Designers of all levels can benefit from a solid understanding of the UX design process. By following a well-defined process, you can take an idea and turn it into a user-friendly interface that meets the needs of your customers.
In this article, we'll break down the UX design process into easy-to-follow steps. We'll also provide tips on how to best execute each step so that you can create an interface that your users will love!
What is a UX Design Process?
A UX design process is a series of steps that designers take to turn an idea into a user-friendly interface. The steps may vary depending on the project, but they typically include:
- Step 1: Define
- Step 2: Research
- Step 3: Analysis & Planning
- Step 4: Design
- Step 5: Prototyping
- Step 6: Testing
- Step 7: Launch
- Step 8: Iteration
Why is the UX Design Process Important?
The UX design process is important because it helps designers create interfaces that meet the needs of their users. By following a well-defined process, designers can be sure that they are covering all of the necessary bases and creating an interface that will be user-friendly and effective.
Let's take a closer look at each step in the process.
The 8 Step UX Design Process
There are many different ways to approach the UX design process, but most designers follow these similar steps…
Step 1: Define
In the first phase, it's necessary to determine exactly what needs to be created, and why. Why does this product need to exist? Who are you creating this for? What business problems will this solve?
This is a conversation (or set of conversations) that often take place in the form of stakeholder meetings, where the product designers create a foundational approach that aligns with a high-level business strategy.
Out of this initial kick-off meeting, you’ll likely have a set of specs to work from, as well as a low-fi concept sketch. This gives you a basic outline that can then be used in the next step.
Step 2: Research
In this phase, designers conduct research to gain a deep understanding of their users and their needs. This research helps them create empathy for their users and understand what they need from the product or service.
Both user research and market research are necessary components of this phase. User research can take many forms, such as interviews, surveys, focus groups, and ethnographic studies. Market research looks at things like industry trends and competitive analysis.
There are a few different ways to go about conducting user research. One popular method is customer journey mapping, which allows you to see the steps your users take as they interact with your product. Another common technique is usability testing, which gives you direct feedback from users on what works well and what needs improvement.
Step 3: Analysis & Planning
In the planning phase, designers take all of the information they gathered in the research stage and start to plan out how they’ll meet those needs. They develop user personas, user stories, wireframes, and other high-level plans during this phase.
This is also the time when designers start to think about how the product will be built and what technologies will be necessary. They develop a roadmap for the project and start to establish Milestones.
Step 4: Design
Once you have a good understanding of your users and a plan to move forward, it's time to start sketching out some ideas for how they’ll interact with your interface. This is where you'll start to think about things like the overall layout, navigation, and specific elements on each page.
The key here is to think about the user experience first and foremost. How will they interact with your interface? What kind of information do they need to be able to find easily? By answering these questions, you can start to form a clear picture of what your interface should look like.
This design phase typically includes both UX and UI aspects, since you'll work on things like:
- Information architecture
- Usability and accessibility
There will also be a shift between the UX and UI design phases, where you turn your wireframes and low-fi interfaces into something more polished. This is where you'll begin working on things like color schemes, typography, and iconography. All of these elements come together to create an aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-use interface.
Step 5: Prototyping
Once you have a working UI, it's time to turn it into a working prototype. Prototyping allows you to present a more realistic experience for your usability testing, which can then deliver more accurate feedback and insight into "what's working" and "what's not working".
Prototypes can be low-fi or hi-fi, and they can be created using a variety of tools, such as InVision, Justinmind, and Axure.
Step 6: Testing
Before launch, it's important to test the interface with real users. Usability testing helps identify any areas that need improvement before the final product goes live, and delivers this feedback from the user's point of view.
The more information you receive from your testing, the easier it will be to identify exactly what needs to be revised before you ship the product. Because of this, most testing sessions are followed up with a span of time where you can implement these changes in your design work.
Read more: How to Write a Usability Test
Step 7: Launch
Once the testing is complete and all of the necessary changes have been made to your high fidelity user interface, the product is ready to be handed over to the development team for implementation.
Step 8: Iteration
After launch, the product—whether that's a website, app, or other digital product—is not done. The design process is an ongoing cycle that’s meant to be repeated as users interact with and provide feedback on the product.
The goal is to continuously improve the user experience by making small changes and refinements over time. By constantly iterating on your design, you can ensure that your product remains usable and relevant to your target audience for years to come.
How the UX Design Process Has Evolved
In a sense, all design since the dawn of the human species has been user experience (UX) design, because every designed object is intended for a use. However, that’s not what we mean by “UX design” in the context of today’s design industry.
Instead, the UX design refers to a specific design discipline that is concerned with understanding user needs and shaping a product experience that meets those needs well. Most of the time, the product in question is a digital one—today, most often a website or mobile app.
When the UX design process emerged in the 1990s, it was quite a techy discipline. Sandy Chen, a former Director of Product here at Designlab, explains:
The universe of UX design has changed so much in the past 10 years. UX used to be more about data organization (‘Information Architecture’ or IA), click-through flows (‘Interaction Design’ or IxD), and the usability of digital interfaces.
What we could call “classical” UX design didn’t focus on the aesthetics of interfaces, although this was one consideration amongst many. Rather, the focus was on the usability of those interfaces, and everything about the user’s situation that contributed to, or subtracted from, a product’s ease of use.
The classical UX design process, which is now pretty much obsolete, took a “waterfall” approach. This means that each stage of the process was undertaken and completed before the next stage of the process could begin.
The UX design process therefore took a linear format, through the stages of gathering requirements, designing a solution, implementation, verification, and maintenance.
This worked pretty well in an age when digital products were updated at intervals of several years (think of software like Microsoft Office). But during the 2000s the pace quickened, and it became essential for product teams to work more quickly and responsively.
Lean UX: An Iterative Approach to the Design Process
The UX design process is like a train, more than a puzzle: there is a sequential order that should be followed for the sake of efficiency and the overall success of the product.
However, a linear approach can be difficult to incorporate in real-world scenarios, especially when you're working with a live product and have a long backlog of features that need to be shipped.
That's why many product design teams have shifted from a linear to an iterative approach, which is where the concept of “Lean UX” emerged. Whereas the classical waterfall approach had been linear and long-term, Lean UX is iterative, and organized around 2-week or 4-week development cycles—like an analemma:
Following the 8-step UX design process is a proven way to ensure that you are creating user centered products that are data-driven and effective.
However, as you roll up your sleeves and get to work, it's worth remembering that product interfaces aren't static. Websites, mobile apps, and SaaS products are all often under constant development, which means that the feature you designed last month might need to be altered slightly to incorporate a brand new feature that's just now in the design stages.
Since the typical design sprint is often too limited to run an entire 8-step process on a large feature, you might find that your work is broken down into much smaller iterations, and reallocated into a process known as Lean UX.
Unlike a more linear UX process, lean UX is focused first and foremost on user testing early and often. The data is then used to identify and create incremental improvements and solutions for a product.
Next Steps: How to Incorporate the UX Design Process In the Real World
Looking for ways to learn more about the design process as a whole? Here are a few great resources:
- Bookmark this UX Design Process guide, so you can easily refer to it
- Sign up for an intro to product design course. UX Academy Foundations helps you with the fundamental skill set that you'll rely on throughout your user experience design journey.
- Already have a design foundation? Register for the next cohort of UX Academy, where you'll learn more about each step of the design process, practice with hands-on exercises, and even meet 1:1 with an experienced UX/UI design mentor.