UX design process: how to start and what are the steps

While the domain of UX design is fascinating, it can feel a bit daunting to get started in it if your main skill set is only around visual and UI design. The main reason for it is that in UX design, the focus moves from creating an aesthetically pleasing product to creating an aesthetically pleasing product that’s also easy to use and desirable.

This transition requires you as a UX designer to understand not only visual design, but also how humans interact with technology and the psychology behind it to go through a complete UX design process.

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What is UX design?

First, to understand the UX design process we need to define what UX is all about.

User Experience (UX) is the overall impression as well as the set of emotions and feelings users experience when they interact with a product or a service. Such an “interaction” happens anywhere from the time users consider engaging with a product or service all the way through buying and using it and even after that.

Donald Norman coined the term in the early 1990s and it became very popular in recent years due to the exponential rate at which web and mobile applications are released and compete for the users attention.

UX design is the process of designing a system that allows users to achieve their goals using a product or a service while achieving maximum satisfaction. 

The best analogy to illustrate what good UX design looks like would be in the form of traveling by car from city A to city B.

A good user experience would look like a highway that cuts through a mountain and allows you to travel between the two cities in less than one hour.

A bad user experience would look like a narrow curvy road that goes up and down the mountain and makes the journey take as long as three hours instead of one hour.

Both roads allow you to achieve your goal of traveling between the cities, but the second option would leave you a lot less happy. This is exactly why UX design is so important. People are willing to pay more for products with good UX, and such products can reduce operations costs for companies.

Back to our highway analogy from before; this is the reason why many drivers would even pay toll road fees to get on a highway and travel faster (unless they really enjoy scenic routes which is not for everyone) and this is the power of good UX.

How to get started with a UX design process

Starting the UX design process requires organizations to change their culture from one of knowing to one of learning, and to treat their users as equally important as other stakeholders participating in the UX design process.

A culture of learning means first developing a thorough understanding of the users and their needs, instead of trying to anticipate which products users will like based on intuition and assumptions.

Choose your culture of learning
Choose your culture of learning

Practically speaking, most UX design processes are based upon a philosophy called “Design Thinking” that has many versions, but most of them contain steps that are fairly similar. These steps require you to understand the users, define their main challenges, ideate solutions, design them, and test them with the users to come up with the best solutions and keep on refining them over time.

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Let’s start by breaking the UX design process down to its foundational steps:

Understand your users

This step is all about understanding your users through user research as a starting point.

The saying “you can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” applies to UX design processes too. We can’t design a great UX for our users without understanding who they are and what kind of challenges they face in their day-to-day lives.

In this step, the easiest thing to do is to get some of this information directly from the users by doing user interviews, focus groups, and surveys and to learn as much as we can about the users. This will give us a great start on our UX design process.

User personas illustrations
User personas by @oksana.lehaieva

However, users sometimes say that they do one thing and then end up doing something else, which is why it’s important at this stage to immerse ourselves in the users’ environment as much as possible to be able to truly develop empathy towards them and confirm (or not) what they tell us through interviews and surveys.

There are many ways to accomplish this, but the most common method is through observations of how users interact with a product. These can be either direct observations by spending time with the users in their environment (or remotely) or indirect by asking people to document their usage in a diary-like format, using written logs and photos.

All these user research activities could yield valuable insights that lead us to the next step.

Define the main challenges

Now that you’ve finished conducting your user research activities, the idea is to see what kind of themes emerge from the data about the main challenges that users face.
The important thing to keep in mind in this step is that the outcome needs to be common themes that come out of the data rather than just users' opinions of what should be done next with the product or service.

Affinity diagrams and mind maps are great tools to understand which themes are emerging from the data.

User experience design
Image source: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

It’s recommended to go through this step of the UX design process with the entire UX design team and potentially other stakeholders such as marketing and product managers.

Personas can also serve as a good starting point to understand the characteristics of those you design for, and to empathize with them and with their pain points.

Ideate solutions

This is where you and the rest of the design team (and potentially more stakeholders) can start to get creative. Now that you have an understanding of what challenges your users face, as well as their main personas(s) you can start brainstorming potential solutions.

There are many brainstorming methods, such as Round Robin , Rapid Ideation, and more, but the key is to give everyone the space to come up with ideas and present them in a non-judgemental way. After all, these ideas will serve as the basis for designing and experimenting with actual solutions in the next step.


This is where your visual and UI design skills will become relevant for the UX design process.

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In this step, you and your team have narrowed down your ideas to 2-3 ideas that you actually want to design and test with real users. The most common way of doing that is by building a prototype.

Prototypes can be either in the form of simple low-fidelity wireframes to test first impressions, readability, and desirability, or with high-fidelity wireframes to test actual usability and how users interact with the UI.

Designing user experiences on iPad
Image source: Visual Design on Unsplash

The decision of whether to build a low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototype should be based on the type of questions you and the team have in mind, your time for testing, your budget, and of course, your expertise in building these types of prototypes.

Launch and test

At this point, it’s time to get feedback from your users about your solutions. Depending on the type of prototype you and the team have developed (low-fidelity or high-fidelity) you’ll be able to determine the best testing method.

With low-fidelity prototypes, the best approach is to do impression tests and copy tests to see the impression users have of the prototype and whether they understand what it’s supposed to do or not.

With high-fidelity prototypes the possibilities are a lot less limited in terms of testing, and you can conduct actual usability tests with internal or external users. If the prototype is highly functional you can even launch it to a beta group or a certain percentage of your traffic and do some live tests to get a better view of how users interact with it.

Lefty Test working with Linearity Curve (formerly Vectornator)
Lefty Test working with Linearity Curve (formerly Vectornator). Watch the Process video by UIX-Ninja

What happens next?

It’s important to mention that UX design processes are almost never linear, since feedback that comes in at any stage can make us go one step back and refine what we know to improve the solutions we want to design for our users.

UX design processes are iterative, and even after we launch a “finished” live solution , we are likely to learn about additional problems that will need to be addressed with further modifications in terms of UI and interaction design. That’s why UX design processes and general agile software development processes normally go hand-in-hand due to their iterative process.

Since sometimes time and budget constraints do not allow to go through the full process, it’s not abnormal to skip part of it. However, the most important thing to remember is that there has to be time dedicated to collect user feedback, understand the main challenges faced by users, ideate and test different solutions, and not just rush into solutions based on personal opinions.

The takeaway lesson

The UX design process gives you and your team a recipe to take your UI design skills, combine them with the research skills and design solutions that your users will like using.

If you follow the UX design process you are likely to increase both your customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as your organization’s profitability. Users are willing to pay more for products and services that have a good user experience.

You can use Linearity Curve (formerly Vectornator) to create clear, scalable UX designs.

Jumpstart your ideas with Linearity Curve

Take your designs to the next level.

Cover includes Onboarding process—Mobile app designed by Outcrowd

UX design process: how to start and what are the steps | Linearity
UX design process: how to start and what are the steps