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UX is not just a fancy word for common sense.

A friend’s Facebook status caught my eye the other day. He wrote, “UX is a fancy word for common sense.” I couldn’t disagree more.

There are a few areas in life where everyone thinks they are an expert. Baking chocolate chip cookies (“my recipe uses dark chocolate”), strangers telling pregnant women the sex of their unborn child (“it’s definitely a boy”), adding product features (if I had a nickle for every well-meaning but hopelessly useless feature request…!), and designing a great user experience (“let’s just throw in a carousel for onboarding!”), among others.

Why are these areas particularly crowded with “experts”? Because they are fairly accessible topics which most of us have opinions on - opinions informed by our own experiences. Which therefore means they must be right…right?

The problem is, your experience is not everyone else’s, and what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to, well, anyone else.

UX: easy to criticize, hard to do well.

Building a product is hard. Designing a product is hard. Creating something people love: very, very, challenging.

A good user experience depends on so much more than a single person’s experience. It requires understanding principles of behavioral psychology, habit-formation, and (sometimes) gamification. It relies on a deep understanding of your core demographic, which in turn depends on the depth and detail of the user personas and use cases you’ve researched and crafted. It means setting the right framework for user testing and asking smart questions to avoid biased results. (The Google Ventures Design Staff’s guide to research is a good place to start.)

You should understand how load time will affect UX, and how you can work with your dev team to optimize that at all the right moments. And of course, fundamentally, you should have an understanding of the tenets of good design, while still keeping up to date on the latest interaction design principles and technologies.

None of this is common sense.

Of course it helps to have intuitive design sense, and it’s great if you are a power user of the product. But designing a great user experience takes a lot more than that. I suspect this is part of why it’s difficult to design a very good open graph integration on Facebook, a platform most of us know well. It’s easy to see how our familiarity with Facebook can help or hinder the design process, depending on how heavily we rely on it.

It’s a lot harder to not design based on our own experience. It’s a lot harder to design for someone else.

Share your thoughts with me here, or on Twitter @xsvengoechea.

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I write about career pathing, behavioral design, & the intersection of technology + society. Currently, design research @pinterest. More at

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