Seven Weeks of Learning UX Design

A few weeks ago, I was pretty clueless about UX (user experience) design. I had an idea that it was a process to “make things better,” but I didn’t know what those things were or why.

“Design Thinking is a design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems.” Rikke Friis Dam, Teo Yu Siang 

Rikke Friis Dam, Teo Yu Siang

So, to see what design thinking and UX design are all about, I sat down at my computer and started doing some research. I started looking at UX design as a whole and what the Stanford D School Design thinking process is, and what it can do for UX designers. 

The design thinking process consists of five stages; empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. This nonlinear process is human-centered, creative, and collaborative to problem solve any situation. 

Each week I tackled a specific element of the design thinking process. Starting from the very beginning and worked my way toward different ideation methods and journey maps. 

Week 1: Design Thinking

In my first week of learning about Design thinking and how it relates to UX design, I was thrown into a Design Think Crash Course exercise to experience every step of the design thinking process, all within an hour and a half. 

I grabbed a partner, and we both started to redesign the gift-giving experience. The whole crash course was divided into four to six-minute intervals making it almost impossible to finish each section. We interviewed each other on the last gift we gave, asking all kinds of questions to dig deep and find hidden motives when someone is giving a gift. Next, we summed up our findings and defined their problem with their gift-giving experience. We then generated some ideas on how to fix these problems. Next, we gave each other feedback on how each idea could improve and then focused on one, a combination of ideas, solution(s), and making it better. Lastly, it was time to test it out and see what our partner thought of the idea. This was my favorite part because I could actually see my idea as a possible solution to her problem. 

A design process template.

Overall, I thought this crash course in design thinking exercise helped me fully understand the five-step process. I was able to empathize with my partner and pinpoint their problem. I was then able to come up with some ideas and test one out. I was surprised about how much fun I had. 

Week 2: User Psychology

After familiarizing myself with the whole process, it was time to start at the very beginning. Understanding the user is essential for UX design. This type of design is human-centered and must be the driving motivation in the project. 

“When we take in consideration human behavior, attitudes, and moods, we realize that there is more to design. It’s not only about creating the most engaging user experience. It’s about understanding the users and their needs.”

 Megha Goyal 

Now, it was time to analyze a user and to see what motivates them or makes them act in a certain way. To achieve this goal, I described how and why certain products, services, and devices made me fill and why. I also looked at Barnes and Noble and Waterstones to see how their website makes me feel and why. 

For my first assignment, I wrote feel/need statements to capture the emotions and motivations of using some of my favorite products and services. This process taught me that products, services, and devices that I use everyday illicit some type of feeling or need that I never thought of before.

List of feelings to use for the feel/need statements.

For my second assignment, I went through my normal shopping experience on both platforms to see my emotions and motivations while interacting on the website. I found using the Waterstones website to be significantly easier. Waterstones provided me with an enjoyable experience. It had clear labels, a simple navigation bar, and the site was easy to navigate. Barnes & Noble provided a lot of helpful information, but it made me feel indifferent and overwhelmed at times.

Week 3: Empathy

The design thinking process is human-centered design. This means the user comes first, but to design for a user, you need to understand them and empathize with them. 

“Empathy is our ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, to see what they see, feel what they feel, and experience things as they do. ” 

Rikke Friis Dam, Teo Yu Siang

This week is all about empathy maps, what they are, and how they are used. An empathy map is a collaborative tool that designers can use to gain more in-depth insight into their users. An empathy map layout allows the designer to break the insights down into different categories to give an overall idea of the user’s wants and needs. 

To make an empathy map, start with your user in the center and divide it into four sections. Then, at the bottom, add pains and gains for the user. 

  • Say – quotes about what the user says about a product/service. 
  • Think – what is the user thinking about while using the product/service?
  • Feel – emotions on the user’s interaction with the product/service. 
  • Do – actions and behaviors of the user. 
  • See – what the user sees and experiences
  • Hear – what the user hears during their experience 
  • Pain – struggles or concerns
  • Gain – benefits or positive attributes
A simple layout of the key element for an empathy map.

To put empathy maps into practice, I watched an episode of Undercover Boss and made an empathy map for the CEO and another employee. I choose the episode about Yankee Candle, season 3, episode 8, as Harlan Kent, the CEO, went undercover to explore several different locations within his company. 

Something the show doesn’t discuss is the amount of empathy the boss experiences. The empathy maps made it easier to keep track of all important things my users said, did, or heard. Overall, it helped me organize my thoughts and allowed me to empathize with the people in the show.

Week 4: Personas

Now that I have practiced empathy, it was time to create personas. 

“A persona is a way to model, summarize and communicate research about people who have been observed or researched in some way. A persona is depicted as a specific person but is not a real individual; rather, it is synthesized from observations of many people.” 

 Shlomo Goltz 

To practice creating personas, I developed two personas to represent users of the Barnes and Noble website. The first one, Jennifer, represented the avid reader, while Greg represented a casual reader. I went through and created motivations, behaviors, ability, quotes, influencers, environment, related personas, persona family, and more. The point of these personas is to represent a large group of people as one persona. 

Create my own personas has taught me how to think outside the box and put myself in someone else’s shoes. It reminded me of the Undercover Boss assignment where I needed to empathize with the people I was studying. 

Week 5: Defining The Problem

This was the week when I started to feel a connection to past weeks and lessons. It was not time to practice writing effective problem statements and point of view statements. Both are a part of the defining stage of the design thinking process. 

To write a problem statement, I used the following format: ________ is a challenge for ________ because ________. 

For Point of View (POV) staments, I used the following format: [User…(descriptive)] needs [need…(verb)] becuase [insight…(compelling)]. 

A breakdown of each statement.

Writing the problem statements was interesting. As I wrote more and more problem statements, they became easier to write. I was also thankful for the empathy maps because the clear and organized information allowed me to write my statements more efficiently. I found writing the POV statements to be a little tricky because I had to remind myself to keep my personal thoughts out of the statements and listen to what the users had to say. 

Week 6: Ideation Methods

There are many different ideation techniques available for designers to use to create ideas. I focused on four different ideation methods; mash-up, braindumpingcrazy eights, and SCAMPER

The mash-up technique consists of writing a “how might we’ statement followed by creating two unrelated categories (one closely relating to the HMW statement and the other random) to create two lists of experiences or objects. Then, mash-up two elements to create a new idea. 

Braindumping is very similar to brainstorming. This technique is straightforward and allows the designer to come up with ideas independently. 

Crazy eights, or sketching, focuses on sketching six to eight ideas in less than five minutes. 

SCAMPER is an acronym for; substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another, eliminate, and reverse. This technique is a great way to get ideas flowing and breakthrough everyday thinking.  

I looked at three of my most-used apps, Instagram, Goodreads, and Shop/Shopify to practice these techniques. I look my POV statements from the week before and came up with some ideas for some solutions. 

Two sketches of some of my mash-up ideas.

My favorite method was braindumping because I could achieve a state of flowing consciousness where I would just write down everything I was thinking. 

Week 7: Journey Maps 

I always thought the book-buying experience was pretty easy. Go in, buy a book, and leave. It wasn’t until I made a journey map for the interaction that I realized all the small and overlooked steps I take when purchasing a book for a friend. 

“A customer journey map tells the story of the customer’s experience: from initial contact, through the process of engagement and into a long-term relationship.”

– Paul Boag

To practice creating a journey map, I turned to one of my past personas, Jennifer, and created a journey map for her book-buying experience. According to Megan Grocki, there are five key elements present in a journey map; persona, timeline, emotions, touchpoints, and channels. These elements show each step of the process, along with an action, emotion, location, and calls attention to which steps need improvement. Jennifer had 12 main steps in her journey, but then each step was broken down even further to achieve the most detailed experience possible. 

A few very basic steps for getting a book.

This was one of my favorite exercises because I got to think outside my own perspective and put myself in the shoes of some of my customers. I tried to feel as much empathy as I could for Jennifer and the group she represents. I also thought it was fun to keep asking myself, what happens next, repeatedly until Jennifer returned home and wrapped her gift. This process taught me the importance of journey maps and how they can shed light on problems that might be overlooked. 

Conclusion

These seven weeks have taught me a lot about UX Design and how it works. My greatest takeaway from this process is that UX Design can seem really overwhelming and confusing, but there are so many techniques and methods that you can tailor your design process to reflect your needs. A designer doesn’t have to use every technique and method on this list, or they might use all of them. All that matters is finding the best way to create an above and beyond user experience.

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