As is found on Wikipedia:

  • User experience design (UXD or UED) is the process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product.

Clear, right? Well you might note immediately that despite what I implied in the introduction, the definition has no reference to tech, no mention of digital, and is vague at best. But like all professions, it’s impossible to distill the process from just a few words.

Some confusion in the definition of the term itself is due to its youth. Don Norman, a cognitive scientist and co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group Design Consultancy, is credited with inventing the term in the late 1990’s declaring that,’user experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.’

This implies that regardless of its medium, UX design encompasses any and all interactions between a potential or active customer and a company. As a scientific process, UX design could be applied to anything – street lamps, cars, Ikea shelving and so on.

However! Despite being a scientific term, its use since inception has been almost entirely within digital fields; one arguable reason for this being that the industry started blowing up around the time of the term’s invention. Another arguable reason being that it was just a fancy way of rewording a practice that has already existed for hundreds of years known as ‘market research’; and boy do designers love fancy.

But don’t let me confuse you, user experience design is not a market research job.

Though it does utilize many of the same techniques to achieve a complex end goal: The structure, analysis, and optimization of a customer’s experience with a company and its products.

If you’ve never seen user experience work in practice, never even used the term at work, it’s still difficult to imagine what user experience designers actually do. At CareerFoundry we’ve developed a UX course that focuses on the process which I will use to illustrate the profession.

Here is a cliff notes example of a UX designer’s responsibilities as laid out by our course. It is targeted at development of digital products, but the theory and process can be applied to anything:

Strategy and content:

  • Competitor analysis
  • Customer analysis
  • Product structure/strategy
  • Content development

Wireframing and prototyping:

  • Wireframing
  • Prototyping
  • Testing/iteration
  • Development planning

Execution and analytics:

  • Coordination with UI designer(s)
  • Coordination with developer(s)
  • Tracking goals and integration
  • Analysis and iteration

So part marketer, part designer, part project manager; the UX role is complex, challenging and multi-faceted. You see that iteration of the product, as connected to analysis or testing is indeed mentioned twice, but in reality you would put it in between every other item on the list. Ultimately the aim is to connect business goals to user’s needs through a process of testing and refinement to that which satisfies both sides of the relationship.

So in conclusion:

  • User experience design is the process of development and improvement of quality interaction between a user and all facets of a company.
  • User experience design is responsible for being hands on with the process of research, testing, development, content, and prototyping to test for quality results.
  • User experience design is in theory a non-digital (cognitive science) practice, but used and defined predominantly by digital industries.

The lesson to be learned here, is that if you’re interested in sociology, in cognitive science, in people and in great products, user experience is a good place to be; but if you understand those principles, and are more visually inclined, you might look at its brother-in-arms: UI design.




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