Seriously… what the hell is this UX stuff?

User Experience probably isn’t what you think. Lets clear up some misconceptions.

Having been a developer for many years, I wanted to evolve into something more.There was a disconnect between what I was developing, the client’s requests and then the users actual feedback — which would often go ignored. Thus began my process of following the user-centric principals which I have been doing now for over a decade. For years I referred to myself as a data-driven designer/developer. I have many disciplines that I had cultivated over the years to make sure my clients websites, products and services exceeded their expectation in addition to making sure that the consumers experience went beyond just creating a great design.

Over the years, the User Experience profession has been growing its community exponentially. However, as ecstatic as I am about how ‘popular’ this area of expertise is now becoming, the problem is that many people still don’t know exactly what it is we do. With the increase in popularity over the years, it has quantifiably exploded the misconceptions about our industry amongst the population.

The plus side to this growth is that many individuals and companies now more than ever genuinely recognize the value and importance that proper UX planning has on products. Although the popularity has caused the influx for UX services, companies are attempting to ‘plug in’ UX methodologies without actually understanding why and how it should impact their product.

Having said that, lets dig deeper.

What exactly is User Experience?

User Experience (UX) is an adjective which describes an individuals subjective perception and response as a result of interacting with a product, software or type of system. Whereas User Experience Design (UXD) is the creation of architecture and interaction models that affect all aspects of the users interaction with the product. How it’s perceived, learned and used. Most people tend to confuse the two, and or think that a person who is in the UX field does UXD, however this isn’t always the case.

The principal behind ‘user experience’ was introduced by Dr. Donald Norman and Jakob Nielsen, whom championed the ideology that design decisions should be based on the needs and wants of the user.

Segments of the UX profession encompasses many different disciplines. It’s not just about creating beautiful wireframes, nor just Interface Design. Most professionals in UX are much more scientists studying the human psyche in relation to our products than designers or developers.

It is often stated that UX isn’t just a one-size fits all approach, which is indeed correct; however many people still fail to realize there is a larger depth to the field. Below are other positions held within the UX community:

• Researcher / Human Factors Engineer: Researching and providing a deep understanding and insight to user behavior, their needs and motivations to then apply in designs of products and systems.

• Usability Analysts / Manager: Applying user research and usability principals of detailed examinations on the ease of use and learnability of the product and/or system.

• Information Architects: Building expressive models or concepts of complex systems and information which is then organized and presented to others.

• User Interface / Interaction Designers: 

Focusing up the user data and research, they design interaction concepts that should effortless and seamlessly accomplish the users required or suggested goal.

• Visual / Data-Driven Designers: 

Relying on a fervent knowledge of graphic style guidelines, and design systems they turn their wireframes/prototypes into visual designs that evoke specific emotions and flow patterns.

• User-Centered / UX Specialist: 

Often a mashup of many of the aforementioned positions in addition to possibly having some programing knowledge; they continuously apply feedback, research and testing to their products and services.

What UX is not

Now that we know that there isn’t just one position for a ‘UX role’, hopefully you can now see that UX isn’t just about design. One of the biggest misconceptions is that UX is part of the design process. It is not.

The visual design component is an integral part of your product and service, however, with regards to proper UX management — it’s discounting so many other steps. In a brief summary, there’s the users needs, product/service objectives, actual functionality specs, requirements, organization of information (IA), wire-framing interaction design, information design THEN the visual and interface design process.

It’s not just a layer or check-box that you apply to your system while building your product or service. Upon having a genuine understanding, UXD is really about being integrated throughout the entire process — not something to be tacked on at the end.

Another misconception is that ‘usability’ is paramount and king. True it is important and vital, however often times the amount of focus put into this one segment skews other important factors. Encompassing a good experience will cover the usefulness and usable nature, however other key areas like desirability, sustainability and social functions need to always be considered to complete the blocks for a great experience.

Why UX is invaluable

Everyone will always have a reaction and response to how they perceive your website, application, product or service. If they have a great experience, they’re more willing to forgive some mistakes if there are any, and if the experience doesn’t captivate their attention and emotions they are likely to bail.

Embracing the UX methodology is key to making sure your product connects consumers expectations in addition to meeting your business goals. This ensures that happy users become happy customers and happy customers become loyal customers. By deepening the users engagement it helps keep competition at bay and users interested in your product/service at a cognitive and sub-conscience level.

Every business, large or small should be making a fervent decision to make UX an important part of their process. A successful user experience strategy aligns your business goals to your target audience, and is monitored not by vanity metrics, but actual data that will produce measurable results.

An example of of fully executing a great UX strategy would have a result of less confused users. Having less users not knowing what, where or how to do something with your product or service means less support calls and emails. This easily translates into either having less people fill those seats, or freeing up time for other personal to become more productive and actually work on making the product even better to increase sales! Increase productivity, reduce costs and increasing sales; all by allowing the user to make intuitive decisions while using you product.

Check out (at-least the first 2:30mins) of this great video which explains some of the return on investments that companies receive by interconnecting UX principals into their products with Dr. Susan Weinschenk:


Wrap up

I hope this helps clear the air. I’m sure there are a plethora of areas I’ve over simplified, and some I’ve just flat missed. This isn’t an exhaustive list nor explanation — just my view on the industry and thoughts to help others have a better understanding.

3 thoughts on “Seriously… what the hell is this UX stuff?

  • “User Experience” is NOT an adjective; if I have a poor User Experience on some website, I cannot shake my “User Experience fist” at the screen any better than I can my “angrily clenched fist”. User Experience is “an idea or concept” which falls under the category of “person, place, or (intangible) thing” — the definition of a noun.

    Sorry to nitpick, it’s just that I sourly googled “what the hell is ux?” and wasn’t expecting to be grammatically assaulted.

    • Although I can see your argument, I think it’s a bit more to it than that. Your ‘User Experience’ isn’t so much about a physical reaction — ie. shacking your fist. Instead it’s more about the emotions. Words like, ‘angry’, ‘defeated’, ’embarrassed’, ‘happy’, etc which are adjectives is what the term ‘User Experience’ encompasses. I may be wrong and now that you brought up your point, I’m curious to get more feedback on it.

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