What is UX design?
Well, I think it’s important to start by saying there’s no commonly accepted definition.
User experience design is a concept that has many dimensions, and it includes a bunch of different disciplines—such as interaction design, information architecture, visual design, usability, and human-computer interaction.
But let’s try to get a clearer picture of what that really means.
The definition of UX design
According to this study from the Oxford Journal Interacting With Computers:
The goal of UX design in business is to “improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction with a product.”
In other words, UX design is the process of designing (digital or physical) products that are useful, easy to use, and delightful to interact with. It’s about enhancing the experience that people have while interacting with your product, and making sure they find value in what you’re providing.
But unfortunately, that isn’t a comprehensive explanation of UX design either. So to help you get a better understanding of what it really is, I reached out to 15 smart and talented user experience professionals and asked them:
“What is UX design?”
Said differently: “How would you describe UX design to someone who was learning about it for the first time?”
Here’s what they had to say:
1. UX design is the process used to determine what the experience will be like when a user interacts with your product
Principal at Users Know, Author of UX for Lean Startups
“If UX is the experience that a user has while interacting with your product, then UX Design is, by definition, the process by which we determine what that experience will be.
UX Design always happens. Whether it’s intentional or not, somebody makes the decisions about how the human and the product will interact. Good UX Design happens when we make these decisions in a way that understands and fulfills the needs of both our users and our business.”
2. The creative and analytical process of determining what a website, device, or piece of software is going to be
Principal at Portigal Consulting, Author of Interviewing Users
“If we look at an interactive thing like a website or a device or a piece of software, designing the user experience for that thing is the creative and analytical process of determining what it’s going to be—what it’s going to do for people, how they’ll use it, and what it looks/sounds/feels/smells/tastes like.”
3. You can’t design experiences, but you can design for them
VP of Design at CapitalOne
“As Liz Sanders set me straight on over a decade ago, there is no such thing as UX Design. An experience is a personal moment felt by people; something we don’t own as Designers. However, we can design for it.
It’s a subtle but important distinction. That simple word “for” gives Designers needed humility in their craft, and opens up the space for a more collaborative relationship with people (by the way, the term “user” is a really narrow and somewhat offensive label of how we describe humans!).
Because at the end of the day, the experience of the people we design for is what determines the success of the products, services and relationships that we create.”
4. UX design is the art and science of generating positive emotions through product interactions
Senior UX Researcher at Google, Author of Validating Product Ideas through Lean User Research
“UX design is the art and science of generating positive emotions among people who interact with products or services.”
(Note: Tomer goes into more detail in this presentation. He shares a bunch of UX infographics and defines UX as “how people feel when they use something.”)
5. It’s a process for designing systems that offer a great experience to users
Founder of Usability Geek
“User Experience Design (UXD or UED) is a design process whose sole objective is to design a system that offers a great experience to its users. Thus UXD embraces the theories of a number of disciplines such as user interface design, usability, accessibility, information architecture and Human Computer Interaction.
User Experience Design is practiced by User Experience Designers—who are particularly concerned with the interaction that occurs between users and the system they are using.
So for example a UX designer would take the principles that state how to make a product accessible, and actually embody those principles in the design process of a system so that a user that is interacting with it would find it as being accessible.”
6. UX design is a commitment to building products with the customer in mind
Director of Research at UserTesting
“UX design is a commitment to building products that are created with the customer in mind. It starts with studying who the customers are and what they need, and taking that information to provide products and services that improve the quality of people’s lives.
Design ideas are validated through real customer feedback and iterated on to ensure the final product will work well for those that will be using it.”
7. It’s an approach to design that takes the user into account
Senior User Researcher at Dropbox
“Your question is simple, the answer a little complicated, and it sometimes can be controversial.
User Experience Design is an approach to design that takes into account all the aspects of a product or service with the user. That includes not only the beauty and function: (usability and accessibility) of a product or a flow, but also things like delight, and emotion—things that are harder to engineer and achieve.
While a designer can create a toggle, a flow, or an interaction that is beautiful, unique, sexy, and functional in a flow—UXD extends into all the disciplines that come together to make the user experience as a whole great.
Yes, you have interaction designers, but you also have content strategists, information architects, user researchers, engineers, and product managers—all of whom have a shared responsibility to create an experience that is easy to use, and leaves users pleased because it is adding value to them.”
8. UX design is so much more than just designing for a screen
UX Consultant of Boagworks
“For me UX design is so much more than just designing for a screen. The user experience is impacted by decisions made across an organization from the boardroom to the way a developer codes for performance.
Take for example the new Disney Magicband. This doesn’t have a graphic user interface and yet creates an amazing experience using sensors and well implemented customer service.”
9. It’s design with an awareness of every touchpoint that makes up the overall experience with your product or service
Co-founder of Rocket Insights, Founder of Bokardo
“UX Design is simply design with an awareness of all the touchpoints that comprise the overall experience with your product/service. So it goes beyond screen and visual design to things like email correspondence, the way people answer phones, marketing messages, return policies, release notes, and everything in between.
It is critical to focus on the entire experience in the Internet Age because it is likely you will never meet many of your customers face-to-face. Eventually, though, the letters “UX” will fade away and it will be understood that all of these things are part of designing any product or service.”
10. It’s a design methodology rooted in a deep understanding of the user
Art Director at Digital Telepathy
“UX design is a design methodology rooted in a deep understanding of users with an end goal of providing solutions that align to a desired experience.
The term UX carries digital implications and is usually associated with web and mobile applications.”
11. UX design is the value you deliver at every touchpoint
Designer at UserTesting
“UX design is the value you deliver at every touchpoint.
These values—whether negative or positive—are stitched together to shape a user’s perception of the product.”
12. It’s a commitment to developing products and services with purpose, compassion, and integrity
Experience Design Coach at WhitneyHess.com
“User Experience is a commitment to developing products and services with purpose, compassion, and integrity. It is the never-ending process of seeing the world from the customers’ perspective and working to improve the quality of their lives.
It is the never-ending process of maintaining the health of the business and finding new ways to help it grow sustainably. It is the perfect balance between making money and making meaning.”
(Note: If you want to read more about Whitney’s take on user experience, check out this article.)
13. UX design is the process of designing a solution that considers all the needs of the user
Director of Marketing at Digital Telepathy
“User experience design is the process of understanding someone’s needs, mental or emotional state, and technical prowess, then designing a solution that considers that information.
UX prioritizes utility and is intended to create a positive emotional response whenever someone engages with a product.”
14. It’s the practice of meeting people’s needs before, during, and after product development
UX Consultant at Erik Levitch Consulting
“User experience is the practice of ensuring people’s needs are met before, during, and after product development. It’s about making stuff easier for people to use.”
15. UX design is about delighting users by anticipating their needs and giving them something they didn’t think to ask for
User Researcher at StubHub
“Many people state that experience cannot be designed because experiences are something people have—not something that can be designed. On one hand I completely agree.
On the other hand, UX enables us to identify what makes a good experience versus a bad one. And when done well, the designed elements of an experience become invisible and the user is delighted because we have anticipated their needs to give them something they don’t think to ask for.”
Bonus: There is no such thing as “UX Design”
Senior Director of Design at Jawbone
“There is no such thing as ‘UX Design.’ Most people, when they use that phrase, mean interaction design + information architecture. Some include research and strategy. Others include visual design and prototyping.
Its variable definition only leads to confusion, and does a disservice to those trying to understand how research, strategy, and design contributes to delivering great user experiences.”