What is user experience?

Authors: Ashley Karr
Posted: Mon, May 06, 2013 - 12:55:48

Take away: User experience (UX) is a type of engineering and design that focuses on creating products and systems that work best for the intended user.

Defining user

I am a UX researcher and designer. What I do for a living is very interesting and fulfilling, but it isn’t free and clear of challenges. One of the greatest professional obstacles I face is explaining to people what I do. Defining UX is tricky, but even trickier is the fact that I’ve never been fond of the word user. It can bring to mind some strange and or uncomfortable things. To my surprise and delight, I recently watched a video where Donald Norman, the man who is credited with coining the term user experience, shares my sentiment. However, we will most likely have to stick with the term for the time being, and so I will define it in this context. When we say user, we mean people. Specifically, we refer to people who are or will be using whatever it is we are designing. 

UX is not

UX is not programming, graphic design, marketing, or project management. Most UX professionals work with programmers, graphic designers, marketers, and/or project managers at some point in their career. UX professionals do tend to pick up programming, graphic design, marketing, and project management skills, and programmers, graphic designers, marketers, and project managers are probably applying some UX principles without even knowing it. 

UX is

As I mentioned earlier, UX is a type of engineering and design that focuses on creating products and systems that work best for the intended user. This involves understanding and involving all aspects of the user throughout the entire design process and product lifecycle. All aspects of the user can include but are not limited to the following: 

  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Attitudes
  • Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Opinions
  • Culture
  • Demographics
  • Cognitive abilities and constraints
  • Physiological abilities and constraints
  • Physical measurements, abilities, and constraints

Although UX professionals use objective methods to gather information about the user, UX is subjective in nature. It highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful, and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. It includes a person’s perceptions about a design's practical aspects, such as:

  • Utility
  • Ease of use
  • Aesthetics
  • Efficiency

Additionally, it is dynamic and constantly modified over time due to changing circumstances, evolving technology, and new innovations.


Offering a definition of UX usually stirs up more questions, such as:

  • Who invented UX?
  • What are basic UX principles?
  • What methods, measurements, and tools do UX professionals use to do their job?
  • Why should a company hire a UX professional?
  • What value does a UX professional add to a design team and what role do they play?

You’re in luck. I will be writing entertaining, informative, easy-to-understand answers to these questions in my upcoming articles. And, if you have additional questions, comments, or suggestions, please post them below. I am particularly interested in hearing how other UX professionals define UX and what challenges and successes they have experienced while attempting to explain to others what it is they do for a living. I am looking forward to your comments!

Thanks for reading. Until next time, enjoy the experience.

Posted in: on Mon, May 06, 2013 - 12:55:48

Ashley Karr

Ashley is a UX instructor with GA and runs a UX consulting firm,
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