One of the most frequently misunderstood aspects of UX is, what exactly is it that UX practitioners do. A lot of people still equate UX with “creating pretty stuff”.

For me, there are two aspects to UX: one, understanding the problem from the perspective of the people that are experiencing it, and two, developing a solution to alleviate that problem.

Understanding the problem

As a UX designer, when a client or company brings me in to help redesign a website, portal, or app, my first step is to gather as much information as possible on the existing or potential users of the website, portal or app. This discovery process includes using methods such as contextual inquiry, heuristics analysis, user interviews, shadowing, competitive analysis, and usability testing.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is what the user says is often times different from what they too. The goal here is to go above and beyond what the user wants, and really get to the heart of what the user needs. Solving the latter is key to better customer engagement, increased productivity, and higher sales, and of course greater ROI from the development team that will working on the solution.

Once I have gathered enough data, the next step is to triage the information and layout it out in a way that can reveal the pain points in the existing system and opportunities to improve them. This includes creating personas, mapping out the existing workflow, understanding the various touch points into the system, interactions between the user and the system, or the client’s customers and the system, and even developing a journey map that shows the user’s journey through the system.

Developing a solution

The insight I gather from the discovery phase is essential to the next phase: developing a solution. For a lot of my clients, this is the fun part. Coming up with a good solution though is more than simply exploring what looks “cool.” Ultimately, we want a solution that will help the client achieve their stated goals.

Depending on the client, the length and complexity of the project, and the nature of the touch points, I’ll use a variety of tools to ideate, or explore a variety of solutions, including storyboards, wireframing, user flows, and interactive prototypes. I’ll review these ideas with the client and members of the team, gather feedback, and iterate through various revisions until I get approval to move forward.

Once I have a solution, I’ll refine the idea further by using mockups and/or high fidelity prototypes. I’ll review the prototype with the developers to make sure it’s feasible. I’ll then collaborate with the developers to make sure that they have all the supporting files they need to implement it. Most of the time, this means, CSS, HTML, images.

I'll admit that this isn't the only approach to UX, nor is it the right one for every project. This approach is more focused on solving existing problems versus creating innovative solutions for new problems. But it is an approach that has worked for me, and if you're stumped and wondering where to start on trying to frame a problem and looking for a framework to start from, give this process a try and see if it works for you.