UX Core Skills

Enterprise UX Skills

Along with the Individual UX Skills, teams now need skills to enhance their value across the enterprise. User experience extends beyond the on-screen interactions to all touch points with the user. Special skills are needed to ensure the team interacts with the rest of the organization in a productive manner. While the teams don’t need to know how to do the jobs of others in the organizations, they need to know how those other roles will influence the design. These Enterprise UX skills include:

UX Development Methods—Organizations are using a wide variety of development methods these days. Team members need to understand how to integrate their work with development approaches, such as Agile techniques.

Design-To-Development Documentation—Communicating the design and its rationale effectively is critical to successful projects. Developing personas, design pattern libraries, and use cases are a regular practice to ensure what is imagined becomes reality.

Fast Iteration Management—Today’s best organizations are constantly learning from their designs. Instead of projects taking months or years, they now go from concept to implementation in weeks. Fast iteration management helps us learn to break designs into small, bite-sized implementations and to collect data from each deployment to inform the decisions in the next iteration. Skills include schedule planning, change management, and usage-data collection, to help the team move quickly.

Web Analytics—Gleaning important information from the mounds of data collected by today’s web servers can dramatically enhance the design process. Team members need to know how to integrate the available analytics to inform their design process, by seeing what designs are working for the users and where design iterations fall short.

Ethnography—Techniques like ethnography, contextual inquiry, and field research can help teams gain tremendous insights into the users’ environment and goals, leading to radical improvements to the experience. Understanding how to facilitate ethnographic projects and how to report the results, using tools such as contextual modeling and personas, is important for today’s teams.

Social Networks—Computer applications are no longer just a person interacting with a computer. Many are now computer-mediated experiences of people interacting with other people. Teams need to understand the different models for social interaction, from ratings and recommendation systems to full-blown social network capabilities, to know when these techniques can enhance the interaction and to avoid places where the social components take away from the core functionality.

Marketing—Previously relegated to an isolated function of the enterprise, marketing skills have become a core component in the user experience. Teams need to successfully communicate the design’s value to users and need to ensure it blends seamlessly into the rest of the experience with the organization and the brand.

Technology—It is no longer acceptable for UXers to propose interactions that can’t be implemented because team member don’t understand how the technology works. From front-end technology, such as CSS, Ajax, and Flash, to back-end components, such as server technology and legacy servers, designers need to be keenly aware of what is possible and where they will bump into constraints.

ROI—A successful UX team has the skills to explain the business value of their work. Whether it’s a specific enhancement or a complete rethinking of the way things are done, team members need to concisely describe the benefits and risks associated with new design.

Business Knowledge—Today’s business environment is full of complexity and hard-to-navigate constraints. UXers need to be fully aware of how the business works, how it makes money, and what the internal constraints are, so they can ensure the design services the business as well as the users.

Domain Knowledge—The industries we service are themselves very complex, whether they be about financial services, travel, or a university. Team members need to be fully versed in the domain, so they can understand the terminology, processes, and objectives of the people using their designs.

Individual UX Skills
User Research

As UXers create designs, we need to ensure they meet the needs of the user. User research helps us collect information about who our users are, what they are trying to accomplish, what frustrates them, and what will delight them. Skills include identifying user population; techniques for evaluating design ideas, such as usability testing; and passing that information on to rest of the team members, so they can be making informed decisions. We define who our users are by examining their behaviors, activities, obligations, needs, and environment. We utilize these observations along with analytical data to identify user struggles inside and outside of the product and provide potential solutions to the team. We reinforce the concept that user experience encompasses the holistic environment in which the user exists, not just the product.

Focus: Who is our user and what is their environment?

Toolkit: Contextual observation, user interviews, user surveys, process life cycle, user journey mapping, personas

Information Architecture

Almost every design today involves organizing information, whether it’s an online policies-and-procedures library, product information, or user-generated content. Information architecture helps UXers organize that content in a way that makes it easy for users to hone in to the specific content they’re seeking. Skills include understanding methods for organizing information, such as taxonomies, folksonomies, facets. We examine the content that needs to be delivered to users. We organize information and establish content hierarchy based on the user’s conceptual model, and how the information influences the user’s thought process and behaviors.

Information Design, Data Visualization and/or Mini IA—Presenting complex information for easy interpretation is key for a successful user interface. Knowing when to use specific table or graph types and using novel approaches for exploring detailed data sets, whether it’s pricing information, product comparison tables, or trend charts, makes solid information design a core component of the design process. Skills include knowing when to apply the variety of chart and table formats, such as pie charts, hi-low diagrams, and cluster treemaps; how to create interactive data explorers, such as star fields and drill-down pivot tables; and working with combining multiple data sources, such as data-mining techniques.

Focus: How do users search, find and explore content?

Toolkit: Grouping information clusters, card sorting, content hierarchy, sitemaps, data visualization, content layout

Interaction Design

Modern applications have moved past filling out a one-page form and pressing the submit button. Instead, they are now complex interactions, combining business requirements with a easy-to-follow user flow. Interaction design skills include knowing when to utilize different application structures, such as hub-and-spoke designs versus interview flows; which design elements are best for certain types of information, such as when to use radio buttons versus drop-down menus. We map how users can easily move through a product to achieve their goals. We define clear pathways and establish consistent behaviors to help point users in the direction of success. We introduce animations as feedback indicators as the user travels down a product’s pathways.

Focus: How do users move through a product or application?

Toolkit: Workflows, wireframes, whiteboard sessions, task flow diagrams, development lingo, animations

Visual Design

One hallmark of good design is having a strong visual appearance. This is more than just aesthetic goodness, stretching into ensuring the priority of information is communicated visually — the most important information jumps off the screen while more subtle details are visible, yet not demanding unwarranted attention. Visual design skills include page layout, form design, color selection, and icon design. (While not directly “visual”, we consider designing for accessibility to fall into this skillset, as it focuses on much the same issues.) We build upon the initial design theories established by an interaction designer and apply typographical hierarchy, color, material patterns, and iconography. We establish how the smaller components or microinteractions fit together to formulate the overall visual appeal of a product.

Focus: What is visually appealing to our users?

Toolkit: overall layout, typography, patterns, iconography, microInteractions, color palettes

Prototype

Prototypers may be disguised as UXers, engineers/developers, or data scientists. We create a variety of interactive workflows with coded or non-coded prototypes to provide a proof of concept. They help the team understand if an interactive pattern effectively solves a problem or needs to be modified.

Focus: How do we capture design ideas, bring them to life, and test their interactivity?

Toolkit: clickable workflows, interactive animations, HTML/CSS/JavaScript

Usability

UXers investigate whether a product’s pathways make sense to users. We identify where users get lost or confused via testing and provide feedback to the team to make necessary adjustments. Our findings help influence product revisions and future ideation.

Focus: Is our product easy to use? Will customers use our product?

Toolkit: test plans, proof of concept, testing debriefs, guerrilla testing, A/B testing

Content Strategy

UXers analyze the user’s language and understand how to speak to users in their own terms. We decide which content will be created, when it will be published, and how it will be exposed to the user. We set the product’s voice and determine the tone that will be used when addressing users in various situations.

Copywriting—Nobody likes using a design whose on-screen text reads like a 1950’s Army instruction manual. The best user experiences have copy that excites and compels, making the user feel comfortable and secure about the design. Copywriting skills include identifying the style of voice and tone that matches the organization’s brand, creating persuasive copy that motivates users to explore the design, and clearly stating benefit statements, to help the user understand the value of using new capabilities and functions.

Editing—What’s not in a design is as important as what’s included. Editing is not just about correcting bad grammar, but about creating a cohesive experience that doesn’t have extraneous distractions. Skills include using techniques such as alignment maps to match the users’ needs to the available functionality.

Focus: What language do our users speak? How can we talk to our users effectively?

Toolkit: content modeling, product voice, tone decisions, content guidelines