An Intro to the UX Design Workflow

User experience (UX) design is often mistaken for making visual interfaces pretty. But think of it this way: UX designers don’t just take a design deli ticket and make a design sandwich; they’re there to understand what users are hungry for and design a menu fit for that appetite. 

Like any good business person or performer, knowing your audience is key. The UX design workflow is integral to good product development, because without someone dedicated to understanding users’ problems and needs, solutions created may end up lacking usefulness, usability, or desirability. UX designers are on a mission to advocate for their users during the process of building the new tools and services they’ll use. To that end, these designers work across the entire software development lifecycle, or SDLC, to ensure that the problems defined and the solutions created closely support the goals, needs, and expectations of the target audience.

So if you’ve come for an introduction to UX design, you’ll finish this guide with an overview of the discipline, including deliverables and general steps of the journey of creating engaging software.

Journey Overview

You may be aware that a user journey map tells the story of the stages of the journey of a specific user type, or persona, toward achieving an overarching goal. The journey we’ll be walking through today is the typical user experience process for understanding and solving problems within a basic software development lifecycle (SDLC).The five stages of the SDLC are:

  1. Research
  2. Design
  3. Build
  4. Test
  5. Deploy

These five stages loosely correlate to the design thinking process codified by IDEO, a global design and innovation consulting firm considered by many to be an industry leader in design thinking practices:

  1. Empathize 
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

This is the workflow of a “full-stack” UX designer, someone who owns the end-to-end UX process from research to deployment—not specializing in any single aspect, like user research.

And though we’ll take you through each journey stage in a linear fashion, it’s important to remember that this process is one where designers fluidly move between stages as they respond to feedback and iterate. Multiple cycles of feedback and refinement are necessary to achieve a high-quality solution—a deli menu with sell-out sandwiches, if you will.

The Five-Step UX Workflow

Research

The first stage of the UX process is research, all centered around the user. Research enables teams to gain a shared understanding of real-world user goals, needs, and frustrations. In the end, it supports teams’ data-driven decision-making, confidence in the end product, and likelihood of user adoption. During the Research stage, the UX designer’s primary goal is to understand the real-world context of user attitudes, motivations, and behaviors, and apply them to the product design. Additionally, they elicit user empathy and gain buy-in for design decisions within cross-functional teams.

Coming out of this phase are often the following deliverables:

  • One or more user personas or archetypes
  • Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD)
  • One or more mental models
  • And a user journey map, or a service blueprint

PERSONA

MENTAL MODEL

JOURNEY MAP

DESIGN

After the Research stage, the UX designer starts to craft the required interaction behavior, look, and feel for an interface that meets the user needs discovered. Their secondary goal is to balance those learnings with business objectives and technical requirements. By partnering closely with product managers, business analysts, and software engineers, UX designers arrive at a viable, useful, and usable solution through early and frequent feedback and iteration.

Design often begins by ideating with pen and paper, sketching out user flows and thumbnail wireframes. Because an effective UX designer doesn’t work in a silo, they discuss the feasibility of potential design solutions with their product manager and lead software engineer. Next, they create wireframes or medium-fidelity mockups that will translate to an interactive prototype.

As a result of the Design stage, primary deliverables include

  • Sketches
  • Taskflows
  • Responsive
  • wireframes
  • Mid-fidelity mockups
  • Site map
  • User scenarios

Build

As you might expect, the Build stage for a UX designer looks very different than it does for a software engineer. Rather than writing code, a UX designer simulates the software interactions that support users’ goals and needs in a prototype. This prototype is a key reference for  software engineers, product stakeholders, and garnering more feedback and validation.

To craft a prototype, a UX Designer performs a repeatable sequence of tasks. First, they select screens (or UI elements) to include in the prototype. Next, they create interactive hotspots to connect each step in the overall user flow, effectively building navigable user “paths.” Here, the potential solution begins to come alive!

Primary deliverables of this phase:

  • Interactive prototype, created for the appropriate screen size(s)
  • User interface (UI) elements

Test

During the Test stage, the UX designer’s primary goal is to validate the usefulness and usability of the design approach through evaluative research. First, they plan and recruit for testing. Next, they conduct the testing sessions with actual or prospective users. Once all test sessions are complete, they’ll analyze and document findings.

From there, the designer presents and discusses insights and recommendations to cross-functional partners and key opinion leaders. Based on feedback from the research share-out, they refine the prototype. This phase closes with the creation of high-fidelity mockups, if needed, and any necessary design symbols and UI components.

  • During the Test stage, the following are typically created:
  • A usability testing plan
  • A scenario-based discussion guide
  • Evaluative research findings and insights
  • Design recommendations
  • Revisions to the designs and prototype, bringing them to high-fidelity

Deploy

Throughout the deploy stage, the UX Designer facilitates their designs being implemented in a way that optimizes for feasibility, quality, and performance. First, they ensure the design intent is well understood by product and technical partners, so that their plan can be executed effectively. This is done by providing all necessary context and giving their technical partners a design walk-through or design demo. Last, UX designers support the software engineers throughout the build process for questions and reference.

Primary deliverables include:

  • Design documentation attached to tickets in the agile project management tool
  • Design walk-through or demo
  • Collaboration with engineers, aka “front-end pairing”
  • Usability testing of features in production
  • Ongoing analysis of usage analytics

Understanding the UX Workflow as a Recruiter

If you’re recruiting for the user experience discipline, it’s critical to have a good grasp on the industry and process.

When you learn UX design through the lens of the software development lifecycle, you can more quickly understand the technical roles you are recruiting for and see the parallels across them all. More importantly, it leads to greater confidence when engaging with technical candidates.

With this knowledge of the five key steps in the UX design process, you can ask candidates to share more about how they approach their research process, or how they like to collaborate with developers to ensure their designs are deployed as expected. It’s more specific questions like these that help you find the best fit for your own team’s workflow.

Want to dive in deeper into UX recruiting? This is one small piece of a larger, full course coming this fall. Stay tuned!

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