The Quadrants of UX Design, Explained by a UX Intern

UX Quadrant Model by Career Foundry

One of the things I’ve learned is that UX Design is not merely one thing. I recently came across an article on Career Foundry elaborating on four specializations within UX Design and it inspired me to dig a little further into each one. Because UX is not one small thing, UX designers are often not all cut from the same cloth. Most designers may choose to focus on only one or two areas in their entire careers. The purpose of this article is to define and elaborate upon these areas in the hopes that it will help me to understand each area a little better and perhaps even find an area that I would like to pursue in my own future career.

Experience Strategy (ExS)

Elevated Third

Experience Strategy, or ExS, is an area of UX that involves incorporating business, technical, and design strategies into solutions that will bring value to the user using the product as well as the company providing the product. Roles that are typically associated with this area of UX can include a product designer and product manager.

At the core, UX is about the user’s experience. In that sense, ExS is about coming up with a plan of action in order to create the ideal user experience. ExS helps businesses to translate their intended user experience to points where people interact with or experience its products or services. Experience strategy is meant to ensure that the company’s business vision, customer needs, and technical capabilities match up and also helps to manage the team’s attention and resources by keeping them focused on solving the right problems for target users.

“An experience strategy is that collection of activities that an organization chooses to undertake to deliver a series of (positive, exceptional) interactions which, when taken together, constitute a (product or service) offering that is superior in some meaningful, hard-to-replicate way; that is unique, distinct & distinguishable from that available from a competitor.”

Steve Baty of Johnny Holland breaks this definition down in his article “What is an Experience Strategy?”

An experience strategy is that collection of activities…

Delivering a product or service is often a complex process that involves many people and requires many tasks or activities to be done. In that case, we look to the experience vision. Experience vision of a company communicates what we are trying to achieve for a specific product or service. For example, Apple’s experience vision for the iPod is “All your music, any time, any where.” Once we have an experience vision established, we can then draw from it the individual activities needed to accomplish it, choose which activities to execute, as well as manage the way the activities are to be executed.

…that an organization chooses to undertake…

Experience strategy, or even general strategy, involves compromise and intent. By having a strategy we set our intention or goal. Without a strategy, the goal can’t be realized. Without a goal, the strategy is useless. The important part of an experience strategy is the deliberate choosing of which activities to perform and execute in order to align ourselves with our intent and achieve our goal.

…to deliver a series of (positive, exceptional) interactions…

Baty maintains that the experience delivered is the sum of a series of separate interactions, but not every interaction has to be exceptional or even good. He raises the example of a restaurant. The experience at a restaurant is more than just the food, more than just the service, the wine list, or the decor. It’s all of those things combined in a way with respect to the others. However, it’s also okay for some of the components to be average, satisfactory, or even mundane. It falls into the choices we make, in which interactions and activities we will carry out, and ultimately, which ones we will excel at. A memorable experience isn’t necessarily made up of entirely memorable interactions.

…when taken together, constitute a (product or service) offering that is superior in some meaningful, hard-to-replicate way…

In order to remain competitive in the business market, the product or service we are offering must be in some way superior to others. It needs to be meaningful. And businesses that want to succeed will go out of their way to design experiences that are not only meaningful for their customers, but superior to their competitors, unique, and hard to copy. It is in this way that brands like Apple or Louis Vuitton are able to keep their competitive advantage over others. It doesn’t matter to them that other companies can produce similar looking items, because they offer much more to the customer experience than simply a product. They offer experiences that are nearly impossible to replicate, and they work very hard to maintain it.

…that is unique, distinct & distinguishable from that available from a competitor…

Apple Store in Iconsiam, Bangkok, Thailand

Okay, so now you have a product that’s good, interesting, and hard to replicate. Now, it needs to also be uniquely identified and tied to your brand to reap even more benefits and success. This is part of brand value and establishing brand loyalty. People love Apple products not necessarily because it provides the latest technological advancements (it does not) but because of the product and brand aesthetic, the unmatched product integration “Apple Ecosystem,” convenient and easy to use services like iCloud, AirDrop, the intuitive user interfaces, perceived social status, and of course, the in-store experience. All of these things sum up to create a uniquely Apple experience when purchasing or using their products, and that is what I believe inspires such fervent loyalty among customers.

Nobu Restaurant in Miami, Florida

The same can be said for well-established high-end restaurants that are not described merely as eateries but as experiences. Omakase, for example, is the Japanese culinary tradition of “Chef’s Choice,” which has become a dining experience phenomenon around the world in recent years. It tends to feature multiple bite-sized courses and servings of accompanying wine. It isn’t just dinner. It’s a dining experience where each course is a bite just enough to savor but not to fill up. The entire meal becomes a culinary journey designed to delight the senses and expand the palate to different tastes and textures. The dining experience is further elevated with decor and service. It’s no wonder people go crazy for omakase.

Many of the things around us are in fact deliberately designed user experiences, from the way we order a drink at the coffee shop to how sales associates are stationed around a store to answer questions and upsell products. We can use these observations of the world around us to better understand our intentions with our own product, our own desires as users and consumers, and how to best design a successful user experience strategy.

User Research (UR)

User Research in Agile Teams

User Research is used to understand the impact of design on an audience. It’s used in many fields outside of UX to to understand the user’s needs, behaviors, experiences, and motivations through various qualitative and quantitative methods in order to inform the process of solving user problems. Good UR is a foundation to good UX design. That is, design driven by user insights while also balancing priorities and technical feasibility. It helps to uncover important and useful information about users and their needs, which can then be used to create a product or service that delivers a great user experience.

In user-centered design, empathy is required for us to put aside our own biases and view things from another person’s perspective. It is the ability to understand another person’s experiences and feelings from their point of view. Empathy is also used to build an emotional connection between the user and the product where users will feel that their needs are being met and therefore will continue to use the product.

UR helps to remove bias by learning about the user from their perspective, experiences, knowledge, and needs. From there, products can then be tailored to these specifications. When properly executed, UR can be a very powerful tool to producing successful products and understanding a product’s users, both current and potential.

Information Architecture (IA)

The 3 elements of Information Architecture by Lucia Wang

Information Architecture is defined as the structural design of shared information environments. It’s the science of organizing and structuring content of websites, web and mobile applications, and social media software. The aim of IA is to organize content so that users are able to easily adjust to a product’s functionality and can find everything without exerting too much effort. IA is also the organization of product content and information with the goal of optimizing the user’s experience by putting user satisfaction as a priority. Roles that work on information architecture include information architect, data analyst, and content strategist.

Designers in today’s day and age often use the user-centered approach when building products, and will learn the principles of information architecture science as it is believed to be a foundation of efficient design. IA encompasses the visual elements, functionality, interaction, and navigation as they must all be built according to the its principles. In fact, even the most interesting and compelling content elements and UI design can be unsuccessful if built with a poor IA. When the content of a website or application is difficult to navigate or understand the structure of, users can immediately become frustrated and turned off from continuing to use a product. Powerful IA is useful in guaranteeing a high quality product as it reduces the possibility of the usability and navigational problems a user may face.

In UX Design, IA is used as a blueprint of the product’s design structure. This can then be used to create wireframes of the project and as basic materials to plan the navigation system of the product. IA experts will focus on the user’s goals and structure the content of the product accordingly. Good information architecture is a foundation of efficient user experience, making IA skills essential for designers.

A few common organizational systems employed in IA include hierarchical, sequential, and matrix. Content can also be grouped according to organization schemes that are meant to sort the content of the product into categories. These schemes include alphabetical, chronological, topic, and audience. In addition to this, IA in UX involves labeling information, defining proper navigation systems, and providing search systems.

Interaction Design (IxD)

Interaction Design Foundation

As I’ve written about Interaction Design in a previous article (in Thai though, sorry!), IxD focuses on integrating experience strategy, user research, and information architecture into an intuitive interface that brings value to users by reducing the friction between user and product. Interaction design includes roles such as interaction designer, product designer, and experience designer.

“Interaction Design is the creation of a dialogue between a person and a product, system, or service. This dialogue is both physical and emotional in nature and is manifested in the interplay between form, function, and technology as experienced over time.”

- John Kolko, Author of Thoughts on Interaction Design (2011)

As defined by the Interaction Design Foundation, IxD is the design of interactive products and services in which a designer’s focus goes beyond the item in development to include the way users will interact with it. Designers working with IxD will have work involving the five dimensions of IxD which are words, visual representations, physical objects/space, time, and behavior. These dimensions as follows represent the aspects that an interaction designer must consider when designing interactions.

  1. Words — encompass text such as button labels, which help to convey precise information to users
  2. Visual representations — graphical elements such as images, typography, and icons which aid in user interaction
  3. Physical Objects/Space — involve the medium through which users interact with the product or service such as a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop
  4. Time — refers to media that changes with time such as animations, video, and sound
  5. Behavior — is concerned with how the previous four dimensions define the interactions a product affords. For example, how well users can perform actions on a website or how the product reacts to the user’s input.

All five dimensions are utilized by designers in order to create a holistic approach to creating an interactive product or service.

And that’s it! I hope this has been a helpful look into just a few of the facets of UX and UX Design. I find it interesting as a software engineering student to delve into topics that are not nearly as concrete as the subjects I’ve learned the past few years and look forward to learning and writing more about them as I finish up my internship =)