What UX isn’t

There’s still many common misconceptions about what user experience design (UX, UXD) is amidst many of the companies that need and want to invest in it.

Highlighting the impact of good design, what we’ve seen over the past ten years is that design driven businesses have outperformed America’s Standard & Poor’s 500 large publicly traded companies — by a massive 228%.

Characteristics of design driven businesses are the embedding of design leadership at the highest organisational levels, and a top-down commitment to using design as a catalyst for innovation. However, the “design” in “design driven” isn’t what most people think about when the term is mentioned.

UX isn’t just UI

Not to be confused with UI specifically, UX design isn’t merely about an interface or pretty pictures, rather the bigger picture. Paraphrasing Steve Jobs; design isn’t just how it looks, it’s how it works.

To that point, user experience is indeed design, but it’s the definition of solutions far beyond visual and interface design. Making informed and intelligent design decisions means the inclusion of user research and usability testing, as well as an understanding of behavioural psychology and human-computer interaction (HCI) principles.

UX isn’t just usability

Usability and the testing that goes along with it are definitely key in what make up a successful UX solution. Yet being usable is only one of many qualities of a good interface — visual, voice, or otherwise — not the user experience in its entirety.

Beyond being simple to learn and creating efficiencies in task completion, good UX design requires pragmatic creativity, an understanding of colour theory, and interaction design capable of eliciting positive emotional responses. Being ‘usable’ alone doesn’t make an interface desirable, delightful or useful, of particular distinction.

UX definitely isn’t just common sense

As ambitious and often tech savvy professionals, our understanding of technology and how we use it differs greatly from a typical end user of any given product. Therefore our personal expectations and anecdotal experiences are largely meaningless. Common sense is not common, and UX decisions should rely on building consensus.

Good design requires a deep understanding of your target demographic, only attained through quality data, being a result of unbiased research and testing.

Designing for yourself is an easy trap to fall into. Even when wielding taste and best practice acknowledgement, doing so is a sure fire way to get it wrong for your target demographic.

So, what is UX?

UX is the consideration of the many aspects of a user’s interactions with a product or service. It’s concern for the relationship between those interactions, which ultimately define a user’s perception of a brand as a whole.

More than just a new word for common sense, interface design, or usability, UX is the combination of disciplines and practices mentioned above. Let alone those surrounding information architecture, motion design and product strategy, to name just a few.

As for the UX title itself, above all else a good practitioner is able to acutely empathise with the audience they’re designing for.

Truth be told, my observed reality across many organisations over the past decade is that UX is described and utilised very differently, based on the people and process involved. My personal precept for every project has long been that good UX is the result of understanding the customer, seizing technological opportunity, and pursuing simplicity.