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Seriously, what is UX design?

UX Design is an all-encompassing discipline, and that is exactly the reason why it is hard to define. In this article we will debunk the myths of UX design and clarify some of the misconceptions about what UX design is, as well as give you an understanding of the processes that the designer goes through.

UX Design Origins

In order to best understand what UX Design is we must understand where it came from: In the 1980´s the study of how design and use of computer interfaces affected humans was called Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Later, once smaller personal computers were introduced, it shifted into Interaction Design, which included the study of the ways users interact with products, not just the interface. The combination of these two studies is what we know today as UX Design. 

So, what is UX? UX stands for user experience, and it is a study of a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. UX Design includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership. 

UX Design was created to answer the following question: How can we make interaction as intuitive as human interaction? This question in and of itself is why it is hard to distinguish when it comes to talking about usability, which in the design world is intuitive use. Since usability is the nearest component we can relate to, in a larger scope, it is often misunderstood to be the same as UX.

We know all of this can be really overwhelming, design-isms can confuse just about anyone!

UX: A combination of disciplines

UX Design means ensuring product viability – by giving value to a business and helping them achieve their goals. UX Design must take into account user desires and what is feasible to build with available, or developable, technology. 

UX design involves a large number of disciplines, but in short, UX aims to build a product that is great from the business, user and technology perspective. For this exact reason it involves a large number of activities, some of which are research, business analysis, information architecture, interaction design, content strategy, workshop facilitation and UI.

In fact, UX and UI are often confused, and further on in this article, we will note key differences. UI is nothing else but one of the activities that make up good UX Design. The reason why these two are treated separately is that whilst all the other activities or disciplines involved in  UX Design are more analytical, UI is more artistic and visual. Like in any end-to-end product design process, there is a mix of both analytical and creative disciplines and professionals; this is exactly what UX and UI are, complementary disciplines.

Who is a UX Designer?

In some ways a UX Designer is like an author; a designer looks at the lifecycle of a product the same way an author would at a character- from the birth of a product as an idea, through the purchase and after it is disposed of or no longer used. 


A designer must be organised, a great communicator, tech-savvy, but above all, they must be empathetic. Not in a run of the mill, “people person” kind of way, instead, empathy in understanding why decisions are taken, understanding the context that drives an individual to need a product and the context in which they would use it.

Asking the Right Questions

UX design is making sure that a product is viable, feasible, and desirable. That means understanding users, business and technology. A good UX designer is concerned with the whole process of acquiring and integrating a product. They will ask the relevant what, why, and how.

What: the functionality of the product – What did it set out to achieve?

Why: the user’s motivation to adopt the product – Why would you use it?

How: the accessibility and appeal – How do you use the product?

An Example of Good UX

mail chimp

Many companies are spectacular at exercising great UX design one of those to mention is Mailchimp. They are pioneers at humanizing technology and making it accessible. By giving their product a face, it adds depth to the otherwise sterile and boring experience of managing email marketing. The application becomes less like a tool and more like a team member you are working with to get the job done. A great product should not mimic a computer, instead, it has to be almost as natural as human interaction. Exactly for this reason, UX is an umbrella of integrated fields encompassing visual design, psychology, sociology, and aesthetics. 

Debunking the myths around UX

Not Limited to Digital

Another important thing to note is that UX is not limited to digital products, in fact, it is implemented in most great services, and is widely known as service design in these sectors. Obviously in product design UX plays a huge role but when it comes down to designing a service through and through like a bank or airline you can really see how the interdisciplinary nature of UX is useful both digitally and physically.

Check out this case study on how to design an airline experience.

Find out how Bank of America employs UX to get more customers.

UX is not Optional, it is Vital

In the world we live in today, UX cannot become an afterthought, it is as important as establishing business goals, creating a marketing plan and the rest, but more often than not, it is mistaken as a last step. UX design is the bridge between businesses, the technology they use and the end user – it is a guide for the rest of the design process and whether the product is physical or digital, it serves to plan and visualize your business. 

In order to create a product or service with a strong value proposition, which users will keep returning to (a huge risk with bad UX is the friction it causes for the user ultimately paving the way for them to disregard what your business is offering) UX design must be integrated intricately in all components of the offering. 

UX is not UI

Let’s get complicated… UI and UX are terms often used interchangeably. However, while usability and User Interface (UI) design are important aspects of User Experience (UX) design, they are just one aspect that a UX designer must value. UX is an all-encompassing term for all of the tools, methods, and disciplines that go into a product; whereas UI is just an element. UI can exist without UX, but this would be detrimental to a product or service. UX cannot exist without UI, it is a crucial component. In even simpler terms:  UI is a part of UX, not a separate component, they are integrated one into the other, and must work together in order to get the best results overall known as good design. 

User Experience (UX) Design

UX is logic, this is what guides users around your product or service. It is a structure that works closely with customers and businesses,  UX design is user-centric and is majorly influenced by the users’ needs and wants and uses research and analytics to find this out.  UX design is a process, with the goal of creating a product that is attractive, easy to use, and intuitive. It is composed of many steps which trickle down to communicate with UI as the final destination in the creation of a product.

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There are various steps in the full-stack UX design process that must be taken before getting to the final UI. A designer must start by analyzing the business goals, what the technical specifications of a product are. Once this is done a designer completes a competitive analysis report in order to gage what is out there and how it is being done. Only once these are clarified does the designer begin to craft user personas, and journey/experience maps, wireframing etc. The creation of mock-ups and interactive prototypes comes before the UI, once the UI is implemented it is tested and finalized into a perfect product. 

User Interface/ Usability

UI design is responsible for the styling the content and structure that is set forth by UX- it visually communicates the path that a UX designer wants users to follow. The User Interface is client and brand-centric, what works visually is one of the main priorities. Although, UI designers should have a good understanding of UX design and need to consider how this relates to coding, development, and loading issues in their design development. UI is important, but it is heavily focused on efficiency and effectiveness which can belittle other important factors that UX takes into consideration like emotional and behavioural responses to the products.

Usability is of utmost importance in order for any user experience to be a success. Nevertheless, there are many things that make up what’s under the User Experience “umbrella,” and usability is one aspect of it. A UI can be designed to be extremely usable, but fall short when it comes to delivering the right things, at the right time, in the right way.

When a product or service is deemed “unusable” it does not matter how aesthetically appealing it is, how great the graphics are, and what buttons jump up and down. UX design integrates all of the details and parts that make up your product and service in order to generate something that users value. 

Good Design

There are 7 factors that affect UX, all of which are taken into consideration for good design. Some, or all of these factors, can be used to describe the value of the user experience that was offered by the provider, according to UX pioneer Peter Morville.

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Usable: This is usability, and it means that the product enables users to achieve their end objective efficiently and effectively

Useful: provides a purpose for its target customers- also considered – in the eye of the beholder (can be fun/aesthetic/etc.) purpose

Findable: easy to find – the concept must be EASY

Credible: Trust in the product that is provided, can it last? Is it accurate? 

Desirable: Branding, image, identity, aesthetics and branding design

Accessible: All inclusive to users with limited capacities

Valuable: To the business and to the user

Does your product have good UX Design? 

If you are wondering how your product or service is doing in terms of UX the best place to start is by conducting a UX Audit. Doing a UX audit is vital for your product to ensure quality, and provide a better service than your competitors by truly understanding your users. 

Do you have a new project in mind? Perhaps ideas about an existing product? Hop on a call with one of our designers to talk about your visions or learn more about what we can do for you by clicking here. 

Laura Brazay

Digital branding specialist with experience in social media strategy, and a background in Business Administration, who sees life in the full spectrum of colours. I spend my free time taking long walks exploring the city with my pup.

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