Alt NYC 2013 photographed by Justin Hackworth, sponosred by Atly

Spreading the Word: What is UX Design?

Why the world needs designers focused on user experience

A few weeks ago at the Alt Summit in NYC, I found myself nervously wondering what I had got myself into. Speaking in front of three hundred design and fashionista bloggers is not something I sought out to check off my bucket list.

But I saw this event as an opportunity for a worthwhile challenge: explain what user experience design is to a different kind of audience. People from all over the US came to the Martha Stewart offices in Manhattan to talk about social media and design. I wanted to tell them that design is so much more than making things pretty.


There’s a masochistic quality to calling oneself a “UX Designer.” The very nature of what we do — simplifying screens, software, products, and customer interactions — means that our hard work is only recognized when we screw up. If we don’t do our job well and a product is confusing or difficult, it’s a clear user experience flaw. But if a product works perfectly, few people think of the UX designers behind it. So perhaps it’s no wonder that UX designers are working in a decades old field that still struggles to explain what it does.


I’ve worked for companies where the terms “UI” and “UX” were used interchangeably, and mistakenly — where people leading the product vision and roadmap couldn’t explain the different between branding and aesthetic and functional design.

Even at some of the world’s most notable tech companies, like Facebook or Apple, “User Experience Design” as a discipline and title has been replaced by “product design” or “interaction design.” This misnaming is not an improvement — “product design” does not represent some grand fundamental difference, or and improvement on the thinking and culture of UX design from decades past. Yet this trend has taken hold, in large part I think because the UX community has failed to explain what it is we do to the influencers who drive today’s technology and design cultures.

The world needs UX designers, and a broader, better understanding of what UX design is. Our world deserves a kind of design that looks past terminology and lingo — UX, UI, interaction, product — and focus in on the invaluable tool of design as a process and mindset. I believe that user experience design is a powerful set of skills — powerful enough to help change the world. Designers shouldn’t give up on it, we should embrace it.

My talk was only five minutes long — that’s all I was given — but I’ve expanded my presentation into these 30 slides that I hope to turn into something more.

View the Presentation via Speaker Deck

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