UX Design’s Cultural Significance

I’m sure we all know someone in our life that is completely clueless as to what UX (user experience) design is, and what UX designers do.

Or maybe that’s you?

UX design seems like such an overused and interchangeable term, usually mixed up with UI (user interface) design, so it’s no wonder people are so confused. Even I was confused for years and I was actually studying in the field!

So what is UX design? How does it differ from UI design?

The Disciplines of UX Design

UX design encompasses the entire experience, with an emotional and usability component, between a user and the product, system or service. Good design would allow the user to accomplish their goal(s) with a delightful outcome.

UI design focuses on more of a physical interaction, such as an interface, between the user and the product, system or service. While UI design is considered a subset of UX design, both are crucial to the success of the other.[1]

Still confused? Think of it in these terms, something that looks great but is difficult to use, has great UI and poor UX. While something very usable, that looks terrible is a perfect example of great UX and poor UI.[2] In reality, we need both to develop great products, systems and services to be as seamless as possible.

Almost everything we encounter on a daily basis was designed at some point, whether it’s the object we use to brush our teeth, or eat our food, or even the chair we’re sitting on. They’ve all been integrated into our lives subconsciously to the point where people don’t even realize the amount of design that went into them.

In a way, UX Design has cultural importance since what is designed can ultimately contribute towards how society behaves.

Steve Jobs (Former Apple CEO)
‘’Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’’[3]
— Steve Jobs (Former Apple CEO)

That quote is from a New York Times article, where Steve Jobs discussed the iPod, a digital music player. While Steve Jobs was not only a great visionary, he also understood how great UX design could be applied. It’s not like the iPod was the first digital music player, yet it was so successful because it took into account the entire experience of music listening by encompassing our interaction with the iTunes store and how we purchased music. From there, it really revolutionized the music industry from releasing and selling music, and eventually streaming music.

As UX designers, we have a unique opportunity to look towards the future of what’s going to happen, and not just what has happened, we can anticipate the needs of people. Design can be ‘dissolved’ by natural human behaviours as it’s integrated seamlessly.[4]

When we innovate, we are cultural generators.


[1] Helga Moreno — The Gap between UI and UX Design — Know the Difference

[2] Emil Lamprecht — The Difference Between UX and UI Design — A Layman’s Guide

[3] Rob Walker — The Guts of a New Machine

[4] Marc Newson, Naoto Fukasawa — Objectified (2009) Documentary by Gary Hustwit

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