It comes up at every social event: what do you do? This conversation usually begins with me letting out a sigh as my partner quietly immaterializes like a ninja disappearing into the shadows. It can be a tough question: a number of people don’t fully understand what graphic design or web development even are, much less how websites work, which web languages they use, and how many types of designers there are. It becomes hard to know what I should even call myself…“designer” makes it sound like I work with art all day, and “developer” makes me sound like I’m engineering something technical. “I build websites” lacks clarity when I’m in a position that involves a lot of different hats, depending on the day (plus there’s always the secret hope that one day I’ll say “I’m a UX Designer” and the person I’m talking to will tell me they’re looking to hire one). Contrary to popular belief, you can master a number of those trades—given enough time and opportunities to work. Here’s some of what I do from day to day.
User Experience Designer
Sometimes called a Product Designer or a Product Manager, this is a fairly broad title that encompasses much of what I do. This involves a lot of research, reading, meetings, defining projects, discussing the technologies that will be used in the project, setting project priorities, coming up with a comprehensive list of features, goals, and solutions for the project. Once this is completed, this will ultimately lead to the creation of wireframes that will serve as the blueprint for the future final product that will be used and referenced by the project team, typically after reviews and revisions to the wireframes both internally and with clients.
Sometimes it’s hard to see how everything will come together without playing around with a simple representation of the final product. Prototyping can be done with a number of different mediums, and is incredibly useful for testing out ideas. Prototypes can be as simple as drawing out “screens” on paper by hand (low-fidelity), or actual digital interfaces that can be manipulated or interacted with (high-fidelity). This is an excellent way to uncover hiccups within the product’s process, test which operations are easier for users to perform, double-check consistency throughout, and provide a demo of the final product for clients.
This is probably the part that most people think of when they think of “design”. It’s picking colors and textures, finding or creating art and photography, choosing a visual hierarchy for the various text that will go on a page, deciding how much space to put between page elements, and making sure everything looks nice and can be easily viewed.
Once everything is brainstormed, built, and beautified, then question the becomes “how should this move?” When designed correctly, interacting with an app or website can feel fluid and intuitive, but when designed poorly, it can feel disjointed, confusing, or even nauseous. Trying to make interactions behave in a predictable manner and not become distracting can take a little bit of forethought and planning, but when done right, can help make the product provide feedback that can make you a smarter user. How often do you wonder if you actually clicked a button and the action is taking a long time to load, or if you missed the button and should try clicking the button again? That isn’t your fault…with the proper interaction, you wouldn’t have to second-guess yourself.
Type in a URL in your web browser. See what comes up? That’s the front-end, and I build it. Every box, button, link, and image need to be built and styled to look and behave the way they do, and this is where all of the hard work and planning come together.
Some people have been hurt by designers in the past. Bad design, unmet expectations, unkept promises. Let it all out…I’m here to listen (and to try my hardest to right those wrongs and work through trust issues).
Keeper of Knowledge
The internet is a tough place to navigate, and people have a lot of questions:
“Is my customer’s information going to be secure?”
“How will people find my website?”
“Do I need a Twitter?”
“Why does my site look different in Safari?”
“What’s a Reddit?”
I spend a lot of time using the internet keeping up-to-date on the latest standards and best practices of the web. I certainly don’t know everything, but the internet is definitely one of the best tools for research.
Anyone in marketing can tell you, the more you know about your product, your users, what your users want, and what you want from your users, the more successfully you can you can meet these goals. I tend to research a lot of solutions to problems as well: what type of blog can I install that isn’t Wordpress? What are some good free eCommerce options? What are my customer’s competitors doing on their website? What do popular children’s book websites look like? What are the laws and regulations for building a government website? Finding the answers to all of these questions gives me beter data to use for the projects I’m working on, and lays the groundwork for good user experience design (and the cycle continues).