What is User Experience Design (UI and UX)?

SLOW PROTOTYING from the guys at resymplement.com

Read further: Where Did the Term ‘User Experience’ Come From

What is UX?

I have been asked this question more times than I could answer. So here is a short story to explain what is User Experience Design. Many have done this as true masters inventors, for example Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen, (read here) and masters innovators such as Alan Cooper and Steve Krug. So many other people I am embarrassed not to list here – and many more to come!

How old is UX?

I think to design is to learn to make things work vs. being busy and important. A good example for this ‘organic/ ecological’ approach to design thinking is RSI’s Slow Prototyping project. And it makes me happy and smile.

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs


Design Thinking

Below are some examples of the emerging Design Thinking models and discussions.

The Evolution of UI_UX Designers Into Product Designers _ Creative Cloud blog by Adobe

An example how I approached the idea of ‘user engagement’ for an online Insurer client. In this diagram I have emphasised the possible ‘Delightful moments’ (in green, red, blue) in the experience of the user. The simple design rationale approach behind this stems from understanding some particular ‘Pain points’ a user may feel before, during and/or after making a decision. Upon careful analysis (or best assumption) and consideration of the user goals at this and at another ‘Touch point’ along her User Journey, these ‘moments of Delightful Experience‘ might feel like this (in green, red, blue circles) .

Many entry points to UX design practices

Below is a kind of ‘classical’ visual aid to understand the multiple disciplines involved in User Experience Design (short: UX) as a whole. The diagram was originated by designer Dan Saffer. It is not quite complete nor very recent (2008-?). The design field and technology have been evolving and expanding everyday since the wheel was invented. Nevertheless, the diagram displays some of the foundations of the UX design field, all stemming from more than 10 years ago, many from decades or centuries. Some historical vantage point is necessary to better understand the present and future state of design.

The Disciplines of User Experience, by Dan Saffer
The Disciplines of User Experience, by Dan Saffer

Of course no one is expected to be a Unicorn at all times, a champion of all trades (I am not). Humans are not technology (yes, I-am-human-not-a-robot). The good old 1999 adage from Bill Gates ‘Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere’ The next step for technology is universal access.’ , is The chant of its time. Not so long ago (with none or limited internet) not everyone, at anytime, had access to information anywhere. This company mission has not changed our nature. It merely stated our growing need of ubiquitous computing devices to access Information. We remain very much in charge (and responsible) of the technology we invent and produce – although the signs are sometimes quite deceptive as to WHO has control over the information or WHOM is it serving most: people or machines?

Design practice

Some designers do quite an impressive amount of design tasks (as a Generalist) as other prefer to focus on certain disciplines (as a Specialist). I’ve started practicing in the field of User Experience quite naturally from a typical ‘visual designer’ specialist entry point. But in my field, I was largely a generalist – and still am.

The dotted circle ‘Communication Design’ in the diagram below shows this metaphorical evolution in thinking. Communication design was formerly known as a combination of graphic design and visual arts (Navigation Systems, Data & Info Visualisation, Generative Design). It has been rapidly overtaken by ‘Interaction Design’ (yellow circle). Largely due to the gigantic progress leaps in Technology that resulted in universal Automation and overall Computerisation of Information.

Social practice

The social as in Social Media is a completely automated process that we as individuals control very little of. The more we know (thus able to control), the less we know (thus unable to control). Who ever said that?

Would You Like to Sit on My Bed with Me and Check Twitter?

To name one important human talent (among many), humour, is it any better when shared on Social Media?

Machine Learning and Human Bias

Google’s recent visual explanation of Human Bias in Machine Learning Technology (Aug. 2017) demonstrates all to well that Technology does not create Technology. Humans do.

‘As researchers and engineers, our goal is to make machine learning technology work for everyone.’

Future and past of UX design is Product design

Currently, the consumer market’s interest is shifting (again, reinventing the wheel) from UX design to Product design. Companies that hire designers are less interested solely in professionals who have worked on ad campaigns or built websites, and instead are seeking candidates with broader experience in product development and user-centered design.

One question remains central here: How to create a better Robot (or automated semi-intelligent system) that fits, support and anticipate its owner’s satisfaction, the user’s learning. Let the user tell us.


Other disciplines I’ve practiced on the way or have experience with in my ever on-going learning process:

  • Interaction design (prototyping)
  • Motion design (3D animation)
  • Audiovisual design (video editing)
  • Game design (serious games)
  • Visual arts (art, photography)
  • Philosophy and Psychology
  • Documentary filmmaking
  • Teaching and Writing
  • Music
Oh yes (speaking about a little subjective Delight) I just love the way they redesigned the Earthview experience at Google:

k i n o k a s t . o r g - © Jerome Bertrand | Prosper Jerominus | 1993-2023

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