I have no idea what I’m doing. Or do I?

By Elina Kapanen


“What do you do?”

“I’m a designer. Mostly doing user experience design.”

“Oh, interesting. What does it mean?”

And here it goes…

The things you do daily go through your head and then you try to simplify them and put it in one short grandmother-proof sentence (no offense grandmoms!). You don’t want to simplify it to the extent that the core of it fades away, yet you don’t want to sound too abstract either. You don’t want to use any buzzwords or sound too fancy like you’re doing something out of this world. You don’t want to keep them occupied with your definition for too long or sound like giving a lecture.

And then you’re stuck.

Yet, quite a lot of things are in your hands here:

  • how UX designers and UX design will be perceived in companies
  • people’s awareness of the work that goes into creating a product for them
  • an opportunity to spark another’s person’s interest towards this area

Since UX design is not as well-known as to a profession like software engineering, we tend to get those questions asked more often at this point in time. This area is still quite young in the digital world and how we communicate UX design to others has a lot of impact. I find this very exciting.

Overly-simplified

I know a lot of UX designers still say “I design websites and apps.” or “I design interfaces that would be easy to use.”. There’s nothing wrong with that but I feel like it’s focused on one end of the outcome only, not the exciting “invisible” work that goes into it.

Simplifying what UX design is too much, you end up with an uninformed public. And these people might be the ones hiring you and asking you to “put some UX on it” (#uxdrinkinggame) or do some UX design, clearly meaning something else. For example solely designing an app or improving usability of a website. You can of course break this curse then but maybe it’s better to avoid it in the first place.

Too abstract

“Oh, well… I design a product.”

I admit it, I’ve been there many times.

Completely abstract. First of all people immediately have an association with physical products like… chairs or shoes. Being an user experience designer doesn’t mean that you’re only designing something digital — it can totally be a chair. But most often — at least at the moment — it is a digital product.

The second confusion is the word “design” here — what do you mean exactly by “designing”? Are you making it pretty? You need to have a lot of time afterwards for the QA round if a person is actually interested in hearing more. It’s a good way to promote the product you’re working on though.

Too fancy

“I design products for the best experience for it’s users. I research users, evaluate, prototype, test, iterate on design.”

“Umm, okay. Cool.” *no idea what you just talked about*

All those words sound like you’re doing some rocket science or trying a bit too hard to impress. This tone can also make it sound like you have no idea what you’re doing.


How I’ve become better at explaining what I do…

From conversations with fellow designers and from my own experience, I’ve discovered these four ways helpful when talking about UX design.

Just use an example

People love stories. And this is the perfect moment for you to be a storyteller.

Ask the person to think about a product they really like or dislike. From there you can talk what the designer’s process behind that might be — what kind of questions they may have asked or left unasked, which things they may have had to consider. It’s a cool challenge for yourself too.

Bring parallels with other areas

UX designers use similar tools and processes in their work that those in many other areas also use. You can ask the person about their area and find parallels with your work to illustrate it better. I recently had a conversation with a biologist and we found a lot in common — for example the process of research and discovering something new. There’s always something!

Talk about the value + process

This is my “quick version”. Making it short is a bit tricky for me, since I always try to make sure I express the following:

  • It’s more about learning than knowing
  • It’s about building the things that provide value to people in specific contexts
  • It’s about ease of use and engagement
  • It’s about teamwork

All things considered, I like to use something like this:

My goal is to design and improve a product so that it provides value to it’s users on every touch point, meets business goals and is effortless and engaging to use. I’m constantly learning about the users of the product, how and in which context they use it and how they feel about it. This knowledge and close collaboration with the team and stakeholders helps me to do that.

Just focus on the process

You can also talk just about the process since it’s more tangible to understand. In addition, it shows that this area is more than just about the visuals.

This of course depends on your specialization in the field (I tend to be quite a generalist here), but I would go for something like this:

I listen and observe people who use a product to understand their behaviors while using it, how they feel about it and the context-of-use. Based on these learnings I design and test solutions that would address their needs and problems. When designing I also consider the constraints of technology and business. Working closely with developers, product managers and stakeholders helps me to do that.

Although I do the visual design too, I usually don’t mention that. Despite the fact that I really love doing it — I feel like it’s something that doesn’t necessarily bring much new curiosity or understanding to the area. I know I’m eventually a Product Designer but communicating that people’s experience is important to us and that there is such thing in digital world is more important to me at the moment.


This is where I am with my answer at the moment. Although I will always be polishing it.

Let me know your thoughts! How do you answer this question?

Thank you for reading! :)
Appreciating the ❤s.


Big thanks to Ian Karell for proofreading!