UX Design Defined

User Experience Design (UXD, UED), Interaction Design (IxD), User Interface (UI) Design and other web/application design professionals use the term User Experience Design to refer to the judicious application of certain user-centered design practices, a highly contextual design mentality, and use of certain methods and techniques that are applied through process management to produce cohesive, predictable, and desirable effects in a specific person, or persona (archetype comprised of target audience habits and characteristics). All so that the affects produced meet the user’s own goals and measures of success and enjoyment, as well as the objectives of the providing organization.

This is not the only definition of User Experience Design. The term was coined by Don Norman while he was Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple. In his own words: “I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose it’s meaning… user experience, human centered design, usability; all those things, even affordances. They just sort of entered the vocabulary and no longer have any special meaning. People use them often without having any idea why, what the word means, its origin, history, or what it’s about.” 1

Given the persistent level of confusion about the meaning of User Experience Design, defining it by what it is not can be useful. It is not a trendy new name for, or in any way synonymous with

  • Web design
  • User-centered design
  • Graphic design
  • Human factors engineering
  • User interface (UI) design
  • Information architecture (IA)
  • Interaction design (IxD)
  • Usability testing
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Marketing

The most common or default interpretation of User Experience, of anything that we expect another will experience while using an interactive system, also falls far short of usefulness. A definition of it that does not encapsulate within it specific methods, techniques, and success metrics, is not useful to designers, producers, or managers. A user-centered mentality is necessary for the success of any interactive system, so perhaps the term is better used poorly than not at all. Yet, as with any definition, the more precise and widely agreed, the greater power and utility it provides us.

No discussion of User Experience or User Experience Design would be complete without acknowledging the profound and practical insights of Jessie James Garrett. In his easily absorbed diagram we can see how the elements of user experience relate to both “web as software interface” (interactive utility) and “web as hypertext system” (content delivery) site types. Shortly after Garrett’s diagram was published The Elements of User Experience arrived in book form, where his model of “planes” was expanded to include those of surface, skeleton, structure, scope and strategy, across a continuum of design effort. This is an extremely useful model which emphasizes the relationship between elements as a project takes shape. I strongly recommend Garrett’s landmark book to anyone involved in web design, in any capacity.

Another Approach: A User’s Eye View of User Experience Design

As a web/software designer, my concept of User Experience Design was arrived at in 1999, well before discovering that of Norman or Garrett. It is borrowed from the discipline of linguistics: User Experience Design as a synthetic, compound language, or pidgin, resulting from the integration and synthesis of multiple discreet vocabularies, which are apprehended by a user simultaneously as one.

To show you what I mean allow me to build on Garrett’s diagram, and shift the perspective, so we can see how by looking at it from a users point of view, instead of as a development process, the elements of user experience occur singularly in our mind’s eye:

User Experience Design Diagram

The result of comprehensive User Experience Design is a controlled design vocabulary that can then be applied to a number of related communication media for different purposes so that their entirety results in the intended overall experience of an individual, or group. Ideally, this synthesis results in a cohesive Gestalt pattern registered both consciously and sub-consciously by the user, so that the whole expresses, and equals, more than a collection of parts.

UX Design Is Contextual Design

Garrett’s diagram, being process-oriented, appropriately includes User Needs and Site Objectives. “Site objectives” are easily correlated to strategic business objectives. But like user’s needs, strategy is implicit. In terms of process, these are contextual elements. Other contextual design elements such as technology and resource availability provide limits and constraints, which can lend a work focus and clarity, thus power. Design context discovery is one of the designer’s main challenges: it is the key to successful User Experience Design. The outcome of each project should be as unique as its context. The mix and proportion of contextual elements will vary widely from one project to the next. However, there are some contextual elements which most interactive media share in common:

Too, we can consider the cultural contexts of User Experience Design. That is, the cultural assumptions, beliefs, memes, and shared expectations that color our personal experience while using an interactive system. Which of course are many and varied. Yet the expectations and assumptions people bring with them are not to be ignored if we seek success, any more than we can ignore other human factors.

Organizations of all kinds and sizes can foster specific cultural habits. And so the role of Ethnographer is borrowed from anthropology in service of Interaction and User Experience Design. The Ethnographer contributes “contextual inquiry;” observing the person using the system when, how, and where they normally do, rather than in a controlled environment such as for Usability Testing.

Though User Experience Design is closely allied with Usability Testing and other User-Centered Design methods, which focus on human performance enhancement, one of its distinguishing aspects is inclusion of emotional aspects of human experience. E.g. happiness as a worthy pursuit in itself.

User Experience Design Process

One of the main tenets of User Experience Design is simply incorporating user feedback in to the design evolution process. That is, co-evolving the system with its user’s. If the design process is not managed for timely collection, experienced interpretation, and judicious application of user input in to the system’s design revision cycles, then it is not a User Experience Design process. In my view this is the most difficult aspect of User Experience Design. It cannot be achieved without consistent management support. And it is why UX Management, and management by any name, is tightly coupled with UX Design.

UX in Organizations

Evangelizing subjective individual experience and co-evolutionary (life) processes in organizations that are still anchored in industrial age models of hierarchy and achievement is no small feat. Commercial enterprises are organized for self-reinforcement. But a shift is occurring. Some organizations, especially those who produce web-based software primarily, accept the idea of equal, or nearly equal, provider-user and external-internal interchange and symbiosis. Networks are nothing if not reciprocal. Businesses that recognize themselves as a network node often have a flatter organizational structure, and are more informal in style in order to support collaboration. What’s more, the ‘network-ification’ of work may relate to a growing awareness of the merits of qualitative metrics of success. Regardless, only by utilizing such metrics can we ensure a desirable user experience, as well as a functional and efficient one. Or, as one respected supervisor once put it, “the better part of design is empathy.”

User Experience, Culture, and Human Experience

Of course we don’t work all the time. So as use of interactive digital/information networks becomes more frequent, socially acceptable, and ubiquitous, our social interaction models reflect increased network consciousness too, resulting in the recent social networking revolution (a.k.a. “web 2.0”). What’s more, though we use and design interactive networks in a cultural environment, the cultural environment, itself an interactive network, influences us in return. We and our environment continue to co-evolve, as ever. The difference now is in our increased ability to define our environment. In my view this expands the scope of User Experience Design to that of Human Experience in a potentially useful way.

Human Experience and UX

Continued on UX Defined 2 »

1. http://www.adaptivepath.com/ideas/essays/archives/000862.php

15 Comments on UX Design Defined

  1. We develop a lot of e-commerce sites and impliment UX to ensure sales. Far too often we find businesses have an assumption that just because they have a shopping cart people will buy. Not the case, one needs to have their design goverend for UX. It’s proven through conversions that UX design will always guide a user which initiates sales.

    Too often I try to explain this to our clients and I quickly see them glaze over. That said though, I will be sharing this on our blog and sending people to this in the future. Good write up.


  2. Why not follow the advice of your Einstein quote and keep your definition simple?

    A UX person makes a site easy to use and beneficial to users.

    That’s not an oversimplification, is it?

  3. While I agree that simplifying it makes it easier for clients to digest – but I think that description is a bit too simplistic. In my mind its all centered around persuasion architecture, or the meeting of user and owner objectives to create positive outcomes for both parties.

  4. Hello Mr. Jason Bard;
    I’m working in IT organizationو We can use the ux in produced web sites. please help me obout disign ux workflow for create websits. I’ve extracted below item for Web as software interface (task-oriented):
    1-Site Objectives: business, creative, or other
    internally derived goals for the site.
    2- User Needs: externally derived goals
    for the site; identified through user research,
    ethno/techno/psychographics, etc.
    3- Functional Specifications: “feature set”:
    detailed descriptions of functionality the site
    must include in order to meet user needs.
    4- Interaction Design: development of
    application flows to facilitate user tasks,
    defining how the user interacts with
    site functionality.
    5- Information Design: in the Tuftean sense:
    designing the presentation of information
    to facilitate understanding.
    6- Interface Design: as in traditional HCI:
    design of interface elements to facilitate
    user interaction with functionality.
    7- Visual Design: graphic treatment of interface
    elements (the “look” in “look-and-feel”)

    Do you approve them?

  5. Dean, I think that is an oversimplification. I work with several designers and developers who make sites “easy to use and beneficial to users”. Whilst this is part of what makes them great designers and developers, it does not make them UX designers.

    UX designers employ a variety of research methodologies to find out who the users are, what they want and how they behave. They then combine this information with their understanding of the business or organisation’s requirements and work with designers and developers to create a website that meets the requirements of both parties.

  6. Very nice and informative! UX is a rage now a days as each and every services that we have today is centered around the customer. I found some points really interesting while going through your brief post, which if inhabited in real can bear fruitful results. The first one was about embedding user feedback in your design, which ensures it is in accordance to the client’s expectation. And the second one was about consistent management support which is very important for successful implementation of UX design. Moreover, I would really appreciate if you could highlight important points of difference between User interface (UI) and User Experience (UX).

  7. I’ve been researching this field as part of a university assignment for Industrial Design, and have had trouble defining the term “Experience Design”, and also with Interaction Design.

    What I would like to know is why the definition for these terms is limited to the digital realm when you interact with countless objects and concepts in everyday life-and extract experiences from them?

  8. Dean, you need to understand, a simple definition is not beneficial to those who want to make money on writing large books, keep seminars, write articles, handout certifications, etc – need to complicate it up a bit transforming it to a complicated science and make them self and their profession a bit more important.

  9. oversimplifying is great when its correct. I do not mean to sound abrasive or rude however, tha tis not what the article implicates. I will try my best to simplify and maybe your understand my view of how im seeing it: there are 3 components to one program…
    User Experience Design (UXD, UED), Interaction Design (IxD), User Interface (UI)
    Let U= User D=Design :

    U + I = UX UX = D
    UX = UI by the datum collected from the beginning through the buildup.

    Hopefully creating the targeted conclusion of objective. (its fluid and constantly changing so the strict definition can not be pin pointed as stated in the beginning of the briefing)

  10. I agree with Dean.

    The fly in the ointment with this concept, though it does makes sense, is the labor costs this system implies for the client. Effectively, this system prices itself out of the market for the far greatest percentage of the market; unless of course, the practitioner is willing to work for a trivial rate.

    I perceive, and I’ve been at web dev for over twenty years, and have historically had some ‘nicely billed’ projects, that there is an accounting function in any client organization that hovers in the background; and though one can gain the first-time-around consent to more forward with the project, it is only a matter of time before the forces of competition are going to come into play and today’s current roll-out technologies will undermine this methodology.

    Honestly, most of the functionality which has been described in this article is already assigned to various aspects of marketing, and managed through project management within most potential market customers of the size needed to be able to fund the amount of work suggested here. (As an example, let’s use clothing designers: Millions of dollars of revenue are acquired every year on gorgeous (albeit more practical) women’s formal dress. For the high-end fashion designers, they get the press, but the volume of what they actually sell, pales in comparison. And there designs are constantly knocked-off in concept. I could be wrong, but I perceive the use of this methodology is similar. (And remember, if you are spending most of your time “selling the idea” of using UX, you have less time to actually churn it out. The business staffing to make it work exacerbates cashflow perspective of the business model comparatively.

    Just my own personal opinions.

  11. A compelling user interface is always a simple one. Web sites should not look like the cockpit of a 747 but more like a proven UI for hundreds of years the newspaper white page black ink and the information right in front of you. That is the model Google uses and it works. Newspapers are dying but for hundreds of years they worked. If it is good enough for Google it is good enough for me. The 747 cockpit or a modern jet fighter has a highly specialized UI and most of the information it presents is ignored most of the time, and most people will never sit in this information space. Fancy graphics, sliders, draggers, pictures and all that bullshit actually detract from the message. Use what is proven to work. Apple will one day be back to $20 a share with all their fancy bullshit because they make products no one really needs. Google like a newspaper UI will continue on. I have no use for Facebook or Twitter but they have been successful with really simple UI’s.

  12. Not trying to be an ass at all, because your content and writing is spot on. I think you should consider give your site a bit of a UX redesign. I chose to present and properly attribute your article on my company’s intranet rather than just linking it because I didn’t want people to skip the second page due to it’s small size in relation to the rest of the links and content around it.

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