7 UX skills every designer should have

It takes a lot more than just impeccable design skills to attract visitors to a website

UX 3D logo on a black background

User experience (UX) design focuses on what makes a platform, or website, functional and visually appealing to users, and differs from the user interface (UI), which largely concerns pure aesthetic value.

The school of UX design involves merging technology with aesthetics and psychology to predict and improve the pathways users might take. These journeys begin when a user makes first contact with the site, and ends when they leave. As such, UX designers often work to find novel answers to difficult questions, determining, for example, the best image to text ratio, or how simple the journey is, if a user has a specific aim in mind.

UX design can have a major impact on how a website actually performs in terms of traffic and sales, too, with Time.com serving as a great example. In 2014, Time.com implemented a continuous scrolling feature, which led to a 15% drop in the bounce rate. It demonstrates how minor tweaks could lead to major improvements.

As opposed to designing a pleasing UI, UX designers need more than design skills as they strive to improve the broader user journey, whether they’re balancing visual elements with text, or addressing pain points. UX designers must also be able to boost a site’s conversion rate and help a business achieve its online targets.

1. Conducting UX research

A meeting at a startup

Before designing a website, a designer must conduct thorough research to establish the target audience’s needs. The qualitative and quantitative data obtained through feedback mechanisms can serve as a gold standard for creating user-centric websites. 

Using surveys, questionnaires, and open-ended interviews, a UX designer can determine customer pain points are and how to solve them. Backing the design with validated UI elements can also reduce bounce and exit rates. 

2. Developing information architecture

Any website can be beautiful, but it can never overcome unclear messaging.  Well-designed information architecture allows users to quickly find the information they need, boosting interaction.

When working on information architecture, UX designers analyze how much and what kind of information each website must contain, how to categorize that information, and what’s the best way to present it. A UX developer may also apply machine learning to deliver personalized, context-based information to a diverse clientele.

3. Creating wireframes 

A wireframe is a two-dimensional illustration of a website’s interface comprising symbols, lines, and arrows as indicators of interactivity. The illustrations specifically focus on content hierarchy, white space allocation, page functionalities, and intended user behaviors.

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Because wireframes are conceptual, UX designers can use them to explore design ideas before making any concrete decisions about the website’s overall structure.

4. Rapid prototyping 

Once a wireframe is approved, app prototyping occurs, giving the website a preliminary body.

This simulation mimics the final product, allowing the design team to run tests and offer input. Prototypes may also undergo iterations based on a client’s feedback.

By and large, adjustments are made before the development process begins to keep costs low. That said, it’s not uncommon to incur changes in the development stage.

Some useful tools for creating UX design prototypes include Invision, Axure Origami Studio, and Adobe XD.

5. Coding

Programming language as seen on a computer monitor

While UX designers aren’t expert coders, knowing the basics of front-end development technologies, such as HTML and CSS, allows UX designers to make iterative website changes without a developer’s help.

The skillset can come in handy when time is of the essence. Furthermore, understanding the underlying technology and its limitations can help reduce the number of design iterations and the number of tests.

6. Responsive design

A responsive web design allows users to view a website from any device, regardless of its screen size. The fluidity comes from cascading style sheets (CSS) that alter websites’ design based on the target device. A responsive design is instrumental in the growing popularity of surfing the internet on mobile devices.

MailChimp discovered a 5-15% increase in click rates following a responsive design that changed the display type, width, and height of a website according to mobile screen size.

7. User testing

User testing, UX testing, or usability testing examines how real users react to a website. The insights help identify issues, strengths, and opportunities for further enhancement. There are several ways to test a UX design, one of which is the popular tree testing method.

During the tree test, users navigate a series of topics, choosing a heading and then a list of subtopics on a simplified, scaled-down text version of a website. This helps determine how easily users can find the information they need when they visit the website for the first time.

Above all else, empathy is key

The key to UX design is empathy, and being able to deliver features and pathways that users might not ask for but that they actually do need. Incorporating compassion into the design process will ensure that UX designers instigate changes that actually improve a user’s journey when navigating a platform. 

Co-founder of Nielsen Norman Group, and former VP of research at Apple, Don Norman put it well when he said: “It’s not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and yes, beauty to people’s lives.”

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