What Does UX Stand For? Here’s Your Complete Guide

On our blog, we’ve talked a lot about the difference between UI and UX Design, what a UX Designer is, and what UI/UX Designers do – but what does UX stand for, and what does it encompass?

Update: we’ve released a fuller guide here: What is UX design? Explained in 9 Easy Step.

UX Design is a large umbrella that houses a number of specializations. Today, I want to give a broad overview about all these fields that make up UX Design, and why UX Design is called what it is.

So first, how do other field leaders “define” what UX Design is? Here are their succinct summaries:

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

Nielson Norman Group

“is the process of manipulating user behavior[1] through usability, accessibility, and desirability provided in the interaction with a product.”

Wikipedia

“User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. “

Interaction Design Foundation

I think these are fantastic starting points that help paint the big picture of what User Experience Design means at a 20’000 foot view.

However, we can all agree that these definitions are a little vague, and don’t really tell us how UX Design is applicable, or even how and where it is used.

That’s the magic and the confusion of UX Design. It’s not meant to fit one industry, yet offer some overall logic to assist in any and all projects across all verticals and horizontals. All fields can learn from the basics of UX Design.

However today, we’ll specifically be talking about Product Design (digital and other) and the multitude of ideologies, definitions, and compliments that sit under UX Design’s large umbrella.

Now – not every UX Designer will do or be proficient in ALL of the following. This is simply a large list of all the potential routes UX Design can take. UX is a beautifully robust field, which endless potential.

Processes

In order to achieve the goals of UX Design, designers follow a set of processes that may vary from person to person.

Although there are many kinds of UX Designers, there are a set of general processes they follow when approaching a new design project.

Their primary goal is to align the user experience with the goals of the stakeholders and users – a task that takes careful balance, which is why the position is so coveted.

UX Designers use a multitude of methods to achieve this goal, and every project may require approaching these steps from different angles.

User Research

The first step to many projects is to conduct thorough, investigative research on all aspects of a product before you actually get to designing anything.

There are a myriad of research methods, including:

  • Interviewing and surveying target user groups

  • Observing target users

  • Conducting brainstorming sessions

  • Analyzing other competitors on the market

  • Reading and studying design research papers on relevant topics

Information Architecture

After the data has been collected and analyzed thoroughly (both qualitative and quantitative) the designer often gets to work on how this product’s system will come together.

IA is all about structure, hierarchy, and navigation. How will a user move through the system? How does each piece of the system connect? And, how do you represent the information you wish to display?

Knowing how all the parts fit in the puzzle is the goal, and it is deeply relient on thorough user research and data gathering.

Usability.gov has more in-depth information on this topic.

User Interface Design

You might be wondering why User Interface Design is defined under an article all about UX Design. 

UI Design is a facet of the overall UX lifecycle (albeit a rather large part). Visual experience is as much a part of User Experience as the architecture behind it.

Some designers may specialize mostly in research or IA, but you’ll find many that dabble or are proficient in front-end design. Some even can handle everything from initial concept to developing their designs. At the least, many designers can handle wireframing.

Regardless, don’t worry if you’re a UX Designer that doesn’t special in Interface designing. You don’t have to be a unicorn to be involved in a product’s lifecycle – it’s usually best practice to at least have multiple designers in different fields across one project, if there is budget and manpower available.

Usability Testing

After research and design has reached a certain threshold, a designer should get their designs tested as soon as possible.

Testing happens in a variety of forms:

  • Focus groups
  • A/B Testing
  • Eyetracking
  • Hotspot analytics
  • Metric testing
  • And much more

Usability testing isn’t the end; rather, it’s an important milestone that helps the next iteration of the project.

UX Design Methodologies

Not every UX designer has the same exact skill sets. Some designers may be more equipped to gather data, while others feel more comfortable mocking up screens. This delineation is what makes the title “UX Design” so nebulous, as anyone in this spectrum could technically call themselves a UX Designer.

You may have been able to pick out some specializations based on the certain “responsibilities” listed above. However, UX Designers aren’t only defined by their skillset, but rather by the type of design methodology they adhere to when approaching a new project.

Perhaps you’ve heard of designing with “empathy”, or “user centered design”. These guidelines can take different forms, and designers of all backgrounds are starting to change and evolve this status quo.

Human Computer Interaction

Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is a methodology focused around users and their interactions with computers (and vice versa). It began at the first era of the computer, when technology became increasingly used by the average citizen.

The original goal was to make interfacing between humans and technology as “human” as possible – instead of feeling like a human is communicating with an inanimate object. This single thought powers most of UX Design’s foundation in creating an experience that is smooth, efficient, easy, and natural for today’s tech users.

An extraordinary amount of research done in this field has laid the groundwork for UX Design today.

Interaction Design Foundry has more in-depth information in their article.

Human Computer Interaction

As a natural successor to Human Computer Interaction, Human Centered Design (HCD) is a framework that is centered around human experiences and solving human needs with creative solutioning.

“Championed by Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon, developed and taught by the Stanford University Design School, and leveraged by design firm IDEO”

Career Foundry

“Human-centred design is an approach to interactive systems development that aims to make systems usable and useful by focusing on the users, their needs and requirements, and by applying human factors/ergonomics, usability knowledge, and techniques.”

Wikipedia

You’ll find that this methodology is often tied to the concept of “empathy”, which is the core of this human-focused perspective. In addition, human-centered design hopes to build upon the foundation of design thinking’s scientific background, and applying it to how we think, perceive, and build products today.

Planet Centered Design

While Human Centered Design revolves around people and solving our problems – planet centered design is aptly named for focusing on designing with the good of our planet in mind.

Sometimes, solving human issues has a negative effect on our environment and well-being for the long term. 

In essence, designs will be focused around how they will benefit our planet and support of larger ecosystem. Climate change is an urgent issue, so making sure that our designs not only help us but help the world at large is crucial during this time

It’s not an easy road, however. Thinking about the planet requires a larger, mile-high view of each and every problem. It’s more involved, and the consequences are more severe.

We Create Futures wrote a great article summing up Planet Centered Design in more depth.

Interaction Design

Interaction design is a more specific discipline that can fit under the umbrella of UX Design. So in short, many interaction designers utilize the principles of UX Design, but not all UX Designers do interaction design.

This discipline is more focused on the direct interaction between users and products of some kind. This can span a wide array of mediums, but focuses heavily on interfaces.

In fact, there is a lot of overlap with interaction design and information design. However, interaction design is more focused on ONLY the interaction – and perhaps not the holistic lifecycle of a product, or any other processing or actions outside of the interaction.

Interaction Design Foundation wrote an amazing article detailing the differences between Interaction Design and UX Design.

Conclusion

It may be obvious that UX Design is a difficult subject to define esaily. There are so many subsets and specific disciplines, that the line between what is UX and what USES UX.

Hopefully, this brief introduction gave you some insight into the general overview of UX

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