Defining UX

Like every senior practitioner within the fields of UX, I too have cast my modeling hat in the ring when it comes to defining User Experience Design. Note that already I come from a design perspective; my own roots lie in Interaction Design and User Research, while I have particular interest in Human Factors Engineering and the management arms as well.

I’ve proposed a view that represents the fields of User Experience Design organized on a spectrum comprised of the soft skills we all possess: Understanding; Definition; Communication. We must excel in understanding people, technology, domains, problems; we must excel in providing definition to that understanding and advancing it towards a goal, in terms of defining models, approaches, scenarios, solutions, frameworks, systems; and we must excel in communicating this user-centered understanding and solution definition in all ways, including visually, verbally, and into development and launch which gets into product management territory. Here’s that view:


All of the root disciplines can be placed on this spectrum in terms of their most natural affiliation with the skills of Understanding; Definition or Communication. Obviously none of us would survive as professionals if we didn’t have a balance of all three. If we delve deeper into the individual disciplines, we can see that each of our primary work practices are also mapped according to their focus on the matters of comprehending problems, solution modeling, and disseminating our output. Since I know Interaction Design inside and out, here’s my analysis of its activities:


Yes, my essential view is that “UX” is just an umbrella term for the sets of considerations required to research, design and develop digital products and services. (Btw, I’d be really interested in hearing from developers who may find that their own discipline may be understood with these same three softer skills, or whether there are more meaningful qualities to their hard-core definitional, creative/analytical work.)

Hiring is always a major concern when we’re talking about UX fields. For a given product, a team may need a cross-section of different specialists to comprise a full UX group. A deep website with heavy taxonomy implications will want a full-fledged IA; a mobile team will need a strong IxD to handle the frequent state transitions and come up with an elegant pathway through the system; a team working on medical devices will need to fill evaluation roles with solid Usability Testing and Human Factors Engineering practitioners. Hopefully this model can support recruiters and managers looking to both assess candidates’ skills as well as define a hiring plan to support a solid, balanced team. In other words: titles don’t define people.  Here’s my UX self assessment for starters: