience for your apps (or websites).

But First: What Is User Experience Design?

“If UX is the experience that a user has while interacting with your product, then UX Design is, by definition, the process by which we determine what that experience will be.” (Source: usertesting.com)

Let's try an ultra concise, yet comprehensive definition:

UX design is... design has the user's experience at its very core.

So the process of designing the best experience for your users calls for a step-by-step approach where you:

  • do extensive research, trying to understand your users' needs and problems
  • collect a whole lot of data that'd help you figure out how users interact with your product (so you can anticipate common user flows)
  • plan out everything, all the elements that go into your software product are thought through and designed from the user's viewpoint
  • run extensive user tests on your prototype

The whole point of this step-by-step user experience design process? (or why is user experience design important?)

It helps you answer your “Why”, “What”, and “How” questions related to your product before you go ahead and... develop it:

  • Why would target customers use your product? Does it help them perform a specific task? Or does it reflect some of their personal values, maybe (i.e. Apple users identify themselves with people who “think differently”)
     
  • What helps them perform the actions that they expect to perform with your product (which of your product's features and functionalities)?
     
  • How do they perform those actions? Does your app provide an easy and aesthetically pleasant way for them to carry out their tasks?

User Experience Design Process: UX design is a commitment to building products that are created with the customer in mind.
Source: usertesting.com

1.1. User Experience Design vs User Interface Design: How Are They Different?

Take UI as everything that the customer comes into contact with when using your app.

From the graphics he sees to the on-screen buttons he touches, to the mental concepts he's using while interacting with your app...

And take the UX as the overall experience of that interaction.

“Something that looks great but is difficult to use is exemplary of great UI and poor UX. While Something very usable that looks terrible is exemplary of great UX and poor UI.” (source: careerfoundry.com)

“And what is good user experience design?” you might ask yourself.

Good UX helps users do what they want to do when interacting with your business.

But measuring the success of your UX design process isn't that straightforward, though:

  • you need to get your target customers to... experience your app/website
  • then you need to keep refining it; to adjust it to the changing needs and new challenges they face, making sure it remains user-friendly over time

Now, let's see which are the 8 typical stages of a user experience design process. 

Stages which might be swapped in and out, depending on your team's familiar workflow and your project's specific requirements.

Let's dive in:

Stage 1: How to Approach User Experience Design: Ground Your Work in User Research  

“What is the first step of a UX design process?” you ask? 

Get to know your target customers as much as possible.

What type of people will be using your app? What are their motivations, behaviors, needs, and goals?

User Experience Design Process: Identify Your User Persona
Designed with "Make My Persona".

And having just “an idea” is not enough.

It's at this stage of the process where you gather and analyze as much data as possible on your app's target users:

  • run some web analytics
  • take user interviews
  • conduct online surveys
  • put together your user persona profile, which is no more than an archetypal representation of your target users (their goals and behaviors) that helps you validate all your future design decisions

Dive deep into all the data you've collected so far and start looking for patterns and trends.

It's these common patterns that'll help you distill this huge pile of data and see who the “average user” for your product is.  

Stakeholders involved

  • UX design team

Deliverables:

  • usability studies
  • user personas
  • user stories

Stage 2: Define the Problem That the User Is Having

“What are the most important things to understand throughout a UX design process?”

The problem that you're trying to solve with your product. And why solving that problem would be beneficial to your business.

In other words, how the user’s problem aligns with your business goals.

Articulating a clear problem statement is one of the UX design process best practices.

Figure out what the user needs (or what problem he's dealing with) and plan out your product as a solution to those needs.

For example:

It's not a shopping cart that your online store's customers NEED. What they need is an overview of the items they've selected and of their total cost. The shopping cart is the solution to precisely these 2 customer needs. 

Here are 4 helpful questions to focus on:

  • What problem do we want to solve?
  • What are our users' needs and why are these particular needs important to them?
  • Are there any existing or anticipated limitations to address?
  • What are the benchmarks for success?

User Experience Design Process: We should see users’ needs as verbs...Source: uxdesign.cc

Stakeholders involved

  • product manager
  • product design team

Deliverables:

  • a clear user-need statement that includes: a user, his problem or need, and his goal
  • storyboards
  • customer journey map

Stage 3: Do Some UX Competitive Analysis 

Who are your competitors?

And what approaches have they adopted for their own products? How are they different/better than yours? How well do other software products, with similar features, perform?

This is that stage of the process where you run extensive research on:

  • your target market
  • your competitors
  • the latest UX/UI trends

Stakeholders involved

  • design team 

Deliverables:

  • market research
  • competitor analysis

Stage 4: Sketch Out a Wireframe   

Another valid answer to your dilemma — “How to approach user experience design” —  is: 

You put together a low-fidelity wireframe for your software product.

It'll be the link between:

  • your app's/website's visual design
  • and its information architecture

And it's also a quick and effective way to get your idea across all the teams involved.

At this stage you:

  • brainstorm ideas 
  • explore possible solutions to that user's problem/need that you've identified in stage 2 (and hopefully come up with a better solution than your competition) 
  • explore several ways of displaying different types of content and information
  • identify the content that you need to prioritize, according to how important it is for the user journey

No need to invest too much time (and creativity) into something too detailed.

Whiteboard photos, pencil sketches on paper will do since at this point you'll be focusing exclusively on:

  • the main functionality
  • the user experience

… on every screen

Stakeholders involved

  • design team

Deliverables:

  • user flows
  • hand-drawn sketches
  • wireframes
  • sitemap
  • lots and lots of sticky notes with ideas written on, that you can sort by hierarchy and group by theme

Stage 5: Create a Prototype

Another one of the UX design process best practices to follow.

That's because you'll want to have a draft version of your product that users could test before you do any coding.

The great thing about prototypes is that they simulate the real experience — you touch the “Next” button and it takes you to the next screen— so that testers can have a real feel of how the real app will function.

They get to experience its design in... real-time.

User Experience Design Process: Create a Prototype

Stakeholders involved

  • design team

Deliverables:

  • paper prototype
  • design images
  • icons
  • design specifications such as colors, typography, theme, guidelines, styles
  • low-fidelity prototype
  • high-fidelity prototype
  • interactive prototype

Stage 6: Have It Tested by Real Users 

How to approach user experience design?

You collect as much feedback as possible on your product prototype.

And here are 3 battle-tested methods:

  • usability testing
  • remote user testing
  • A/B testing

And you sure don't run short of means to make the most of user testing:

  • from simple observations
  • to surveys
  • to questionnaires 
  • to interviews

… there are “n” ways to get your valuable feedback from real users.

Deliverables:

  • user feedback
  • usability report
  • analytics report
  • audit reports on the prototype's UI
  • lists of areas that need improvement (or features that should be removed/replaced)

Stage 7: Develop and Launch

Time to bring the developers in!

Now it's their time to shine. To implement the designs and:

  • structure the database
  • build the server
  • build the back end functionality
  • tie the back-end to the UI 

One of the UX design process best practices to follow here is having the design team... stick around.

They might need to intervene and make small tweaks to their design or simply to communicate any issues that arise while developers are implementing it.

Stakeholders involved

  • development team
  • design team

Deliverables: 

  • a high fidelity version of the user interface with functionality and user experience baked in

Stage 8: Evaluate 

Time for a new round of... analysis.

And here are a couple of questions to guide your evaluation process:

  • How do users respond to our product?
  • Do they find it easy to use?
  • Where does it get it right, in terms of user experience, and where does it... fail?
  • Does it manage to solve their problems/meet their needs?

Stakeholders

  • product manager
  • design team

Deliverables:

  • new feature ideas that might need to get implemented
  • lists of issues reported

Final Word: The UX Design Process Comes Down to Learn.Think. Make

So, to give you a final answer to your question — “How to approach user experience design?”:

Many of the stages included in our process are debatable and perfectly... optional (i.e. you might feel like skipping the wireframing part if you have a solid design system set in place).

Feel free to swap stages in and out and to adjust the process to your own business, your teams, and your specific project requirements.

What you should not consider as optional is the 9th step in designing the user experience that I haven't included here:

The UX design process is an... ongoing one. You'll need to constantly improve and to polish your designs to fit new circumstances, new contexts, future user challenges...

No UX experts in your team to hand over all these tasks to?

We're here to help!

Just drop us a line and let's design the best user experience for your app/website.


Image by William Iven from Pixabay

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