It’s just a fancy millennial abbreviation for website design, right? It’s just something every contemporary designer should know, right? It’s just the current flavour of the month, like ‘digital marketer’ was 10 years ago... now they’re all just ‘marketers’ again, right?
Nope. But the above statements all came from the mouths of clients. The author also spent six months trying to recruit (unsuccessfully) a Senior UX Designer for one of the largest software companies in Liverpool.
So what is it, why is it important and who should you be paying to deliver it?
Even defining UX gets complicated. We all know UX is an abbreviation for User Experience Design. Don Norman is credited with coining the phrase during his time at Apple (1988). However, whilst UX is now synonymous with website and app design, that wasn’t Don’s original intention.
He said, “I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose its meaning… user experience, human centred design, usability; all those things, even affordances. They just sort of entered the vocabulary and no longer have any special meaning. People use them often without having any idea why, what the word means, its origin, history, or what it’s about.”
To Apple, every interaction with the brand via the product (including the box it comes in), every interaction in the digital channels, every interaction in an Apple store and every aspect of marketing is part of the user experience.
Context is important - the team of individuals at Apple responsible for delivering the brand’s holistic UX, probably number more than the population of some small countries! In the context of this article, we are talking about designing digital experiences, primarily websites and the UI of apps.
Emil Lamprecht of Career Foundry, suggests this useful analogy:
If you imagine a product as the human body, the bones represent the code which give it structure. The organs represent the UX design: measuring and optimizing against input for supporting life functions. And UI design represents the cosmetics of the body - its presentation, its senses and reactions.
However, I’ve heard UX being used to describe the cosmetic aspect of a website too, at least the finished website that real customers actually interact with. And it seems that UI and UX are intrinsically linked and you can’t successfully have one without the other.
Rahul Varshney, adds, “User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) are some of the most confused and misused terms in our field. A UI without UX is like a painter slapping paint onto canvas without thought; while UX without UI is like the frame of a sculpture with no paper mache on it. A great product experience starts with UX followed by UI. Both are essential for the product’s success.”
Ah, so UX is the information architecture (IA) also known as the navigation, you know, how users find what they are looking for. Yes it’s the wireframes, yes it’s working prototypes of the pages with working clicks, then we layer on the pretty pictures and brand to deliver the UI. Sounds easy.
“Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple.” – C. W. Ceram.
In essence, a solid UX strategy means you are designing the best experience for your users. This isn’t a new concept, your marketing department have been using the mantra, “The Customer is King”, for decades. It’s a natural evolution that designing digital experiences should take into account the channel (users use Facebook differently to Instagram), the device (using a mouse is very different to using your thumbs) and most importantly, how can we make the interactions as frictionless as possible?
In ecommerce, finding the right products and checking out as quickly and easily as possible is UX nirvana and in B2B, it’s all about finding the right information and being able to interact with the brand as easily as possible. Brand is still important, communications strategy is still important, none of these things are lost or replaced by UX, they are enhanced into the best versions of themselves by UX.
A post war marketer armed with brand guidelines still finds this challenging.
Part of the challenge in offering UX Design and indeed, recruiting a team to deliver it, is that despite the term being 25+ years old, it’s still a relatively new discipline and an even newer job title.
You can’t formally study UX Design as a degree, as it’s interdisciplinary. You can get degrees in aspects of UX, like Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Information Architecture (IA) and Interaction Design (ID) but there isn’t a single, all-encompassing course per se... at least at the time of writing. If you Google ‘UX Degrees’ you will find links to plenty of short courses and certifications, but no degree courses.
Interestingly, some of the most successful UX’ers do not come from a design background at all. Julie Zhuo, Product Design Lead at Facebook, joined as a software engineer, and the President of UX at the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), Debbie Millman, joined as an English Literature major!
At Bunker, we believe that the same team who owns the strategy, should own the UX. But it’s a collaborative process, and just like strategy, it requires thought, insights, planning, the right tools; and testing that does not stop once the website or app is launched.
We also believe that the same partner who helped you define your brand essence and bring that purpose to life with an identity, are in the perfect position to help you define, test and build a robust UX strategy.
Milton Glaser puts it well, “There are three responses to a piece of design - yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.”