Debunking Bad Design Memes, Part 1: “Design vs. UX” infamous pictures

No, bad, stop this.

This image, or the variation of it, circulates on the internet every now and again, hitting the social networks, Reddit and the like. The mythical original creator suggests that “Design” is the pathway someone made, and that “User Experience” (UX for short) is what users actually want and use on daily basis.


Both of these options — the concrete pavement and the foot-beaten trail are User Experience. They both provide different levels of UX. The concrete pavement provides a solid footing which becomes really desirable when it rains, but we can infer from the picture, it provides a longer way to the destination. The foot-traffic created trail offers shorter way to the destination, but at a price of muddy shoes if it’s raining.

These are both designed paths. One was designed by civil engineers deliberately, and one by the users semi-accidentally.

Both paths are designed, and both paths provide a form of user experience.

Therefore, the picture is misleading and totally fails to explain what UX is, and for no reason whatsoever, puts Design and UX in conflict, and even more so, it smirks and with a smug look puts UX in superior position to Design.

Design is a process, a method, a toolkit, a verb (to design) which is used by people to create various User Experiences. Design is a method, and UX is a desired outcome — outcome based on user research, heuristics, gut intuition, requirements, etc. These two cannot be confronted like the picture suggests. It’s not even apples vs. oranges comparison, these are both at least fruit, it’s apples vs. rockets level of comparison.

Please stop using this picture as a poor attempt to educate general audience about Design or UX.


As a side note, if urban designers know their job, the paths in a newly built park are built after the local residents stomp the grounds first. The park is first built without any asphalt/concrete trails, and after a week or two due to residents commuting or just traveling about the neighbourhood, the common pathways they take can be easily spotted, and then are asphalted. This creates an organic and desirable mesh of pathways across the park, called Desire Path. That’s how you design a good user experience for the residents of a neighbourhood.