Ask anyone who’s recently browsed design job listings, and they’ll tell you that the demand for UX designers is high. More importantly, the demands made of those designers are constantly shifting in light of new and improved technologies, and in response to changing user needs.
In this article we’re going to explore what UX design is, and how it’s different from user interface (UI) and visual design. To help those deciding whether to embark on the journey of becoming a UX designer, we’ll demystify core UX terminology, introduce some key tools, and point to further reading and resources so you can continue your learning.
1. What is UX Design – and is it for you?
Although the term “user experience” (UX) is quite new, designing user experience is not. For as long as there have been people, there have been products; for as long as there have been products, there have been users; and for as long as there have been users, there has been user experience. In this sense, all design is user experience design. (Ever used a pencil? Pretty good UX.)
But what UX usually refers to in today’s market is digital user experience. That’s to say, how people interact with and feel about digital products — including websites, mobile apps, and electronic devices.
Jennifer Aldrich from Invision has given the following definition of UX design:
“UX design is about having complete understanding of the user. UX designers will conduct intensive user research, craft user personas and conduct performance testing and usability testing to see which designs are most effective at getting a user to their end goal in the most delightful way possible.”
Don Norman, who coined the term “user experience design”, established a UX Architects’ office while he worked at Apple in the 1990s. He explains:
“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.”
Norman also expresses some reservations about more recent usage of the term, saying that he believes it is again becoming too narrow — focusing on individual websites or apps rather than the whole context in which that particular experience happens.
To understand what he means, consider how Apple have in recent years crafted a user experience that extends far beyond their personal computers. They have harmonised UX across not only their product range, but also their OS, accessories, apps, advertising, website, physical and online stores, and even typography. All of these aspects of the Apple brand enrich any single user interaction with a device or app.
With this in mind, it’s instructive to think of true UX design as taking in as deep and holistic an understanding of the user’s goals as possible.