User experience, or UX, is a popular term in the technology and design industries today. Despite this, many are unsure what UX means or how to use the term correctly.
In this article, we will take an in-depth look into UX and answer the following questions:
- What is UX?
- What is UX design?
- Why should you care about UX?
- What does a UX designer do?
First, what is UX?
We’ll start by defining UX, which stands for “user experience.” When we say “user experience,” we’re referring to how people interact with a product. For example, when we want to turn on a light in our room, we interact with a light switch. The design of the switch—including the color, material, and physical appearance—may impact how we feel about the interaction.
Similarly, in the digital design world, UX refers to everything that affects a user’s interaction with a digital product. When people use a product, they usually evaluate their experiences according to the following criteria:
- Value. Does this product give me value?
- Function. Does this product work?
- Usability. Is it easy to use?
- General impression. Is it pleasant to use?
The origins & goals of UX
Don Norman, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, coined the term “user experience” in the 1990s. According to Norman, “User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
In the following video, Norman shares his thoughts on the origin of the term UX and how we should and shouldn’t use the term.
Other essential things that you need to know about UX include:
- User experience is about what users both think and feel. Humans are both rational and emotional; both sides play a significant role in how users think about a product.
- User experience also depends on the context in which the product is used. To design a great product, you need a good understanding of this context. It’s also essential to understand the role that a product plays in users’ lives.
- A user’s experience with your product may change over time. When people start using a new product, they may have mixed feelings about it. However, as they become more familiar with it, they might easily change their minds.
We’ll dive into these three points further in the next few sections.
What is UX design?
UX is almost always followed by the word “design.” By the nature of the term, people who work in this field are “UX designers.”
Does this mean that UX designers are people who design user experiences? The answer is no. You cannot design user experience, because it refers to a user’s impression of the product. But you can create conditions that are more likely to lead to a positive impression. So, you could say that UX designers are people who design for UX.
In simpler terms, UX design is the process of creating products (digital or physical) that are practical and usable. Peter Morville’s UX honeycomb breaks down the ideal characteristics even further:
- Usable: A product needs to be simple, easy to use, and familiar.
- Useful: A product must fill a need. If the product isn’t filling a perceived gap in the users’ lives, then there is no real reason for them to use it.
- Desirable: The visual aesthetics of the product need to be attractive and evoke positive emotions.
- Findable: If the user has a problem with a product, they should be able to quickly find a solution.
- Accessible: The product or service needs to be accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities.
- Credible: The company and its products need to be trustworthy.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than just those six characteristics. Here are five things to remember when discussing and defining UX design:
1. UX design is more than good usability
The usability of a product’s design helps us understand whether users can complete tasks effectively and efficiently. It’s impossible to have good UX without good usability. However, usability is just one attribute of good UX. Usability helps us create well-functioning products, but the fact that a product is easy to use doesn’t guarantee that people will use it.
2. UX design is not the same as UI design
UX design is often mistakenly referred to as UI (user interface) design. That’s because many people associate the word “design” with visuals. Even though user interface is an important part of the user experience, it’s just the surface layer of a product.
UX designers think beyond the surface layer as they design the function behind the visuals, bridging the gap between how something looks and how it works. The following visualization from marketing agency SCORCH shows how UX encompasses many different aspects of product design, including UI design:
3. UX design is about people
German industrial designer Dieter Rams once said: “You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people.”
Simply put, UX requires a deep understanding of the user: their needs, wants, behaviors, and the context in which they will use a product. The ability to empathize and understand the needs of users is critical for UX designers.
4. UX design is an ongoing process
The UX design of a product will also evolve as you receive new feedback from users. And as product and industry requirements change, you may need to refresh your design to satisfy new needs. One notable example is the competition between Nokia and Apple in the mobile device marketplace. Nokia was the leader for a long time, but when the first iPhone came out, user expectations about mobile interactions changed. Nokia wasn’t able to satisfy the new needs, and Apple quickly took over the lead.
5. UX design should account for business needs
It’s no use having a product that people love if it doesn’t also help achieve a business goal. That’s why product creators must consider both the goals of users and the goals of the business. It’s important to find a balance between these two sides to create useful and practical solutions.
Let me give you an example: suppose a user is looking for a home security camera. The user’s goal might be to find and purchase the best device available on the market, but within their limited budget. The goal of the business is to—you guessed it—make money and sell the product. To do this, the product team might reduce the number of features to make their camera more budget-friendly, while still keeping in mind the minimum technical requirements.
Why should you care about UX?
With all of this in mind, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But ignoring it—or taking shortcuts—is never a good idea. Your product’s user experience plays a critical role in attracting and retaining your customer base. If users don’t enjoy using your product, it can lead to a poor reputation and revenue loss as your customers turn to your competitors.
That’s why the business case for UX is a matter of survival. Companies that invest in UX design have a better chance of succeeding. On average, every dollar invested in UX brings $100 in return.
The role of the UX designer
Interested in getting into UX design? As the name implies, a UX designer is a person that designs for the user experience—how a product looks and works for end-users. But how is this different from other designers on the team? What does a UX designer do, exactly?
There is no single right answer to this question because the role of a UX designer is complex and multifaceted. The responsibilities of an individual UX designer may vary in different companies. However, it’s possible to define a few areas of interest that UX designers typically work in—user research, information architecture, front-end design, interaction design, information design, visual design, and usability testing.
When UX designers create a new product, they typically follow a user-centered design process, taking care to evaluate each decision. Does this feature make sense to our users? Does it bring value to them? Designers will attempt to answer these questions at every step of the design process.
At the early stages of this process, UX designers invest time in user research, including defining the target audience (who will use the product) and learning about the goals and needs of the audience. After that, UX designers then try to satisfy those needs by defining the user flow, creating the design language, wireframing, prototyping, user testing, and design documentation.
The result? A usable, delightful product that users understand and enjoy.
Good UX is essential to the success of your product and your business, and UX designers are an integral part of the process. By putting your customers’ needs at the core of your design, learning about their expectations, and then exceeding those expectations, you’ll end up with loyal customers that sing your praises and spread the word about your product.