Demystifying UX

Or why “UX Designer” makes no sense to me

Alright, where was I? Ah, right. I started by demystifying design by proposing a better definition for this now broadly used and often misunderstood term.

As it turns out, User Experience, or UX, carries with it the same weight of growing increasingly more popular and integrated into our everyday vocabulary. And with that comes greater responsibility to better understand exactly what it means.

Back in November, I tweeted this:

I’m just gonna say it. “UX Designer” as a title inaccurately isolates the responsibilities of “UX” to just designers.

This was followed by 2 more tweets that essentially summed up my growing frustration with how our industry was talking about User Experience.

It’s silly, really. We have UX departments filled with UX Designers that apparently do UX. The familiarity of that statement is a sad reflection that a lot of our industry still interprets User Experience as a set of tasks within a part of a project that can be assigned to someone to be completed.

So, what is User Experience then?

Let’s strip away the buzz wordiness of the term, and look at User Experience as simply the cumulative effect of all the decisions we make that impact how someone experiences a product or service.

To better illustrate this, let’s consider the experience of going to the movies.

When we watch a movie, we witness an experience. What we wear, where we sit, and who you go with has everything to do with how much you’ll enjoy the movie experience. Not only that, but the decisions others have made also impact us. Did everyone remember to turn off their phones? Was someone laughing at the wrong parts? What decisions did the director make? The actors?

The outcome of all these decisions produces an experience.

If good decisions are made, you will have a good experience.
If bad decisions are made, you will have a bad experience.
Either way, you will have an experience.

And that’s the thing — it’s literally impossible for you to not have an experience. Even a bad experience is an experience.

This suggests 2 things:

  1. The fact that you don’t have a “UX team” or a “UX designer” doesn’t exempt you from having to think about User Experience. Everything you do impacts the user.
  2. User Experience is not a subset of responsibilities under design. Everybody who makes decisions that impact the end user carries the responsibility of thinking about UX — design, dev, product, research, copy, marketing… the list goes on.

Yes, design is closely tied with UX. We work on architecture, art direction, interfaces, and other visual elements that greatly impact what a user sees, what they interact with, and inevitably how they use any given product. But those aren’t the only things that impact what a user experiences.

Secondly, we need to get past the “UX” moniker that we attach to roles, teams, or even companies (same goes for the awkwardly mismatched “UX/UI” pairing). At this point, explicitly calling out the fact that your work impacts the user’s experience is as pointless as saying that you write semantic HTML/CSS. No shit.

I know this post is loaded with passive aggressive tweets, but there is indeed some practicality in why this is important: if we as an industry are expected to invest in producing better experiences for people, we must first begin by understanding what User Experience means and who needs to carry that mandate forward.

Let’s stop talking about UX as a switch that we can flick on and off depending on budgets or team structures. More than ever, organizations need to embrace and commit holistically to the responsibilities of creating exceptional experiences and learn to deliver that promise through each and every discipline. If we can do that, everyone will win.