Phil Williams
Head of UX and Optimisation
View posts

  • User-Centred Design

18th Jul 2017

7 min

UX and UX Design seem to be popular buzz terms within the technology and design industry, but what do they really mean? How did user experience start and where did it come from? Let’s simplify this a bit and go back to the basics.

What is UX Design?

Today, UX Design usually refers to a person’s experience with a digital product or service. User experience design “is the process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product”.

History of UX Design

In the early 1990’s, a gentleman by the name of Donald Norman, Apple’s Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group, coined the term UX. According to Donald, “I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual”.

UX is an important design principle within the digital community that is constantly evolving along with industry trends. While the term “UX or User Experience” was coined in the early 90’s, user experience has roots in human factors and ergonomics. Ergonomics is also known as functional design and takes into account the interaction between a physical product and how people use them – “in essence, it is the study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body and its cognitive abilities”. As you can see, UX design has taken a principle that was already present in the physical world and brought it over to the digital world.

Why is user experience shortened to UX instead of UE?

Well, for a number of reasons. It was originally shortened to UE in the early days but the abbreviation of UE is already being used 55 times.

Also, ‘X’ was already widely used at the time. Windows XP (short for experience) was developed in the early 00’s, and think about this, how do people read ‘XL’ on a piece of clothing? Extra large has been used for decades and is adopted worldwide.

Finally, the phonetic pronunciation of UX sounds better and is easier to understand when used in conversation. ‘YOU-EE’ (UE) can be misheard, whereas ‘YOU-EKS‘ (UX) has more clarity in the sound it makes.

How to navigate the ocean of UX job titles

User experience is a very broad term, which is one of the root causes of confusion that permeates not only to UX job titles, but to the entire profession itself. Every business seems to call the same job role different names and this seems to depend on the size of the business. Granted, these roles do vary slightly with levels of experience and seniority, but hopefully, we’ve captured everything below:

UX Designer – A user experience designer usually observes user research, creates wireframes, visual designs and prototypes. They create concepts around user journeys and flow. User experience design is a more technical role with knowledge of design, colour theory, typography, hierarchy, software and sometimes code, when required.

UX Researcher – User experience research is based on observing users in natural scenarios across multiple channels and includes moderated user research and remote user research. User researchers must be able to understand user behaviour, psychology and personas. User research is not to be confused with user testing.

UX Strategy – User experience strategy is more of a general role and includes a broad understanding of the issues and problems users will face. This involves putting themselves in the user’s position and thinking with empathy to solve problems. Good knowledge of how to tackle these issues and work with the wider UX team is key.

UX Writer – They say content is king, but it’s so often overlooked in digital products. From simple error messaging to complex onboarding processes, the user experience writer (UX Content Strategy) is becoming an increasingly important role. Copywriters and content creators have seen great results in the offline world for decades, it’s about time we recognised them for the important user experience work they can do online!

UX Developer – Similar to UX design, this is a very technical role, with skills hardwired in code, but what is the difference between a front end developer and a user experience developer? The simple answer is that a UX developer cares about the user. The traditional front end developer is sometimes too concerned with whether they can do something, they don’t stop to ask whether they should.

gif of jeff goldblum in jurassic park

A good UX developer will always question how something they are building is benefiting the user (sometimes referred to as a UX engineer).

Other terms you need to know

Customer Experience (CX) – Customer experience encompasses all the interactions a person has with your brand at all different touch points. User experience design is the next level of user experience. CX designers no longer just care about user experience online but want to follow their designs through every channel possible turning users into long term customers. From email marketing to social media marketing, offline marketing, sales and call centres, it can be measured in overall experience, brand loyalty and recommendations.

UX QA – User experience quality assurance is the last line of defence before a digital product is released to the user. This again is similar to a UX developer and may involve UX Testing. Checking for bugs is only part of it, throughout this process those working in QA must make sure the solution solves the user’s problems and benefits them to have a more positive experience.

User Testing – User testing is the process after user research, after UX design, after UX strategy. This is no longer finding out about the user behaviour or psychology but looking more at the functionality of the product you have designed. Looking at more of the ‘can’ rather than the ‘why’; can the user choose a size, can they navigate the site, and can they purchase the product?

User Centred Design (UCD) – User centred design is a process that should involve almost all aspects of UX. From user research, strategy and content, to design and development. The user should be the main focus of the design process, solving their problems and making the best experience possible. UCD programmes are being widely adopted by businesses looking to optimise their online experience, sometimes overhauling the entire digital solution. You can read all about our user centred design process here.

Human Centred Design (HCD) – Human centred design understands users at a more fundamental level. Understanding users not just as visitors to a website but actual human beings; people with emotions, values and beliefs. Personalisation can be used effectively making digital experiences not only enjoyable but memorable.

So, what does the future of UX look like?

As technology and the internet continue to weave themselves into our lives, we can expect to see UX evolve. This will bring to light the need for even more specialised skills in the multidisciplinary practice.

The internet is no longer confined to our laptops or smartphones – wearables and even implantables can now put us in a state of constant connectivity and communication. This presents opportunities for user experience professionals to design interactions that transcend form factors with the ultimate purpose of improving people’s lives.