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UX Design — Bonjour Means Hello

In my General Assembly User Experience Design Immersive course, we were assigned our second team project for Unit 4. I was teamed up with three other women — two with marketing experience, one with extensive product development and project management experience in the textile industry. The two with marketing experience were recent college graduates, but with the skill level and work ethic of seasoned professionals. They were all hard workers with a commitment to excellence. I mention this because so much about UX Design is teamwork and if you are lucky enough to have a strong team, the odds of creating a strong product is exponentially increased.

All of the above did not detract from my feelings of inadequacy regarding the whole UX process, which is very sequential and linear — exactly how I don’t usually work, but am organized enough to adapt. I have been wondering why it seems to take me a bit longer to figure out the process than I would expect of myself, but then I observed myself with this project and it occurred to me that learning UX Design is akin to learning a foreign language. Before you become fluent your mind engages with the intermediate step of translating English, say, to French, for example, until with sufficient practice, this step is eliminated and you can start thinking in French.

My team members seemed to be near-fluent in UX, which was slightly intimidating and puzzling to me since we all started this bootcamp at the same time. My teacher said visual designers often have difficulty with adapting to the UX process. I understand why: we are intuitive and we abide by our own creative process, which is individual. This got me thinking about what predisposes someone to be an effective UX designer. Eight weeks into this course I can say with conviction that it doesn’t matter if you come from a visual design background, as I do, or not. It does not matter if you know design elements such as color, or design principles like unity or contrast, or typography, composition, or anything else related to visual design. I discovered that the skills that are valuable in UX are organization, the ability to ask the right questions, time management, project management, communication skills, being able to follow carefully delineated steps in the prescribed order, being detail oriented but never losing sight of the overall picture as well.

With this Unit 4 project, the realization that design as I knew it was not of specific value to the field I am entering was problematic. Why is the “Design” in UX Design not the visual kind particularly? Because the design in UX is the discovery of what users need. It is untangling a problem and coming up with solutions that the user did not even know they wanted or needed but when they do, it is exactly the thing they could have hoped for, and ideally something that brings some joy to their lives.

I will always be a visual artist, it is innate to the person I am. How UX can make me be a better designer is knowing what is necessary to design: what we should even bother making in the first place and how to visually organize it so it makes sense to the user. Delight is not a hit or miss thing, but something that it intrinsic to the experience of the product because the user’s needs were clearly heard. The fun part that makes it all come alive is when the designer translates the research to reflect the need in a magical, creative way.

Irene Inouye