A day in the life of a UX designer is varied. One minute you’ll be interviewing a user about a new hypothesis you want to validate, the next you’ll be analysing a competitor you just spotted.
Being a UX designer is a rewarding and demanding role. Depending on the company you work for you may have to be a jack of all trades, or a specialist focussing on one specific sub discipline. You may be responsible for helping plan strategy and roadmapping or you might be the design sprint guru! One thing all these variations have in common is that the goal is the same, understanding and delivering exactly what the user wants and needs.
From past experience I will take you through what my days looked like for the variety of company types I have worked for. While each of the roles have major similarities in deliverables, the ways of working can be slightly different at times.
Where you work will often dictate what you do as a UX designer
Every company has a slightly different definition of what it is to be a UX designer. This is largely due to the fact that the role covers so many disciplines. Some companies want a hardcore UI deisgner who can do user interviews. Others may want a more design thinking focussed person without the need for UI at all. Sometimes (more often than not) companies want it all in one person.
When you’re looking for a role in UX, this is important to take into consideration. What type of UX designer do you want to be? Define that yourself and go after the roles that suit your preference. What I would suggest is while you double down on the skills you need for that dream role, make sure to upskill generally in all areas of UX.
Different companies want different UX skills
Having worked with a variety of companies in different industries, I found that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for the perfect designer. You’ll find that each company wants a different level of skills depending on their requirements.
So what does that look like in practice? Below we’ll explore some of the types of companies and what they generally look for.
Marketing agencies work with other companies to promote and generate leads for their clients. Their goal is to use whatever tools are at their disposal to accomplish that task. The environment is very fast paced, and you’re expected to deliver results as quickly as possible.
Marketing agencies will generally offer a selection of services to their clients which include:
- Web design
- Print design
- A/B testing
- Funnel optimisation
- SEO (search engine optimisation)
- Social media
- Paid advertising
The work that marketing agencies do has to be measured to prove ROI to the client, so data analytics is also very important.
SAAS (Software as a Service)
The SAAS model business is something that is growing exponentially in recent years. Think of Zoom, the video communication service and you have a good understanding of a SAAS based company. Generally these companies vary in size quite drastically. There are the established large companies (like Zoom, Adobe etc) and then there are startups.
“A SaaS company is a company that hosts an application and makes it available to customers over the internet.” DigitalGuardian
The primary difference between them is the number of employees, team structures and ways of working. Larger SAAS companies can afford to have larger teams, meaning a UX designer can specialise more. In smaller companies, generally the teams are required to have a broader set of skills, so a UX designer will be more of a generalist.
As a freelance UX designer, you can really lay out what you want to focus on and how you want to work. You can pick and choose the jobs that fit your skillset and ways of working. It’s a rewarding career choice. You set your own hours, choose where you want to work from on any particular day, you are basically master of your own destiny.
It’s not without its downsides though. Work/life balance is much more difficult to manage. You are solely responsible for every aspect of running a business so will have to be skilled in areas you wouldn’t have to consider if you were an employee.
You will have to have web design skills to set up your site. You will have to understand SEO skills to organically grow viewership. You will have to find and land new prospects. You will have to understand basic accounting and invoicing to get paid. You will have to outsource occasionally for skills that are outside your wheelhouse.
While this all sounds daunting, it’s very rewarding. And you don’t have to be an expert in any of the above before you get started. I thoroughly enjoyed my time freelancing and will probably pick it up again at some point!
A day in the life of a UX designer
So what does a UX designer do on a regular day? That is a difficult question to answer as the variety of things they’re involved in is wide! I’ve outlined what a regular day looks like for me in my current role to give you an understanding.
Sit down, then standup
Usually the first daily task is a standup. No not standup comedy, but a daily meeting. These are short catch ups with the team to check-in, see what’s being worked on and see if there are any blockers that need addressing before the day starts.
The term ‘standup’ was used because the meeting should be done standing. The idea being that standing for long periods is uncomfortable, so the meetings should be short. Doesn’t always work that way, and current working from home conditions mean they’re more like sit downs now!
Meetings, meetings and comfort breaks
I’m not going to lie, there are meetings. Lot’s of them. The amount will vary based on the projects you’re working on and the company you’re working for. But expect them. The content of these meetings varies, and often involves project briefs, ideation sessions, design reviews and presentations. I won’t go into too much detail, but expect meetings. Bring coffee.
Backlog refinement. Nobody needs an unrefined backlog
This may not be a daily task, but is something that occurs at least once a week. The idea behind backlog refinement is for the product owner, UX and development team to come together to make sure items on the product backlog are well understood by all team members.
This makes sure we’re all on the same page. It’s an open forum to discuss feature work. UX is involved in this process at my current employer (not every employer does this). We find this useful because often engineers/developers are working from user journeys, wireframes or prototypes we have put together. If there is some nuance that can’t be explained easily via one of these methods, it’s useful for the designer to be there to explain the thinking and behaviour they’re trying to convey.
Retrospective (or retros) are a way for the team to get together and reflect on the last sprint or project. In these sessions we examine what went well, what could have gone better, what we want to see more of and what we want to see less of.
Each team member writes on post-it notes airing any thoughts they have on a particular item that happened during that sprint. It’s a great way to celebrate individual and team victories. It’s also a great way to understand how we can do things better in future.
This is a big one, and always ongoing. The type of activities you do for research depend on what you’re trying to understand. For example if you’re early in the discovery stage of a new feature or product you’ll probably be doing competitor research and user interviews.
As you move further along, the type of activities will be more focussed around validating your ideas with experiments. This could be digging into data, or getting prototypes in front of real people.
The final and ongoing piece of research is when your feature, product or service has been launched. You’ll be examining how users are interacting with it through observation and data. And also how well it solves their pain point with NPS surveys and interviews.
Research should be happening on a constant basis so we learn and inch closer to the perfect product to answer their needs.
As a UX designer, your job is to understand the user and create something that addresses their challenges. However, no UX designer is an island. You need peeps from all around the business (and sometimes outside of it too!) to come together and really throw as many ideas out there as possible about a particular thing you’re working on.
As a UX designer, it’s our job to facilitate these sessions. To help draw out the best ideas from the stakeholders. Your job is also to identify and remove bias where you see it occurring.
Sometimes stakeholders need a tangible artefact to gather around and discuss. Wireframes are a great way to kickstart this discussion, as they are quick to produce and quick to modify.
Wireframes allow you to test layouts of apps and web pages. You can infer where content blocks, images, buttons and other elements will sit on a page. Rather than spending huge amounts of time working on the intricacies of the final design.
There are various tools out there that allow you to wireframe digitally including Balsamiq and Moqups. You can also create them in your current design tool whether that’s an Adobe product or Figma.
I am pretty old school when it comes to wireframes and either use a pen and paper or my iPad and pencil.
Whatever tool you use, the goal is the same, sketch out layouts and ideas quickly and get feedback quickly. Iterate and go again until you and your stakeholders feel you’ve solved the pain point.
As design tools have evolved the ability to link up the screens you have designed into a prototype that resembles the final product has become the norm. And what a game changer that has been. Before the introduction of this capability you would have to design a series of unrelated individual screens and talk to a developer about how it would work as a whole.
Now with clever tools like Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD and InVision you can put together fully interactive digital prototypes, often with animations and transitions.
Why would you want to do this and not just build it? There are a couple of good reasons.
1. It’s cheaper to prototype
If your team is on a tight budget, having a developer build the final product to later realise it’s wrong is an expensive way to find out. By using prototypes, which are, in comparison, cheap and quick to build, you can test and make quick changes if needed.
2. Data and feedback baby!
Following on and related to cost, is getting feedback. You can put together a prototype and send it out into the wild to get real qualitative and quantitative data quickly. Then you can make informed design decisions to iterate and inch closer to a design that answers the user’s pain points.
These are just a few of the many tasks that a UX designer does in a standard day. Again this may vary and the above is based on a UX design role that works in an Agile/Scrum development environment.
Each industry and company will have different ways of working, I think they’re all fun as long as you get to solve problems creatively.