Day in the life of a user experience designer

My job is one of the hardest jobs to explain to my 85-year-old grandmother. Really, it’s difficult to explain to most people I know. My grandmother, though, will occasionally ask me to tell her, again, what I do for a living. Often times, another family member has asked her what I’m up to these days and so to the best of her knowledge, she tells them I “help people use computers” or that I “make the internet” or that I “make pretty graphics.”

I don’t blame her for not really understanding what I do, though, because I’m aware that a User Experience Designer (UXD) is an elusive job to many of my peers – even to other people in the tech and service industries.

What I try to tell my grandmother is that I’m like her when she used to host a big family holiday meal: I set out to understand everyone’s needs, wants, and perspectives and then figure how to put together a meal that will satisfy everyone as well as an experience that will stay with all of us for a long time to come. It’s just that the meal is a product or service I’m designing – and I don’t do it all by myself.

So what exactly does it mean to be a user experience designer?

Who really is a User Experience Designer in the digital age? Perhaps this question can be answered by describing what a day at EffectiveUI is like for a User Experience Designer.

First of all, no two days are the same for a UXD at EffectiveUI. At least, not the case in my experience! A lot of people tend to say that about their jobs, but not having a typical day in my job expands beyond that – no two weeks or even two months are the same for me. I like it that way.

My day might consist of idea generation, wireframing and storyboarding, integrating visual direction into designs, prototyping, some research and evaluation. And you’ll do all of these things while working with clients, other designers, developers, and engagement managers.

The great thing about being a UXD is you find yourself figuring out how to design your day and more importantly, how to pivot when unexpected things throw your day off course.

That’s not a bad thing, because as designers we can handle it, right? After all, we’re problem solvers. We’re filled with curiosity and useful knowledge, but we also love to learn and grow. If things begin to feel out of our control, we know when and how to leverage the talents of others. From my experience, a designer is at their best when they’re collaborating and learning from each other.

But again, how often are we doing all of this at EffectiveUI? Do we do certain tasks more than others? InVision recently published a report on a designer’s role after surveying more than 1,600 professional designers from around the world. The report asked designers about their perspective on the role of design and which key processes they find themselves doing in product development.

What they found is strikingly familiar to what I think is true for a designer at EffectiveUI: a designer’s role sometimes expands from ideating, wireframing and prototyping to include early-stage planning of projects and user research. InVision coupled this with a breakdown of how designers spend their time:

While I may not currently do much development at EffectiveUI, I think InVision’s report sums it up pretty well: I do a little bit of everything. Some of those things, like wireframing, take up more of my workload than others, but those other key processes are still important and add value to my team(s), agency, and my sense of self.

A UX design day

On any given day, I’ll find myself:

• Participating in a kick-off workshop with a new client to understand their business goals and set the stage for the project. Ideating and sketching with client stakeholders and/or my internal team on the best approach for initial concepts.
• Working with an Experience Planner (XP) to devise a discussion guide for user interviews and then synthesizing the data with the XP in order to begin to lay out a user’s journey.
• Preparing an interactive prototype that follows one or two specific workflows and have it ready for usability testing later that same day or for a later date.
• Working through complex workflows to iterate, refine and evaluate in order to come to the best experience for the user, but one that also satisfies UX key performance indicators (KPIs) and business goals.
• Presenting designs to clients from the beginning of the design iteration phase all the way through the end of the design process so that my team and I can receive their feedback along the way. It helps us ensure that we’re on the right track with not only the deliverables, but also with the overall experience we’re designing. Other times, I’ll present customer insights to the client that I helped gather during a research phase with an experience planner.
• Meeting with my lead on a project, the Lead Experience Architect (LXA), and chat with them about how to tackle a client’s design problem through an innovative design solution that meets the client’s business goals, as well as our agency standards for thoughtful, elegant design.

Needless to say, no matter the project, its scope and timeline, just give us designers at EffectiveUI a complicated problem to solve for stakeholders and users – and we’ll come up with a solution that’s easy, intuitive, meets business requirements and is ultimately, delightful to use.