UX Design Defined

Do you need UX design workshops tailored to your organization? Email us at info@uiuxtraining.com.


Articles about UX design and the difference between UX and UI design abound. Rather than ask you to pore through hundreds of articles we’ve done the work for you. Here, we outline five key points about UX design in an effort to clarify what UX design means.

What It’s Not

UX design is not customer experience (CX), usability, or user interface (UI) design. It’s not a simple step in the overall product development process.

  • As explained below, customer experience is broader than UX design.
  • Usability refers to ease of use and can be measured. It’s a subset of UX design; it’s not the entire experience.
  • UI design refers to creating and manipulating the interface by focusing on color, layout, and, to an extent, functionality. UI design is much more than “making things pretty.” Without a well-designed UI, the user will struggle. In short, UI design contributes significantly to the user’s experience, but it does not account for factors such as:
  • The user’s emotional state
  • The user’s physical environment (home, office, hospital, a busy café),
  • Whether he might be interrupted while using your site or app.

What It Is

If UX design is not UI, usability, or customer experience, what is it? First, a gentle reminder that UX refers to the user’s entire interaction with a site, app, product, or service. In other words, the user’s experience is not limited to what she sees in the UI or to filling out a form.

If UX is the what, the entire interaction, then UX design is the how: “UX design is the process of designing (digital or physical) products that are useful, easy to use, and delightful to interact with. It’s about enhancing the experience that people have while interacting with your product, and making sure they find value in what you’re providing.” (Source: The definition of UX design).

That’s why UX designers must consider the factors listed above such as the user’s emotional state, physical environment, and the likelihood that she will or will not be interrupted while using your product. A well-designed product must be clear, useful, flexible, and engaging.

What a UX Designer Does

Each organization is different meaning that the UX designer’s role will vary. Ideally, UX designers engage in the entire design process including:

  • Planning: The reason is straightforward. UX designers can help decision makers determine if the proposed solution will meet customer needs. All too often, someone decides: “We will build product X” only to learn later that customers don’t’ want, need, or like product X. Naturally, there are many considerations when deciding what to build or design. UX designers are not usually subject matter experts and are not necessarily well positioned to make the final decision. The point is simply to include UX design as one voice during the planning stage.
  • Research: Ideally, UX designers will coordinate with marketing and product to identify user research needs (UX researchers could conduct the actual studies). For example, if marketing has current sales and revenue metrics showing what does and does not interest customers, that data can show where to focus qualitative user research as can metrics for the current site or app. Where do users spend the most time? Where do they abandon a task or purchase? As has been said many times, quantitative data shows the what but often not the why. Qualitative research helps answer the why.
  • Analysis, personas, and scenarios: Examining research findings prepares the team to create personas and scenarios.
  • Design: With research artifacts in place, design begins. Product managers, subject matter experts, developers, and UX designers should work together to draft designs, assess and test, and iterate.
  • Testing: Rapid iteration normally includes a quick round of usability testing after each major iteration. UX designers conduct these usability tests or turn to UX researchers to moderate the sessions. These usability tests need not be formal lab tests. Café tests or remote, moderated tests work well when timelines are tight. UX designers should push hard to include testing during the design stage. Failure to do so often leads to poor design and disappointed users.
  • Prototyping: Organizations handle prototyping in various ways. In some cases, UX designers create visuals assets and screen layout and also function as front-end developers meaning that they code. In other cases, UX designers work with visuals designers to create and refine visual assets before handing off the prototype to development. Who builds the prototype is less important than following a user-centered design process. Following the previous user-centered steps increases the chance that the prototype will meet the user’s needs.
  • Post-release assessment: After the product goes to market, UX designers should consult with marketing, product, and customer service to assess the product’s success. Is it selling? Are new customers satisfied? Do existing customers like the new product? Have calls to customer support increased?

Where UX Design Fits

ux design how it fits

In What Is UX Design? UI and UX Designers Are Not the Same!, author and designer Paul Boag explains where to position UX and UI design.

Customer experience is the broadest category because it encompasses all touch points with the organization.

  • UX design falls under customer experience.
  • UI design is a subset of UX design.

While these distinctions are valid, Boag is quick to explain that the line between CX and UX is blurring as organizations devote increasing attention to designing a customer’s service experiences as well as product and digital experiences.

Why Defining and Positioning UX Design Matters

In It’s True: UI Is Now a Commodity Skill, Amber Krishan argues that the demand for UI design will likely diminish in the near future. In his view, artificial intelligence (AI) and smarter design systems will decrease the need for human UI designers: “More powerful reusable components with not only front-end code but with full APIs built-in is the future. Designers could build a fully coded app just by using a WYSIWYG library of Lego pieces.”

Krishan concludes that “UI is now a commodity.” At UI UX Training, we’re not quite ready to abandon UI design. At the same time, it’s unwise to dismiss Krishan’s concern. AI and smart design systems could well shift the demand for design-related skills. Krishan argues precisely this as he encourages UI designers to master skills such as big-picture thinking, critical thinking, and analysis.

The good news is that the nature of UX design work requires these types of abstract thinking skills. Certainly, many UI designers also possess these skills. The point here is to avoid falling into a tools trap or focusing too narrowly on the UI aspect of our profession. UX designers should continue to leverage their high-level analytical skills and, as explained above, participate in business planning discussions and decisions.

Contact UI UX Training

Do you need UX design workshops tailored to your organization? Email us at info@uiuxtraining.com.