What is the role of UX design: A conversation with a UX designer

I interviewed a UX designer recently. He has been in UX field for many years both in China and UX. He was kind enough to speak with me about his experience and design philosophy and also give me some ideas of how to finding a internship in UX field.

Tell me how you entered the field of user experience design?

I was majored in industrial design in graduate school in China, basically everybody wanted work as interaction design after school at that time because the opportunities in software design were much more than industrial design field and the salary was much higher. on the other hand, the curriculum in industrial design covered some general design topics, such as design methods, user research, and human computer interaction. In China, at that time, there was no UX related major in school. So it makes sense for students with industrial design background to find interaction design job. I was interested in human computer interaction and I learned  a lot of UX knowledge by reading online articles and books. And then there was a start up team opportunity for me to join in as a UX designer, I thought it was a good opportunity to get some practical experience. It was the first try for me as a UX designer and I realised there were lots of things in UX field for me to learn. Then I decided to come to US to study UX. Now I graduated and found a job in UX field.I am curious your understanding of UX design.

I am curious your understanding the role of UX design.

I think UX design contains three different levels, product level, interaction level, and component level. Product level is about the strategy of the product. It’s more about why the product should exist, how you define the product after learn about who are the users, what are their pain points. Interaction level is dealing with the structure of the product after the requirements of the product is clearly defined. We construct information architecture and user flow based on our understanding of user’s mental model and the priority of their needs. In this level we always ask the question of how the user should be interacting with the product and how the product will help users achieve their goals. The third level is component level, in this level UX designers/researchers create user interfaces and the visual/tangible elements that users actually will see and touch. In this level, designers will consider more about usability and elements in interface that call to correct functionality so that users can do the right interaction to finish their goal. Some companies may assign three levels to different roles, such as product designers, interaction designer, and visual designers. But I think a good UX design should master all of these three levels of design because they are interconnected with each other.

Which part do you enjoy most in the whole UX process?

I enjoy the part of problem solving very much, specifically, the problem solving by using my visual thinking and by leveraging computer intelligence. I always think about the value of UX designer/research and why companies should hire us. After years of experience in UX field, I think the value of UX designer/research is problem solving. For example, product manager has already figured out user’s problem, it’s the UX designer’s responsibility to think about how to design the product (interface) to solve that problem. It’s not easy, it requires a lot of ideation and validation process.

What kinds of research methods or design methods do you use and how do you use them?

For design, we are following the agile design process. We do brainstorming to find design solutions. We try to include product manager into this brainstorming process because he has clear idea about users’ requirements. I also like sketching and prototyping, by using sketch, I can visualise my design ideas and figure out further design problem in depth. By using prototype, I can validate my design with either stakeholders or users.

For research, there are two kinds of UX research: for validation and for exploration. When we design a new product, we always do exploratory research, such as competitive analysis, interview, focus group, etc. When we do iteration for product design, we use prototypes to do user testing and context inquiry to validate design.

Many of students in my class are now searching for UX intern, do you have any suggestions for them?

I think portfolio is still the best way to present yourself as a designer to the companies. So you should spend lots of time on portfolio to tell your stories.  Designers use visual language to phrase design problems. I think young designers should cultivate themselves with visual thinking and use portfolio to present their capability of visual thinking. For example, you should be able to present your design process of your project by not only the paragraph, but also visualising your design story in an appealing way.

Design Critique-NJ Transit (MyBus & Trip Planner)


The NJ Transit Mobile App provides an easy way to make travel plans, buy and display passes and tickets, and get transit information. Overall, the application is useful for most of users. But the first time I use this app, I feel like the application is not easy for me to use. This article aims to evaluate the “MyBus” and “Trip Planner” function in NJ Transit from a perspective of first time user and then provide a research strategy to improve it.

MyBus: Reasonable user flow but not user friendly

MyBus function is for a user to check the status of a bus. The user can either type the stop number to check the status of buses which will pass by this stop or choose a route first, select direction, then select a stop, at last check the status of a bus. The user flow of this situation is good. But the user may not know the stop number (although stop number shows in bus station, users may not in the bus station when they use the app). The display of the information is not easy to navigate for a first time user or a user who want to check an unfamiliar bus status. He/she may only know where he/she is and where he/she would like to go. At this time he/she should go to trip planner to check the routes, directions, and bus stops and then type these information into MyBus to check bus status.

Trip Planner: Reasonable user flow and user friendly. Should be combined with MyBus to enhance each other


When this user open the trip planner page, he/she type the origin and destination. User can type a station, address, or my location in origin and destination. After users choose origin, destination, travel mode, travel date, and depart at information, he/she enters the trip options page with a list of trip options. After user chooses a trip option, the trip details page with trip routes, origin and destination stops, and trip times listed. However, there is no stop number which users may need to type in MyBus. What’s more, it is hard for a user to remember a route number, a route direction, and a bus station name to get the bus status with MyBus after he/she use TripPlanner.

Research Strategy to improve “MyBus” and “Trip Planner”

In order to improve the usability of “MyBus” and “TripPlanner” in NJ Transit for first time users or users who are not familiar with a bus routes. I think they should learn these users’ situation, mental model, frustration, etc. by using questionnaire, interview, and observation. Then create a persona, a user scenario, or a user journey for these users to redesign “MyBus” and “TripPlanner” to better serve these users. Some interview questions for can be:

  1. Have you ever use NJ Transit?
  2. How was it like when you first use it?
  3. How long/ how may times it takes for you to get used to use it?
  4. What sort of situations you use NJ Transit for?
  5. What will you do when you want to check the route from your location to a new destination?
  6. What’s your experience with Trip Planner and MyBus?
  7. Can you describe a typical time you use it to plan a new route and check the bus status?

User Research VS. UX Design


I interviewed a UX designer who is working in a cloud computing company which is providing services to other enterprises. The interview lasted for 18 minutes, from the interview, I learned how a UX designer work in a typical day, what’s the role of a UX designer in his company, the challenges a UX designer faced, and how UX designer communicate with users, etc.

Interview Notes

  • Most satisfying elements of my work

“I think one thing is creating. I love the feeling of creating something. You have the freedom to make something by yourself, that’s the great part. And another thing is that you can create something for people. So you need to learn about people, learn what they need, what they want, what the experience they have. So creating something for people, that’s the best part I think about my job.”

  • Challenges I am facing

“I think currently the biggest challenge for me is communication. Sometime it is very hard to communicate. Not just communicate an idea to other people but argue for your reasons. It is very hard to justify your rationales, that’s the biggest challenge for me. And another thing is the product itself is very complicated, it takes time to figure out how everything worked together as a huge ecosystem. I think these are the two difficulties that I am facing now.”

  • I don’t communicate with users directly

“As a company, we have very strong relationship with our customers, with our users. We have lots of user research sections with our customers. But personally, I don’t have much relationship with users. I just design, get insights from our user researchers. We have user researchers who basically communicate with our users. So I got insights from user researchers, but not directly from users.”

  • I am optimistic with the future of UX design

“For the last few years I think the information company becomes more and more design driven. More and more companies realized design is very important. It is not just make things beautiful but using the design thinking to think your product from users’ perspective. Now many companies start trying to use user centered design (UCD) thinking to remold their services. So I think this is the trend. In the future I think the focus on users will not change, we will be more and more getting into that specific area. But technology is ever changing, so you never know what will be the next. So people who working in this field should be very sensitive to the latest technology and think how their work will be changed according to those technology evolutions.”

Reflection after Interview

“Empathy in design is simply taking the time to carry out user research, absorbing it into your thinking to guide your decision-making processes.” Empathetic Design

blog-images-2From the interview I learned that the UX designer doesn’t communicate with users directly, but learn users from user researcher. The UX designer observes usability test when a user researcher conducts it. However, it is the user researcher lead the test, design tasks, and ask questions. I do think UX designer can learn users from the test by watching it. But I think the UX designer should be the one who conduct usability test because he design the product. All in all, I think UX designer should communicate with users directly but not learn users from user researcher.

Design Critique: myPratt


myPratt is a website to provide various information for students in Pratt Institute. I found it is hard to find what I really want when the first time I used myPratt. This is not only because too much information in this website, but also some unclear interface design. This critique focuses on the issues on Dashboard of myPratt and the correspondent recommendation by using Norman’s principle.

Problem #1: Lack of affordance, signifier, and feedback for a dropdown menu


As the pictures above shows, this is an issue including lack of affordance, signifier, and feedback. With the left picture, I started thinking whether Pratt Networks can be clickable. So I tried to hover it to see if there is any feedback to inform me it is clickable. However, there’s no feedback when I hovered it as the picture in the middle shows. But I still wanted to try, so I clicked it. Then it turned out it’s a clickable dropdown menu. This dropdown menu has no affordance at first glance and there is no signifier for the dropdown menu. What’s more there is no feedback when users hover it to tell them it is clickable.


Redesign #1: Add a down arrow to indicate the dropdown menu here.

The picture above shows the redesign of this dropdown menu. I add a down arrow as a signifier to enhance its affordance, and users will know it is clickable at the first glance. After users click the arrow, the dropdown menu will give feedback immediately.

Problem #2: One page with two left navigations.

4As the picture shows in the left, this is an example of mapping problem. In this page we can see that this page has two left navigations. That makes me think there are two navigations to the same page. After I tried different navigations on the upper left, I found the navigations in the upper left belongs to myPratt in the lower left, which means myPratt is a higher level navigation. Then the question is why higher level navigation has been put in the lower place.


Redesign #2: Relocate the higher level navigation to the dropdown menu.

4The image in the right is the redesign of this page to revise the one page has two navigation issue. We can see from this picture that there is only one navigation correspond with this page and this page is all about myPratt, the navigation in this page are all belongs to myPratt. If you want to access to other sites which belongs to Pratt Network, you should go to the “Logged into” dropdown menu.


Problem #3: A misunderstanding sign


This is a conceptual model issue. In the picture above, when I saw this sign inner the red rectangle I thought it was a download sign because it has a down arrow in the document. I try to hover the sign it gave me a feedback said that “add to do to your calendar”. It has good feedback but it is a misunderstanding conceptual model.


Redesign #3: change download icon to calendar icon

The picture above shows the redesign of this “add to do to your calendar” sign. I simply change the download sign to a calendar sign to inform users that click this you will add the event to your calendar.

Problem #4: Lack of affordance and signifier

8As the picture in the left showed, a header bar “My Messages” indicates there should be some messages. I cannot find messages listed below. So I think it must be a link to take me to another page. But black “My Messages” means not clickable. Then I click the picture in the left and nothing happen. So I got confused here. I guessed there must be no message.

Redesign# 4: Add signifier to indicate no messages

9As the picture in the right showed, I add “No Messages on file” to let users know that there is no message. When there are messages, messages will show below. When there is no message, “No Messages on file” so that users don’t wonder why there is no messages here and then try to find link.