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What Is User Experience (UX) Design?

User experience (UX) refers to any interaction a user has with a product or service. UX design considers each and every element that shapes this experience, how it makes the user feel, and how easy it is for the user to accomplish their desired tasks. This could be anything from how a physical product feels in your hand, to how straightforward the checkout process is when buying something online. The goal of UX design is to create easy, efficient, relevant and all-round pleasant experiences for the user.

“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

 

UX designers combine market research, product development, strategy, and design to create seamless user experiences for products, services, and processes. They build a bridge to the customer, helping the company to better understand — and fulfill — their needs and expectations.

The Difference Between UX And UI Design

When talking about UX, the term user interface (UI) design will inevitably crop up. However, it’s important to recognize that, despite often being used interchangeably, UX and UI are two different things.

User interface design is not the same as UX. UI refers to the actual interface of a product; the visual design of the screens a user navigates through when using a mobile app, or the buttons they click when browsing a website. UI design is concerned with all the visual and interactive elements of a product interface, covering everything from typography and color palettes to animations and navigational touchpoints (such as buttons and scrollbars). You can read more about the work of UI designers here.

UX and UI go hand-in-hand, and the design of the product interface has a huge impact on the overall user experience. Learn more about the difference between UX and UI design in this guide.

UX design is everywhere: the layout of a supermarket, the ergonomics of a vehicle, the usability of a mobile app. While the term “user experience” was first coined by Don Norman in the 90s, the concept of UX has been around for much longer.

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The History Of UX Design

Some of the most basic tenets of UX can be traced as far back as 4000 BC to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui, which focuses on arranging your surroundings in the most optimal, harmonious, or user-friendly way. There is also evidence to suggest that, as early as the 5th century BC, Ancient Greek civilizations designed their tools and workplaces based on ergonomic principles.

In the late 19th century, great thinkers and industrialists like Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford began integrating basic experience design principles into their production processes. On a mission to make human labor more efficient, Taylor conducted extensive research into the interactions between workers and their tools — just like UX designers today investigate how users interact with products and services.

In the early 90s, cognitive scientist Don Norman joined the team at Apple as their User Experience Architect, making him the first person to have UX in his job title. He came up with the term “user experience design” because he wanted to “cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.” Since then, each of these areas has expanded into specializations of their own. These days, there’s a growing tendency for companies to hire for very specific roles, such as UX researcher or interaction designer, to cover all of the different aspects of user experience.

For centuries, humans have been seeking to optimize their surroundings for maximum user comfort. These days, the term UX design has strong digital connotations, often referring to apps, websites, software, gadgets and technology.

UX Design Disciplines: The Quadrant Model

UX is a broad umbrella term that can be divided up into four main disciplines: Experience Strategy (ExS), Interaction Design (IxD), User Research (UR) and Information Architecture (IA).

Experience Strategy (ExS)

UX design is not just about the end user; it also brings huge value to the business providing the product or service. Experience strategy is all about devising a holistic business strategy, incorporating both the customer’s needs and those of the company.

Interaction Design (IxD)

Interaction design looks at how the user interacts with a system, considering all interactive elements such as buttons, page transitions and animations. Interaction designers seek to create intuitive designs that allow the user to effortlessly complete core tasks and actions.

User Research (UR)

UX design is all about identifying a problem and designing the solution. This requires extensive research and feedback from existing or potential customers. During the research phase, UX designers will launch surveys, conduct interviews and usability testing, and create user personas in order to understand the end user’s needs and objectives. They gather both qualitative and quantitative data and use this to make good design decisions.

Information Architecture (IA)

Information architecture is the practice of organizing information and content in a meaningful and accessible way. This is crucial in helping the user to navigate their way around a product. To determine the IA of any given product, information architects consider the relationship between different sets of content. They also pay close attention to the language used and ensure that it is both convincing and consistent.

Within these four areas, there is a whole host of sub-disciplines. As you can see in the graphic below, user experience design is so much more than just a case of sketching and wireframing. It’s a multidisciplinary field, drawing upon elements of cognitive science and psychology, computer science, communication design, usability engineering and more.

Learning UX Design

Many people switch to UX design after gaining experience in another field — like psychology, computer science, marketing, or customer service. To get started in UX design, it’s important to do plenty of reading and research, to get to know the UX workflow, familiarize yourself with industry tools and build up a solid design portfolio. The most effective way to prepare for a career in UX is by taking a structured course and working on practical projects.

 

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