UX Design: Q&A with the Head of Product Design at STX Next

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Table of Contents
  • What is UX design?
  • Who is a UX designer? What does a UX designer do?
  • What is your UX design process?
    • 1. You’re building the product from scratch.
    • 2. The product is available on the market.
  • What makes a good UX designer?
  • Which app has the best UX design?
  • What programming skills should a UX designer have?
  • What are the best UX design practices?
    • 1. Nielsen’s heuristics
    • 2. WCAG standards
  • What are the best sources of inspiration for UX designers?
  • Final thoughts

We like to explore all the subjects we tackle on our blog in depth, but every once in a while it’s helpful to take a broader approach.

For example, as we scoured the web for problems we could help you solve, we came across a number of questions centered around UX design.

Lucky for you, we have a very capable Product Design team on hand at STX Next, with Wiktor Pawlik at the helm.

Wiktor is always happy to share his knowledge with anyone who asks, so we sat down with him for a little Q&A session. The result is this post.

Read on for a general introduction to UX design from Wiktor’s point of view.

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What is UX design?

“UX design” stands for “user experience design.” It’s the process of improving the way users interact with your product.

The definition seems simple enough, but what’s the actual meaning behind it?

“User experience” is such a broad term. You can’t really design UX; it just is.

UX is referred to as “being designed” in order to make it an integral part of the product design process.

But user experience isn’t something you create. Your users will always have an experience of your product. The question is whether you pay enough attention to make the experience a positive one.

UX design isn’t one of many “phases” of product development. You think about UX across the board, constantly improve it, always keep it in the back of your head.

Each member of your Product Development team—business analysts, developers, UI designers, marketers—plays a part in the process of shaping the UX. The end result is the sum total of the whole team’s effort.

The role of the UX designer is to ensure the user experience is considered every step of the way, but they aren’t the only one responsible for it.

Who is a UX designer? What does a UX designer do?

Like I said, user experience is the responsibility of all team members. It can never be chalked up to one person.

The same goes for the design team—there are no “UX unicorns” who will handle everything for you. This approach simply doesn’t work. You need a group of people, each specializing in their own niche aspect of user experience design, such as interaction, visual design, information architecture, motion design, etc.

However, most teams also have a designated UX/UI designer. It’s usually the UI designer, who works on things from low to high fidelity, all the way to a specific interface with colors and granular details.

But why is the UX designer a separate position?

The question isn’t as obvious as it may seem. Even the requirements for the job of a UX designer aren’t clear-cut. Different people understand it differently.

Above all else, though, the UX designer serves as the user’s point of view.

Their responsibility is to make sure the team never loses sight of the end user perspective when designing every aspect of the product. Understanding the needs of the users is the main focus of UX designers.

What usually works best in small product teams is having a product designer on board—someone who keeps both the user and the business in mind. Each team is different, as is each product, and you need just the right person for the job.

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What is your UX design process?

First of all, there is no single user experience design “process.”

Certain guidelines that shape the way you think about design do exist, but they don’t come in the form of one rulebook to follow.

Design thinking—problem-solving processes used in developing design concepts—is such a framework, though it depends on your process setup.

Whether your designers work at a product company or an agency like a software house, your individual UX design process mostly depends on a given product’s stage of development.

Let’s consider 2 different situations:

1. You’re building the product from scratch.

Here, you’re working off of hypotheses you validate. The startup approach is to validate every hypothesis very quickly. But this isn’t easy.

It also makes communication with the end users problematic, simply because you don’t have any yet. You’re essentially assuming who the users are going to be and expecting them to use your product a certain way.

You can perform upfront user research, creating archetypes of your user groups (proto-personas), but this once again means more assumptions on your part. Especially during the MVP development stage, when you try to cut costs wherever possible.

Another step you can take is user testing. You show your target users what you have to see how they interact with it. Valuable observations can come from this.

2. The product is available on the market.

Your work becomes a little easier when the product already exists, since you no longer have to work off of assumptions, but can now validate solutions really quickly with your existing user database.

When the product is live, you also have analytical data you can use for your purposes, such as A/B testing. You can test the product on a whole group of people, instead of a hypothetical sample.

What makes a good UX designer?

Many factors need to come together to form a good UX designer.

Skill. Talent. Curiosity.

Always seeing room for improvement.

The hunger for more.

User experience design is an endless pursuit. There are new developments around every corner. A good UX designer never settles, never stops chasing the next best thing.

This insatiable urge to keep learning is precious. Combined with theoretical and practical preparation, it gives you a very solid foundation.

Another fundamental aspect that makes a good UX designer is experience.

There’s no way around it: becoming actually good at UX design begins and ends with trying to design great things a bunch of times and learning how to do it in the process.

No matter how good your UX designer is otherwise, nothing beats experience.

However, there is one more crucial quality that matters above all others: empathy. It’s simply impossible to be a good UX designer without understanding and sympathizing with the needs and problems of your users.

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Which app has the best UX design?

There isn’t one app that has the “best” UX design, because UX is inherently subjective.

It’s right there in the name itself: user experience is an experience. And we all experience things differently.

Any UX that meets the needs of a given target group can be considered good UX.

From my point of view, Uber is an example of an app with great UX. It meets my needs to the letter, I enjoy the way the app is designed, and I’m happy to use it.

For someone else, though, this may not be the case at all.

What programming skills should a UX designer have?

In a nutshell, a UX designer should have frontend knowledge, or more specifically, be aware of the limitations and capabilities of frontend.

The GUI (graphical user interface) is the cornerstone of a UX designer’s work. The majority of products have an interface, so that’s what you mostly need to design. That is why the UX focus is typically attributed to the UI design.

Typically, UX designers don’t need actual programming skills as much as a T-shaped approach—they have to be an expert in their field, with general knowledge of other areas of expertise.

The core responsibility of the UX designer is understanding the work in progress. Therefore, following the assumption they are the UI designer, they should be familiar with HTML and JSS on a basic level.

However, all of the above is only true if the UI designer is the one running point on UX design. If a researcher were tasked with handling the UX, they wouldn’t be doing user interface design per se, but rather validating hypotheses.

In their case, analytics tools like Hotjar, Google Analytics, or FullStory would be the base skill, and the ability to run moderated tests with end-users would also be crucial.

What are the best UX design practices?

I don’t know about “best,” objectively speaking, but I can think of 2 examples of good UX design practices:

1. Nielsen’s heuristics

Heuristic evaluations developed by Jakob Nielsen help you assess the quality of your user experience. We use them ourselves to occasionally conduct UX audits.

The main focus of Nielsen’s heuristics is keeping the end user’s perspective in mind at all times.

We can never design the experience the way we, the designers, would like it to be, even if we fit the target group, since we are not objective users. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the products my Product Design team at STX Next and I work on we’ll never use.

That’s why, as UX designers, we can’t apply our subjective sensibilities to the product. But anything that might serve as a general principle to guide us comes in handy—and that is exactly where the value of Nielsen’s heuristics lies.

2. WCAG standards

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are standards that help you with the accessibility of your digital products. They are useful in fighting against digital exclusion, which should be a priority for any B2C product on the market.

By following a set of rules that can be boiled down to 4 principles, WCAG standards ensure your software product is:

  • perceivable,
  • operable,
  • understandable,
  • robust.

While these are great guidelines for any product, they’re a must for all products in the public sector.

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What are the best sources of inspiration for UX designers?

Simply put, it’s everything unrelated to UX design.

It’s easy to get caught up in the endless cycle of UX thinking. If you narrow your field of vision and area of focus too much, you risk running out of fresh ideas and creativity. Ultimately, you may end up repeating and reusing the same solutions and methodologies.

The quickest way to avoid that scenario is an outside perspective. Explore the works of other designers just for the sake of appreciating it. Observe good design from the perspective of a spectator, not a designer.

Whether it’s industrial design or architecture makes no difference. The same goes for broadening your expertise in the aforementioned T-shaped skillset; explore product management, development, and marketing alike.

As for specific UI design inspirations, I personally like to use Uplabs to get my mind off whatever I’m currently working on and just browse through the great concepts others have designed.

It helps me clear my head and get inspired by the limitless possibilities of what people accomplish every single day.

Final thoughts

Thank you for reading our UX design Q&A.

The answers here only scratch the surface of UX design. We picked the questions we thought you’d be the likeliest to ask. In the near future, we plan on publishing a more comprehensive article on hiring UX designers—stay tuned!

But maybe there’s something else you’d be interested in reading about? Anything in particular you’d like us to discuss? Let us know in the comment section below.

In the meantime, feel free to check out our other design-oriented blog posts:

You can also take a look at our Product Design team’s work on Behance, or browse through our Portfolio.

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