What is UX?

June 16, 2019

By: Jeff Stern, UArts UX Certificate Program Faculty

User experience designers are tasked with deeply understanding the needs of users and crafting digital experiences, like websites and mobile apps, that satisfy those needs.

Have you ever used a website or application that has left you feeling frustrated? Perhaps it was confusing to locate a piece of information, or maybe some desired functionality didn’t exist at all. That frustration usually occurs because there wasn’t a user experience designer on the team that created the product.

In 2019, thoughtful product design is no longer optional. Companies understand that making their products easy and delightful to use can help them stand out from their competitors and strengthen perceptions of their brand. Sales and marketing teams thrive when they can rely on the quality of the product. This all means there’s an increased demand for UX designers. Some reports show that UX design is the top in-demand creative role. On LinkedIn in June 2019, there were more than 2,500 open positions for “user experience” in Philadelphia alone, and positions ranged from large, tech-forward companies like Comcast and Elsevier to growing startups like Stella.ai and Power, to creative agencies like Hero Digital and Eastern Standard.

But what do you need to know to become a UX designer? They are often thought of as generalists with a versatile toolkit of skills to apply to different problems. The skills they use on a day-to-day basis might vary based on the company they work for or the product they build, but all UX designers should be able to do these three things.

1. Conduct research to better understand the problem space
The best products are those that deeply empathize with the needs of users. UX designers can develop that empathy and understanding through research, such as conducting interviews, analyzing data and testing designs with users. The IDEO Design Kit and the Nielsen Norman Group both provide examples of different types of activities that can be employed to explore problems. The results of this research can be a source of knowledge and inspiration for the whole team.

2. Use design tools to create a new or improved solution
UX designers are expected to fuse their knowledge of the problem with best practices to create a compelling solution. Some of the most popular design-related applications today include Sketch for creating wireframes (a functional “blueprint”) and Invision for creating clickable, interactive prototypes. Occasionally UX designers are tasked with creating pixel-perfect design assets, but in larger organizations, that’s often the responsibility of visual designers.

3. Communicate research and design to project stakeholders
Finally, communication skills are critical. UX designers need to be able to advocate for the needs of users and demonstrate the value of their work to a wide variety of stakeholders, such as the client, an engineering lead who will assess the technical feasibility of proposed designs, or a marketing person who will be promoting new features. UX designers often do this by giving compelling presentations and creating clear documentation and deliverables.

The best way to learn all these skills is to practice them. In fact, you can practice right now. Is there a website you wish was more usable or an app you wish existed? Speak with others about the problem, ask questions and find out what would make their lives easier. Take out a pen and paper and sketch a couple screens of your website or app. Think about your favorite apps and what makes them so engaging. Then present your sketches and get feedback from potential users. The UX certificate program at University of the Arts is a yearlong program that provides countless opportunities to practice and refine these skills. Classes are centered around real-world problems, and you’ll work with peers on research and design projects for your portfolio.


Learn more about the UX Certificate Program