Design is Design: The Parallels of UX and Fashion Design

Lisa Lin
Lisa Lin
Apr 13, 2020 · 7 min read

“How many years of experience do you have as a UX designer?” he asked.

“I’ve been a designer for over ten years and—” he cut me off before I could finish.

“How many years of experience do you have as a designer in UX specifically?”

“I’ve been practicing User Centered Design and Design Thinking principles -essentially UX Design for over ten years, it just wasn’t called that.”

Now he’s perplexed.

“But it says on your resume you’ve only had one job working on mobile apps…” and so went the last 30 painstaking semi-frustrating calls I’ve had with recruiters in the past two months of my job search.

I’ve had to explain how design is design, and that even though I’ve only recently started identifying myself as a “UX Designer”, I am in fact a design veteran familiar with the design process digital or otherwise. Not only do I know it in theory but I’ve implemented these design principles under real world high pressure conditions in corporate America for years and years.

After minutes of explaining they still don’t understand or agree. So I wonder, do people not know what UX Design is? Is design not design no matter what product you apply it to? Is the definition of UX taught to me through my Flatiron/Designation bootcamp in fact not what I thought it was? So I decided to take a step back and re-examine the exact definition of UX.

According to Don Norman, inventor of the term “User Experience”:

“No product is an island. A product is more than the product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service — from initial intentions through final reflections, from first usage to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly.” — Don Norman, Nielson Norman Group

According to Kim Goodwin author of “Designing for the Digital Age”:

“Design is the craft of visualizing concrete solutions that serve human needs and goals within certain constraints. These solutions could be tangible products, such as buildings, software, consumer electronics, or advertisements, or they could be services that are intended to provide a specific sort of experience.”

By these definitions, design is indeed design and the approach or the thought process involved for solving these problems is the same. One can argue that UX is the design of digital interfaces themselves, making them “pretty”. I would disagree and say by that definition alone, UX is nothing more than a glorified graphic designer (no offense graphic designers out there). However, UX Design goes beyond just the visuals of websites, apps, games, software, VR, AR, MR and obviously voice etc., but it is the “experience” itself. As a clothing designer, that is exactly what I have been doing this entire time. Now, I am fully aware that there is a craft unique to UX as well as important distinguishing factors that differ the two disciplines. But the similarities outweigh the differences. In this article I’m emphasizing the former; the foundation of User Centered Design and application of Design Thinking remains the basis of both.

Here’s a crash course in the design process of clothing and UX comparing my previous career as a fashion designer to my current title of “UX Designer”. For the sake of time, I will go into this article with the assumption that we are all familiar with the UX Design process already and expand on the fashion side. I also preface this with a disclaimer that different companies have different procedures and may do things in a different order or skip parts all together. This is the general overview, a very over simplified version of the experience I’ve gathered from all the places I’ve worked at in my career as a mass market womenswear designer. Below is a visual for all the visual learners out there.

In UX Design we always start with research. For fashion we do the same. Because we design about a year in advance, in order to predict future trends we do research by looking at trend reports from trend forecasting companies that provide color, fabric, print and silhouette direction.

Like UX where we do a competitive analysis, in fashion we go competitive shopping to see what competitor brands are doing and selling. We also buy samples to get fabric inspiration or quite bluntly, to knock off the style, print, or pattern. We take pictures, we assemble reports and present back to our teams. Some designers travel abroad for this, some travel to different cities and some just do it locally depending on company policy and budget.

In UX we synthesize the data, in fashion we synthesize our trend and shopping reports. We pull together an inspirational mood board to set themes or stories we want to tell. We analyze previous sales reports to tell us what styles were best sellers so we know which, if any, to carry over and to put in a new print. We also look at what our best selling colors were and take all that into consideration when we put together our color palettes and fabrics for the season. In UX this moodboard could also be called a style tile, containing all the styling elements we would use for our interface.

As with all design, we will always have to work within constraints. In fashion, it’s usually related to budget: fabric costs, fabric minimums, factory production minimums, trim costs like buttons, buckles or other closures that you may use. How complicated is the garment? How much labor will go into making it? If I add embroidery somewhere, it will add to the cost and I will need to make sure the base fabric is cheap enough. All these constraints affect how we design. For example if I choose to use buttons that are more expensive, I may have to compromise on fabric yardage and add a seam somewhere all the while making sure the garment still makes sense. We have seasonal constraints. What time of year are we designing for? Fabrics will be limited to the season we’re in; if I’m designing spring/summer I most likely will not be using heavy wool. We also have styling constraints. Does it fit who we’re designing for? Our target customer -in UX -Persona. Does it fit into our trends, our themes and the story we’re telling with our color palette? Last but not least, we have time constraints. What is the in-store delivery date? What are fabric lead times and availability? How soon can they dye it or have it printed? Are our prints even ready to send to factories to start printing? Usually the answer is no and everything was supposed to have been done last week.

Given these constraints we still have to pull together weekly presentations to the buyers, or in UX the stakeholders, to update them on current status. In UX we would call these sprint meetings.

UX paper prototypes

Now for concepting and ideation. These ideas would first be quickly illustrated by hand or in UX, via paper prototypes and rapid prototyping. Then we would move to computer sketches, called wireframing in UX world. We do technical flat sketches using Adobe Illustrator (or for UX Sketch or Adobe XD) that show the entire collection; all the colorways a style comes in, what fabric, in which prints, what it sits next to on the floor, and/or how it’s merchandised. We have our low fidelity flat sketches which are black and white and then high fidelity if there is enough time to render the actual fabrics, colors and textures.

Finally it’s time to get the first sample or proto made. In UX, this would be the prototype. In UX, usability testing is done on a user. In fashion, the proto is also tested on a user through an actual fitting. Through asking the user questions: How does it feel? Where is it uncomfortable (pain point)? Do you like how it looks, is the fabric scratchy? We attain comments or user feedback and iterate to improve, much like in UX. We test or fit again until it is refined enough for production, or in UX terms, development.

We have to make sure that all the garment details are annotated, what the measurements are and how it’s constructed. This is diagrammed in what we call a tech pack which we pass on to the manufacturer for the garment to be made and mass produced. In UX world it would be the equivalent of annotations that would then be passed off to a developer.

So there we have it. The long, perhaps not long enough answer to the short question of “How many years of UX Design experience do you have?” to which I will answer “Ten, I have over ten years of UX Design experience.”

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Lisa Lin

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Lisa Lin


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Lisa Lin

Written by

Lisa Lin


The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

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