The Misuse of “User Experience”

One of the issues with the term User Experience (UX) is that everybody has their own definition. For example, Don Norman (who created the term) talks about the misuse of the term in general. User experience goes beyond the UI, and it is more about any point of interaction between the customers and a company. For instance, if you call customer service, talk to a salesperson in brick-and-mortar store, and even the word of mouth is a user experience and could affect how you do business.

The lack of a clear understanding and definition is problematic because your clients and new designers don’t know what you are talking about and feel that you are selling snake oil. This problem has increased because nobody wants to be just a designer; they want fancy titles with the UX attached to them. You don’t see Interaction Designers or just simply Web Designers anymore. For example, Jonas Downey has a good article considering all the titles that designers use today.

If you ask the question “What is UX?” to different UX experts, each one of them will give you a completely different definition. Some people will talk about emotions, others will talk about user interfaces, while others will talk about interaction design, etc. This is why some people like Ryan Carson (founder of Treehouse) don’t believe in it. Another similar post by Bryan Zmjwsky (founder of ZURB, the firm that created the Foundation Framework) explaining that the job does not exist.

So, everybody is wrong about UX and everybody is correct about UX. It really depends on what you are in charge of in your company because the term varies across professions and companies. User Experience is here to stay but we need to add more context. In terms of web design, UX is related more to Usability, knowing your users, and Interaction Design than anything else. However, people like to mention “designing user experiences,” which sounds very vague and intangible. I see this happening a lot with my students when they are creating their portfolios. In their websites, there is no use of Usability, Accessibility, User-Centered Design, etc. They just add User Experience, which covers all of these terms but it does not explain them.

It is difficult to tell a client that you will design a user experience. It is better to explain exactly what you would do in your design that will increase the usability, conversion, provides what your users want, and performance of the page. So, as an exercise, try defining User Experience without using the word “experience” or try to explain to a coworker what you will create without mentioning “user experience”. This will get you closer to a better definition and clear understanding of the UX term.

Teylor Feliz
Teylor Feliz

Teylor is a seasoned generalist that enjoys learning new things. He has over 20 years of experience wearing different hats that include software engineer, UX designer, full-stack developer, web designer, data analyst, database administrator, and others. He is the founder of Haketi, a small firm that provides services in design, development, and consulting.

Over the last ten years, he has taught hundreds of students at an undergraduate and graduate levels. He loves teaching and mentoring new designers and developers to navigate the rapid changing field of UX design and engineering.

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