Nowadays good UI/UX designers are viciously sought after as opposed to graphic designers. As the demand for digital products increases, the design market has shifted heavily towards interactivity. UI applies to how interactive elements such as buttons, drop down menus, and virtually every specific component of a page is designed. UI is definitely closer to the traditional graphic design position but there is more analytics and background information with it. Leaving UX to pertain to the user experience, or how users will interact with all of the elements on an interface. Together UI/UX make a powerful combination that leads to the most well informed outcome, which is why those positions dominate the market. Let’s face it, it’s time to switch from graphic design.
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Three Main Areas of Focus in UI/UX
Within the UI/UX design processes there are different aspects that can be focused on including research, visual design, and information architecture. When starting or bridging to a career in UI/UX you first need to understand that you are a problem solver first, and a designer second. The reason being that a good UI/UX implementer knows that they continually have to learn in order to create the best product. Every time a new market is approached, it will have different users who will interface differently with products, hence every application has a learning curve and its market has preferences to be uncovered. As a GOOD UI/UX designer you won’t know the answers, but you will know how to find them. This is done through research.
Design research isn’t limited to a single step in the design process. It can happen before, during, and after the design solution is implemented. The first thing to figure out when conducting design research is to know what information you need and how you are going to get it. Using that angle, your solutions will combat the natural tendency to “design for yourself” rather than for the target users and will convince others that you have the best solution. As far as preliminary research goes, a few good ways to gain information include non-directed interviews, contextual inquiry, and questionnaires. Once you have a basic understanding of how to go about designing your solution, visual design comes into play.
When coming from a graphic design background you probably enjoy this part of the process the most. The main problem with jumping into this part of the process too early is that you tend to focus on how things look over how they act. This is why wireframing is essential to efficiently providing a quality design solution. Wireframes are basically a websites blueprints, and are the best way to quickly plan an interface in regards to functionality. Don’t waste too much time on these, just make sure they work. One way research happens during the design process is to have people play with your wireframes and see what they think and how they interact so you can improve your solution. Beyond how an interface is laid out, a good UI/UX designer has to make sure that the information is structured properly. This is why information architecture is the third area of focus for UI/UX design.
PRO TIP: A great guide on wireframing
People go to websites for their content. Giving them an efficient and ergonomic interface to do so is what created the demand for good UI/UX designers. In the design process this more directly relates to how menus should be organized. You want them to be logically aligned with how users will interact with them and be comprised of language that they recognize naturally and quickly. A common way for a good designer to do this is through card-sorting or any word association process. A method where people group cards with relevant content into groups in order to know where to place them on their interface.
After you have done all of your planning and research, it’s finally time to focus on the actual design and prototype creation. That prototype gets tested to gain more research data to be implemented all over again causing the entire design process to be a cycle. It can never truly end!
As you can see UI/UX covers a lot of ground. Breaking into the space with a graphic design background may seem a little intimidating at first so it’s best to view it piece by piece. Many people specialize in a specific area like one of the three covered above, so it’s best to start where your strengths lie and pick up bits of the surrounding focuses as you spend time in the field. Employers have high expectations and want to know that you can adjust to face bumps in the road so it’s important to show that you are, in fact, ready to learn and grow.
A few tips to separate you from the crowd
- Conduct user research BEFORE creating any designs
- Be able to derive a strategy for user research and explain how you will analyze the results to drive design
- Use data-driven design. For example; avoid using cascading drop-down menus. Users are known to typically perform worse with these than other navigation methods. This assumption was derived from a lot of usability research and shows that someone who pays mind to data-driven puts in the effort to truly understand users and has quality that makes them the “cream of the crop.”
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Key Points to Remember
- Know that it’s ALL about the end user
- Research comes first!
- Be ready to analyze your research findings and be able to derive your approach from them
- Find out where your interests lie within the field and start there
- Start Wireframing
- Just jump in, use the vast resources of the internet and build up your portfolio
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