It’s no secret that the user experience (UX) design market is teeming with non-professionals claiming to be masters of the trade. Probably, it’s because UX design, being unrecognized for years is currently enjoying a lot of airplay following proven success as an internet marketing strategy.
Not unlike any other field, opportunists with basic knowledge of HTML will be quick to add UX design to the resumes, hoping to nab clients that can’t make head or tail of the art. Far too many business owners have been short-changed by these wannabe UX experts, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on experts who don’t know the first thing about real UX design.
So, what makes a UX designer a real expert? Not everyone will have all the skills, granted, but the more skills the designers have on this list, the better placed you website is in their hands. Here are a few things to look out for?
A good UX designer may have background in many disciplines. Though most frequently the opportunistic designers are web developers and graphic designers, there are those from these backgrounds who have become distinguished UX experts. With the right process and training, anyone can become a good UX designer.
Now, about the right training, UX design training involves more than just placing a few catchy images and buttons on a page. You must know the users’ intents and cognitive processes, which means good UX designers will have some background relating to cognitive psychology under their belt. If they have that and something else (something relevant, of course), you can begin to trust them.
2. First, know the user
Prior to submitting any design ideas, a good UX expert will ask for time to conduct his own user research. This takes different forms, but it must include leaving the office and interacting with some users one-on-one. Usability testing does not count as part of user research, that's just getting feedback for an idea pitched to users.
If you get a candidate who wants to go into usability testing right away, it's time to move along. Once you hear a real expert explain how he or she developed particular strategies from user research, you'll be able to tell who is just faking, and has never done any user research.
3. Understanding the problem before giving solutions
Without knowing which problem needs solving, the best you’ll end up with is a perfect solution to the wrong problem. Many businesses fail to understand which problems users want to solve; some create solutions and then hunt for problems to fit it into.
UX design has two parts, the first being understanding and measuring user problems using disciplined and scientific approaches. Having an articulate problem will produce solutions that are more successful. The main output from this process is a descriptive UX strategy informed by user research and the problem definition results.
Designing an appropriate solution should be very easy after this, if the candidate knows his stuff. Task analysis from the problem definition phase will give an optimized task flow for users and tasks, and design creation will follow this scheme.
Your candidate should be able to describe methodically how to go about problem definition and user research, and explain how he or she will derive a strategy from the results. If not, you’re talking to the wrong guy.
4. Automation of current pain points
Task analysis is an important part of successful design, but it’s merely the beginning. More importantly, those tasks need to be refined or optimized in order to avoid simply automating current pain points. An experienced UX expert will know how to recreate users’ task flows to result in greater efficiency and address current challenges.
Take ecommerce sites that offer the option of transporting purchased goods by air, ground or express courier. These sites offer a set of options with the number of days taken for each. However, how does a user know the time it will take for preparation and shipping out of products? Closer still, how do they know your concept of business days?
A more efficient task flow would be to enquire when the product is needed by, and simply provide the choice which adheres to those timelines. A seasoned UX would identify such inefficiency and optimize it.
5. User-oriented design
Many UX designers claim to be familiar with user personas, but only true experts will be able to describe specific user characteristics and on how they influence specific design ideas. Good user personas includes accurate description of expected user knowledge and how this was leveraged in any design idea, including providing information users would typically not have.
Real UX experts can describe personas in behavioral and cognitive specifics, including desired outcomes, knowledge base and motivations among other characteristics that influence design. They will not describe users using marketing demographics (income, employment status, marital status) which don’t inform the design process.
The ultimate litmus test for a prospective UX expert is the ability to give a brief UI walk-through.
From your current user interface, any UX would be able to identify any apparent design flaws. However, real UX experts will start by enquiring about your users and user task flows. From there, they can tell you how and why your current UI won’t achieve the intended goals.
A pro’s walk-through analysis will be more geared towards strategic issues and flaws (required knowledge, cognitive loading and interrupted task-flows etc.), instead of merely highlighting minor, superficial faults like navigation arrangements, button colors, visual clutter etc.
Good UX designers will be able to go through your current design (or any other given to them), point out their limitations and explain exactly why they are so. They will not give single-word answers to questions, because things are never that simple in UX design. A problem is a problem because it is unable to fulfill a specific business objective for a specific set of users.
A good UX will be able to describe why one approach is effective for a business and its users and why the same is ineffective for another business and its users.
Jack Dawson is a web developer and UI/UX specialist at BigDropInc.com. He works at a design, branding and marketing firm, having founded the same firm 9 years ago. He likes to share knowledge and points of view with other developers and consumers on platforms.