Learning UX design basics

Last week, I tuned in to General Assembly’s Intro to UX Design livestream for Asia-Pacific audiences. Technical hiccups aside, it was a good overview of what UX design is and what the work of a UX designer entails.


General Assembly (GA) is an education network that offers technical courses / bootcamps for fields like data science, product management, digital marketing, and UX design. It started in 2011 and has since grown to over 20 campuses worldwide.

Most of these campuses are in North America, but there’s one in Singapore as well, which is how I came to hear of them.

The talk addressed key questions like:

  • What is UX design?
  • What does a UX designer do?
  • How can someone get started in UX design?

Here are my main takeaways from the session and the Q&A session that followed.

What is UX design?

UX design is the practice of crafting and enriching a user’s journey through a product, service, event, etc.

Differentiating UX from UI can be challenging at first. The trick is to look at the scope:

  • UI: user interface, focuses on the visual and functional elements of a product or service
  • UX: user experience, focuses on how users interact and engage with a product or service

UX tackles a broader range of concerns, most of which have to do with the “post-launch” life and everyday use of a product or service. UX design will usually involve digital touchpoints that audiences encounter as they use a product or service.

The General Assembly talk went a step further to distinguish UX from usability and service design as well.

Usability is goal-oriented; it answers the question, “Did the user accomplish what they needed to do?” By contrast, UX design goes beyond “Yes” or “No” here and looks into the quality of the process behind that accomplishment.

Service design is the broadest concept of all these. It covers the whole user journey, from internal team organisation, to operational processes, to the physical and digital touchpoints that audiences engage with.

What do we mean when we say delight?

Delight is central to UX design, and it’s a concept that pops up a lot in conversations within the field. For most UX designers, the ultimate goal is to give audiences a delightful experience.

But “delight” can be a nebulous term, especially when individual experiences and reactions can be so subjective. How do UX designers know what criteria they should hit, and how can they gauge if they’re crafting something truly delightful?

Venturing out into the universe of UX design discussions a bit, Jared Spool’s blog post helped crystallize a simple but useful definition of delight in the context of UX design practice:

Delight measures the fulfillment of user expectations.

Of course, this is still tricky territory. Every user has different expectations, and a product or service can’t possibly fulfill them all. At the same time, there are situations where “delight” doesn’t seem to be the most appropriate aim (Spool uses life insurance and funeral arrangements as examples).

This is where the thought-provoking discussions sparked by John Saito’s post on the “dangers” of delightful design come in. As many respondents pointed out, it can be easy to conflate delight with cute or twee — superficial details that try to be clever or amusing, but rarely do much for the core user experience.

However, delight in the UX design sense runs much deeper. It’s the satisfaction that comes from a painless, well-executed solution.

Delight and the UX honeycomb

Just as there is no one-size-fits-all solution to every problem, there’s no universal list of user expectations. Instead, a UX designer must identify the intersection of:

  • Customer needs: What is the customer’s job to be done?
  • Product attributes: What can make the product or service a viable solution?
  • Business goals: What is the company hoping to achieve?

The answers to these questions can help UX designers figure out the relative importance of each facet of the user experience honeycomb.

Sourced from Dane Wesolko on Medium

Developed by Peter Morville, the UX honeycomb framework illustrates various key elements of a user experience. These facets serve as buckets for sorting the customer needs and expectations that matter. With the UX honeycomb, designers can clarify project priorities and better navigate the decisions and trade-offs that come up throughout the design process.

The weight of each facet will vary with each project. To successfully craft a delightful user experience, UX designers must take care to assign values to each facet based on careful research and data analysis.

Delight is the product of an elegant alignment of business goals and relevant user expectations.

What does a UX designer do?

All this implies that a UX designer’s job involves more than just visual design. To craft a delightful user experience, UX practitioners carry out tasks like:

  • Audience research
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Product requirement documentation
  • Prototyping
  • Usability testing
  • Taxonomy creation
  • Interface design
  • Copywriting

In bigger organisations, these functions may be assigned to different members of a UX team. For example, there could be dedicated UX researchers who work in collaboration with content strategists and interface designers. In some cases, however, all these functions might be rolled into one role, and the UX designer will need to wear multiple hats throughout a project.