May 20, 2019

Ask An Expert: What is User Experience (UX) Design?

If you manage a website, a product, a service or anything else that caters to customers, then you’re already designing a user experience — but how much do you really know about UX design?

Do you know enough about UX to do it well?

What is User Experience (UX) Design?

UX design is the intentional effort of a designer or design team to curate an experience for users both online and offline. Encompassing everything from the sheer usability of a product to the level of satisfaction users feel when interacting with a product, excellent UX design requires a strong understanding of your brand, clearly defined objectives and, most of all, empathy for your users.

“When you think of UX design, you shouldn’t just think of websites,” says Kelly Molloy, Senior Web Strategist at New Breed. “You think of the sum of a brand.”

In other words, any interaction someone has with your brand or company adds to its overall UX, and all of those details can be designed intentionally. Disney World is a classic example of a brand with consistent, immersive UX; Walt Disney has even been referred to as “the world’s first UX designer,” because every detail of his amusement park — even down to the sound effects used on the rides — was created with the audience’s experience in mind.

How Does UX Design Differ From User Interface (UI) Design?

While UX design is the umbrella term referring to every experience a person can have with your brand, UI design is a facet of UX concerned only with developing a pleasant, easy-to-use interface for your product or website.

“So if we’re talking about websites or apps,” says Kelly, “wireframing and mockups both play a role in determining what kind of design system we’re building, which is really the interface.”

In the Disney World example, UI would comprise of the different ways a visitor can move around the park to find the sites they’re looking for: buses, boats, monorails, sidewalks, etc. With a number of different options for navigating the park, visitors can choose the path of least resistance for a more enjoyable experience overall.

But while designing a usable interface is a vital step in good UX design, great UX designers need to consider so much more than that.

From planning to launch day, learn how to make your next redesign project a  success with our Website Redesign Guide.

What 6 Components Do You Need for A Great UX Design?

The many components that make up great UX design are sometimes referred to as the “UX Pyramid.” These UX components, starting with the basic, must-have foundation, are:

  1. Functionality: Does the product work the way it’s supposed to?
  2. Reliability: Is the product readily available for use?
  3. Usability: Can the user navigate the product without difficulty?
  4. Convenience: Is the product intuitive?
  5. Pleasurable: Is the user experience enjoyable enough to recommend to others?
  6. Meaningful: Does the product hold personal significance for users?

“You need the first three [components] for users not to hate you,” says Kelly. “Those are required, not for good user experience, but just to meet the basic expectations of users today. That’s definitely changed over time — websites haven’t always been usable. They would function, but they weren’t necessarily usable.”

Today, the functionality, reliability and usability of a product are table stakes. If your website has critical bugs, slow page load times, unresponsive modules, inconsistent nomenclature or other elements that make it difficult to use, the success and credibility of your brand will suffer.

“The [other components] layered on top come with good UX, smart content strategy and kickass design,” says Kelly.

“And really understanding your users,” she adds. “That’s something that maybe we don’t talk about enough. At the end of the day, we’re not building our websites for us, we’re building it for them.”

What’s the Most Important Thing to Keep in Mind for Good UX Design?

The short answer: Empathy.

“As a UX designer, you are the internal advocate for the end users,” says Kelly. “That’s why we take a firm buyer persona-based approach here at New Breed. It doesn’t matter if I think something is the best design or the best module. If our primary personas see the module and have no idea how to use it, that means our investment was a waste.”

By starting with an in-depth understanding of who your target personas are, what they care about and how they expect to interact with your website, you can ensure that the functional foundation of your website supports the content, creativity and emotional significance that lives within it.

“The most important part of my job is asking the right questions,” says Kelly. “And really, the most important question to ask is ‘what is the primary goal of this redesign?’ Then we zoom in on that goal as we move through the process. We look at the primary goal or objective of every single page within that site, and each of those objectives should bubble up to achieve the overall goal of the website.”

For example, this goal-based framework for a webpage might look something like this:

  • What is the primary goal of this website redesign?
  • What is the primary goal of this webpage?
  • What are the top 3–5 key messages a user should take away from this page?
  • What assets (copy, resources, statistics, testimonials, videos, etc) would enable us to best convey those messages to our end user?
  • How can we structure the page to make those assets as easy as possible for the end user to find and understand?

If any of those page goals are duplicative, that would signal to your designer that you probably don’t need all of the pages you’ve initially scoped out.

“For every page, I like to ask our clients: If this was the only page on your website users could see, what’s the one thing you would want them to know?” says Kelly. “That helps us determine what type of content is required — and again, we’d want to make sure that all of those assets and content types will help us achieve the primary objective of that page.”

This part is where buyer personas come into play.

By taking the time to define your primary personas’ pain points and the different ways that your product or solution solves for those pains, you can design your user experience in a way that relates to your personas and makes them feel like they’re in the right place to convert.

As Laura Klein, Author of UX for Lean Startups and Build Better Products, puts it: “Good UX Design happens when we make these decisions in a way that understands and fulfills the needs of both our users and our business.”

From planning to launch day, learn how to make your next redesign project a  success with our Website Redesign Guide.

The Takeaway: All UX is Inherent. Good UX is Intentional.

Whether you’ve thought about it or not, your product, service and/or brand are creating an experience for everyone who interacts with them. If you want to ensure that user experience is consistent, satisfactory and meaningful, you need to develop a goal-based, persona-driven UX design strategy.

But if you’re not an experienced UX designer, where do you start?

“Form first. Design second,” says Kelly. “Approach the function and objective of your website first and layer on other elements only to add benefit to your users.”

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Elizabeth Burnam

Elizabeth is a former New Breeder.


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