What is UX Design? Common Misconceptions and UX Myths

Even after all these years, it seems like “UX” is still a buzzword at many companies — “We don’t just need a designer,” the VP of Product declares, “We need a UX Designer!” An audible gasp is heard in the room; everyone in the meeting nods in agreement while surreptitiously Googling “What is UX design?” and “What does a UX designer do?”

By now, most people know that UX stands for user experience. But knowing what it stands for is not the same as really understanding the details that make it up and make it work. In fact, most people would have a hard time explaining what designing for a user experience means, or what a UX designer actually does.

UX — in short — is all aspects of a system (website, app, product, service, community, etc.) as experienced by users. Companies strive to create positive, consistent, predictable, and desirable outcomes with UX, which may include interface, industrial design, physical interactions, and more.

User experience design is the discipline of what UX designers do and user-centered design (UCD) is the UX process. Design thinking is another term that’s widely used. This practice typically includes user research, sketching, wireframing, interaction design, visual design, prototyping, user testing, and continuous iterating on designs.

Understanding UX design — what it is and what it is not — will help everyone involved build great products with great UX. To that end, here are some common misconceptions and myths about UX design:

UX Is Not UI

The interface is not the solution. UI design generally plays an important role in the work of a UX designer, but it is not the only part. Think of it this way: UX design is the journey and the UI is the destination.

UX design is a multi-step strategic design process that aims to create a product or site that customers/users are drawn to, find easy to use, and quickly understand. And through the UX design process, we arrive at the right user interface solution.

There are at least ten steps in the full-stack UX design process that must be taken before getting to the final UI as outlined in a previous article “The 10 UX Deliverables Top Designers Use.”

  1. Business goals analysis and technical specifications
  2. Competitive analysis reports
  3. Crafting of personas and UX research
  4. Sitemap and information architecture
  5. Experience maps, user journeys, and user flows
  6. Sketches and wireframes
  7. Mockups and interaction design
  8. Interactive prototypes
  9. Usability testing
  10. Visual design

Ultimately arriving at the final UI design — the destination.

Illustration by Shane Rounce

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UX Design Is Not Just about Aesthetics

Aesthetics alone will not provide great usability — they are solely about how something looks. UX design is about how something looks, feels, and works.

Great user experiences are a must if digital product design is to succeed. To be sure, great looking designs and aesthetics in general are important, but they are simply the final touch complementing a usable product that is also a pleasure to use. Some call it “the coat of paint” that is applied once everything is built. Striving for aesthetic perfection while abandoning usability is ultimately a loser’s game.

If UX were just about aesthetics, product usability would need to take a back seat. Usability is a crucial quality attribute that determines how easy a product is to use. A customer is unlikely to care much about how a product looks if they are unable to use it.

Whether a product is useful is defined in terms of utility as well as usability. Utility provides the features people need; usability is how easy and pleasant those features are to use. Designs that focus on aesthetics alone and ignore the basic tenets of usability end up being useless by definition.

UX Design Is Not a Step in the Process

UX design is not a checkbox. It needs to be integrated into everything a company does.

“Most clients expect experience design to be a discrete activity, solving all their problems with a single functional specification or a single research study. It must be an ongoing effort, a process of continually learning about users, responding to their behaviors, and evolving the product or service.” — Dan Brown, Co-founder and principal at EightShapes

Rather than being just a step in the design process, UX design is an iterative, continuous engagement of design thinking around a customer’s interactions with a company’s services and product. It never ends.

Read more on the Toptal Design Blog at www.toptal.com >>

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Miklos Philips

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User Experience

Toptal Publications

The top hub for software engineers, designers, finance experts, project managers, and entrepreneurs, featuring in-depth coverage of platforms and technologies, comprehensive tutorials, and resources to help ambitious freelancers stay on the cutting edge.