Designing an interface from scratch is about more than pretty buttons & text. You also need to consider how it works and how users take actions to accomplish their goals.
Designers call this process “user experience design” and it’s a crucial aspect of making websites, mobile apps, and pretty much all interfaces.
This guide covers how you can approach UX design with fresh eyes and ultimately become a master in the field. I’ll cover four steps that you can follow(and repeat) to bring you from a novice to a user experience sherpa.
Start By Studying Behaviors
User experience comes down to psychology and behavior. Why is someone clicking the left nav links more than the right links? Why does the color red get more clicks than green?
These questions may not have an answer beyond “just because”. However your goal should be to find these answers and apply them to your design work.
Look at your own behaviors while browsing different websites. Look at each site you visit and consider how they organize page elements. What makes Facebook easy or difficult to use? Which elements could be changed to increase usability, and what changes could you make?
Ask lots of questions and study live examples. Most UX designers are curious people who want to make interfaces easier for everyone.
Try to get into the nitty-gritty details for each part of an interface. The best UX designers pay careful attention to detail which is a must-have trait in this field. Being a detail-oriented person makes a big difference.
You can start by looking at the details of your own behaviors. Make a flow chart for every action you take on a website. Note what you’re thinking before each action and how long it takes you to complete the action.
These notes will help you understand basic user psychology which affects decisions and behaviors.
Also do lots of research on the topic to see what other experts say. Here are some great intro posts to get you started.
Improve Through Experimentation
You can read posts all day long but the only way to internalize information is to take action.
UX designers learn by practicing and trying things. Unfortunately there aren’t many clear guidelines on how to master UX design, so you really have to learn by making mistakes or stumbling onto successful ideas.
It helps if you have an idea to test first.
For example, what could you do to increase newsletter signups? Well you could add modal opt-ins, or you could move the signup field higher on the page. Or maybe toy with the button text or color.
You can read studies from Nielsen Norman Group all day long and you’ll probably find some great ideas. But unless you apply these ideas you’ll never really understand how it all works.
I think this infographic from Junto says it better than I ever could. It’s a complete checklist for all UX design tasks organized by topic to help aspiring UX designers organize their tests.
Learn To Understand Feedback
This is perhaps the most important step in the UX design roadmap. Nobody creates great experiences in a vacuum.
Users typically know what they like and what they don’t like. But very few users will know why they like(or don’t like) something. It’s your job to run user tests and gather feedback to critique your ideas. Critiques are not solutions, they’re symptoms.
The UX designer’s job is to diagnose the problem and offer the best solution for that problem.
People who visit the doctor know what’s wrong but they don’t know why or how to fix it. And without any patients the doctor isn’t really a practitioner, just a theorist.
Become a practitioner of UX design by running user tests and gauging feedback. These tests can be video recordings, written user feedback, heatmaps, click trackers, A/B split testing, or pretty much any combo of these(or any other tests).
Tools like Mouseflow and Jaco let you record the screen and analyze what users are doing in real time. Or you can go with tools like Crazy Egg or Hotjar to gather heatmaps of the most clicked areas on the screen.
From these data points you can draw conclusions, postulate solutions, then test some more.
You might consider this a sort of feedback loop where you’re experimenting with ideas, testing those ideas on users, then gathering feedback and experimenting again.
UX designers are professionals but may suffer from impostor syndrome feeling like they make it up as they go. But with practice you’ll learn to notice certain problems from prior experiences and you’ll know how to solve them.
Adjust Quickly & Adapt
This may go without saying but most UX designers are self-taught designers. People who follow the UX path learn that they need to adapt and teach themselves because the industry is constantly changing.
There’s a lot you can learn by working on a team or studying under a mentor. But you need to personally put in the work to see results.
This field changes quickly just like programming, design, and all tech sectors. You need to be able to adapt and you should always keep learning.
Consider yourself as an expert who’s constantly gathering new information. You’re never really “done” because there’s always something else to try, new tests to run, new ideas to consider.
This mindset leads to a truer sense of sovereignty where you’re not looking for other experts to tell you what to do. Instead you’re the expert looking to either validate or challenge your existing ideas.
All the best thought leaders can think for themselves. This is true in all creative disciplines from designers to artists and writers. And it’s also true of the best UX designers.
The Path Ahead
This roadmap is merely a blueprint for the typical UX journey. As I mentioned earlier in this post, you can read every article on UX design but reading won’t make you a hireable UX designer.
The best way to improve is getting your hands dirty and testing on real interfaces. Create a small website and track user behaviors. Ask for feedback and see what you get.
Being curious and willing to learn is a prerequisite. From there it’s all about how much you’re willing to experiment, gather feedback, adapt & repeat.
And if you really want to read more about UX design then here are some other great articles to peruse: