In recent years, user experience design has become a popular topic in the web design community, with discussions focussing on successful examples of good UX design.
With regard to websites, the term covers all aspects of a user’s experience within a particular site. In other words, the visual layout, information architecture, usability, graphics, user interaction: everything. User interface design and HCI, or Human Computer Interaction are both included in UX.
UX design has its roots in the late 1940s as machines become both more complex and more prevalent in daily life, but it was in the 1990s that the concept of user experience design was named and popularized in relation to computer use.
It is a multi-disciplinary field, covering aspects of sociology, psychology, graphic and industrial design, and cognitive science.
A good time for UX
The main reason why now is a great time to be a user experience designer is because companies are putting an increasing emphasis upon it.
There is no better place to see the impact of good user experience approach than in your nearest Apple Store; every detail has been considered, and nothing is there by chance. If you have ever been in one of these stores, you will know that feeling that hits you as you walk in: you feel safe, you feel good. High quality technology surrounds you, help is on hand should you need it, and you can play with all these great devices that people talk about. You don’t even have to queue at a till to pay.
Strictly speaking this is retail experience design at work, but the principle is the same, as is the result. Who wouldn’t rather buy their computer from a lovely, glossy Apple Store than Wal-Mart or Best Buy?
To look at an example of successful UX design online, Amazon’s 1-Click Checkout process had a massive impact by increasing conversion rates. Users’ buying experience was improved and Amazon reaped the rewards.
Examples like these have pushed companies to hire, or at least consult, UX designers to help improve their customers’ experiences. Sometimes a complete overhaul is needed, sometimes it means working on the details.
User experience is about making sure your customers have the best experience possible when using your product, and that can mean offering something different, unique or even familiar and comforting depending on what’s appropriate.
So why are companies investing more and more in this area now and not five years ago? The reason is simple: more and more companies are competing in the same markets and developing similar products, so they need an edge.
Let’s look at Apple again. Samsung, HTC and others developed smartphones which can compete the iPhone on various levels so Apple needed a means to stay ahead. They did so by concentrating on UX including the interface, the App and iTunes stores and their physical shops.
Customers start noticing the attention to detail. Having a good phone is nice, but customers have started demanding more. They want the experience of buying to be enjoyable, particularly when it comes to more expensive items.
There is another, also very simple reason why more and more companies are prepared to invest in UX: it works. Seeing others achieve success with good UX design makes companies willing to spend the money on making changes.
Larger firms have full-time UX designers, or even an entire department with a CXO (Chief Experience Officer), while smaller firms may be more likely to hire consultants as and when they are needed. Regardless of size, UX design becomes an important part of their branding strategy.
Solid UX means innovation
It is important to add that good UX design does not only mean happier customers, it often means bringing something new to the table, something that no one else has thought of. Amazon were the first to implement, and patent, a 1-Click checkout process. There was no simple mobile interface until the first iPhone was released. Tablets had been around for some time before Apple released the first iPad, but Apple created a reason to buy one.
The fact that Apple is one of the most innovative companies around, and is one of the best examples of good UX design is no coincidence. And the fact that some of the most popular UX concepts are from hugely successful companies is no coincidence either.
This shows how much difference attention to detail can make. The companies who invested in UX early are now enjoying the full benefit of their high risk, high reward approach.
How is this good for you?
You don’t have to be a genius to work this out: UX designers are in demand. Just a quick search for UX on any reputable job or feelancer site and you will get hundreds of relevant results. In fact most web design jobs on offer at the moment include the term UX somewhere in the description.
Another point to keep in mind is that the number of skills required is increasing, while team sizes are decreasing. This may at first appear to be a negative, but there is another way to look at it: In order to be a UX designer, you need to already be a graphic, web, or multimedia designer; you can’t start your career from scratch and become a UX designer in a day. You need broader experience in design in order to specialize in UX, which means that good UX designers have more than one skill. Luckily enough, job postings make it clear that designers with multiple skills are the ones in demand.
These days graphic designers are expected to be able to code at least a little, and web designers are expected to be able to handle backend development. The more skills you have the better your prospects are, and if you can add UX design to the list they get better again.
The bottom line
Demand is high at the moment but so is competition. Becoming a good UX designer is not the easy option, but it is rewarding. Because it is a field that encompasses several others, different projects will put emphasis on different skills. And those individual skills, such as coding or graphics, will always be useful in their own right.
If you haven’t already, perhaps it’s time to make a start. Try looking at the work in your own portfolio from a UX perspective. Consider the user experience for every piece of work you do from now on, and you’ll be on your way.
Do you include UX on your résumé? Do Apple represent good UX? Let us know in the comments.
Featured image/thumbnail, 1940s computer image via James Vaughan.