User Experience Design

It is the user that has the experience – the designer shapes the experience.

UX design creates more effective user experiences by exploring users’ needs and understanding project goals.

The cornerstones of UX design

There are may aspects that shape a users’ experience so following an established and proven design process makes this much easier to accomplish.

Developed by Alan Cooper of Cooper Design – a highly respected software design company at the forefront of product design since the mid-1970’s – Goal-directed™ design describes the steps to do this effectively.

Goal-directed™ design is a user-centred design process that focuses on users achieving their goals and creates a product blueprint, ready for prototyping and UI design.

Goal-directed™ design has four main phases.

  1. Research
  2. Personas
  3. Scenarios
  4. Wireframes

1. Research

Business research

Understanding business goals is an essential part of any brief, but UX design often seeks to uncover and clarify business values, vision and mission as well as these will underpin the approach to user engagement.

Qualitative user research

Speak to users, observe them if possible, understand their pain points and goals. What are their concerns, you want to understand how and where your product fits into their lives and see the bigger picture.

We want to know about the environments they work in, what tasks they perform, how often the perform them, their level of IT competency, what are they trying to achieve, the issues and problems they encounter, the other sites and services they use.

You may also want to

  • Collate existing user feedback and prior feature requests
  • Gather anecdotal evidence and insights from customer services

Quantitative user research

A first port of call for many is Google analytics as it can help identify many aspects of user behaviour. Facets such as bounce rates, depth of engagement and traffic sources will help you identify problems and opportunities.

For the Royal Pavilion and Museums website, analytics helped us identify many users trying to find opening times which on inspection were difficult to find.

Other sources of quantitative date may include market research and customer segmentation data.

2. Personas

Three example persona highlights

Use research to build up a model – or persona – of your key user(s).

Personas are individuals that represent groups of users with the same goals. We represent them as realistic individuals with names and short narratives to describe their goals, attitudes, engagement and motivation.

Personas describe behaviours that are common to specific groups of users, not average ones.

There will be primary personas – our target users – and secondary personas whose goals and behaviours differ but should be accommodated.

In museum design, we also refer to Falk profiles which are described in more detail on the Huguenot Museum project page.

3. Scenarios

Create stories – aka scenarios – to describe how users might want to use the product to achieve their goals.

Using our personas we create short narratives that describe ideal user interactions with the product, called scenarios.

We have previously found out how our users currently interact with the product, we know what tasks they undertake and have researched what they are trying to achieve. When we create scenarios, we are exploring the ‘what if’ questions that seek to create an idealised ‘day in the life’ set of interactions with the product.

An example scenario

Developed for Gill Instruments who make seriously robust weather stations for the Met Office.

… let’s take the scenario of the crane driver Murree told me about. Let’s call him Johan, he’s 33 and operates a crane at the docks in Aarhus in Denmark.

Johan is up at 5:30 with his young children and while his wife is giving them breakfast, he checks his mobile to see if it’s OK to work in the crane today. If it’s too windy, Johan works at the depot and wears different clothes. There are no alerts so he gets ready as usual and drops the children off on his way to the docks.

By lunchtime the weather is getting worse and his manager Morten calls him to to let him know that it’s looking like the day will be cut short and to prioritise unloading Container B. Johan calls his wife to let her know he might be able to pick up the children later on.

At 3pm Johan’s phone is alerting him because the wind is nearing the cut off safety point that has been set. It takes him ten minutes to shut down and get down from the crane and that needs to happen before it becomes unsafe.

He dismisses the alert so his boss knows that he’s seen it and carries on unloading Container B. By 3:45pm he receives an alert to stop working, acknowledges that he has received and is acting upon the alert and calmy shuts down the crane and leaves. By 4pm he’s at the depot and calls his wife to say he can pick up the children.

As we can see from this scenario, Johan has a specific set of goals – to work safely and know when that isn’t the case – and has limited interaction with the product – an alert is perhaps all he needs. He is a secondary user.

His manager Morten however, manages 24 other cranes in different ports around Aarhus and has a very different relationship with the product. He is looking at trending information, scheduling work and planning the day ahead. He needs to see the bigger picture and is more focused on prediction. As a primary user, we would draw up a persona for Morten which expresses his goals and a scenario that describes his idealised interaction.

4. Wireframes

Together, personas and scenarios help us to define requirements with confidence and create a blueprint that can be implemented in the user interface design phase that follows. 

Wireframes are commonly used to do this, though increasingly prototypes are seen as a faster way to refine and prove a design solution.

Where next?

Once we have a design blueprint we can move to the next phase of development, UI design and prototyping.

Further reading

About Face 3

About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design
Cooper, Alan; Reimann, Robert; Cronin, Dave (2007)

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone involved in product or service design, or in fact any type of design as there’s a gem of an insight on almost every page.
Alan Cooper on Twitter

Don't Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
Steve Krug

It takes real skill as a writer to make things so clear and simple. This book will teach you how to think like a user experience designer.Steve Krug on Twitter

UX Projects

These projects will tell you more about user experience design.



Map illegal animal trading across the globe. Trademapper in an interactive mapping tool to visualise trade data developed by TRAFFIC.

Weather Station

Weather Station

Desktop PC software to set up and monitor professional weather stations.

Remedy e-Democracy

Remedy e-Democracy

Remedy UK was a pressure group representing junior doctors in the United Kingdom. Helped to formulate their communications strategy and harness the power of their constituency.