What is User Experience Design (UX)?

This is a hot topic and widely discussed online with diverse variety of opinions and so we thought it about time we shared how we explain ‘what is user experience’. Everyone has an idea of what they think User Experience (UX) really is. UX is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, everyone claims to be able to do it and every client wants it. So what does it really mean, and how do we go about practicing it successfully? What follows are our own opinions, which I imagine differ amongst other groups.

Firstly it’s important to identify what UX is not. It is not User Interface design, it is not Information Architecture, it is not Content Strategy, it is not Planning or Product Management. These are all practices. Single disciplines around which an individual may decide to specialise their career – mere labels used to pigeon-hole people into focused carriers and salary brackets.

Many hats

IA for example is a practice of making information more findable. Using structured hierarchy to categorise and label content, make it categorisable and findable in search and making a site hang together via the use of a considered navigation structure. It often involves research to analyze data about a service or product to quantify and justify decisions that are made in this reorganisation of content.

The same kind of description could be given to all the other disciplines that are listed above and more.

How UX differs is it is not a discipline. Put simply it is the coming together of many disciplines to solve a common problem, forming the best possible experience for your customers (note some prefer to refer to UX as CX). Much like branding isn’t the same as corporate identity design, it is the combination of many applications and customer interactions. UX often gets confused for user-centred design; design that is done with consideration for the user in mind, either by making decisions based on evidence, research and testing your designs before implementing. UX is far less cohesive, to break UX down literally it is little more than an emotional response experienced by a user. Andy Fitzgerald has written at length about the exact definitions very successfully on UXBooth.

Increasingly web designers are involved with many aspects of the experience but does that make them UX designers because they also work on website architecture? No one individual can be considered responsible or guardian of the customer experience. Every interaction pre and post sale, online and offline all inform the complete experience. UX design teams start right from the beginning of the customer journey. After identifying the users path into an experience the role is then to make their journey as frictionless as possible as they continue through them. It’s a balancing act, where friction is inevitable it’s eased with pleasure through design, copy and ultimately satisfaction. Be that making a purchase or sign-up online, getting into & starting a car, opening a fridge, or heating food in a microwave. They’re all user experiences that require design to aid the quality of the final experience.

ux-diagram

Today there is a huge expectation for digital products to just work, to do what the label says they’ll do, to be where you expect them to be and behave in a way that’s appropriate for the brand you’re engaged with. In our experience this takes a bunch of people to make that happen. Brand guardians, good copy writers, imaginative content creators, product developers, UI designers, information architects, technical developers. These all inform the design of the experience. This isn’t to say you need a huge team. Some will be able to wear a number of these hats but very few (if any) will wear all.

The art is in pulling all this together into a cohesive experience. Small tight teams that have the authority to turn ideas around are by far the most successful in this iterative age. We believe UX is still in it’s infancy and look forward to what the future holds.

 

Design October 28th 2012

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