What is UX Design, and Why Should you Care

What is UX Design, and Why Should you Care?

by Matthew Magain, UX Mastery
August 21, 2012

What the heck is UX Design? And what does a UX Designer actually do?

These are difficult questions to answer, because if you ask 5 different people you’re going to get 5 different answers.

In the following video I’m not only going to explain what UX Design is, but also why I believe you should find out more about it, regardless of your job.

UX stands for User Experience. And when we say “user experience”, we’re referring to:

  • what,
  • when,
  • where,
  • why, and
  • how

someone uses a product—as well as who that person is. So: what, when, where, why, how, and who—these cover the user experience of a product, which is pretty much everything that affects a user’s interaction with that product.

As you can imagine, A UX Designer, who is someone who designs those interactions, is constantly asking a ton of questions. If you’re someone who naturally questions things, UX Design could be a great career move for you, because it’s the answers to these questions that shape a product’s design.

Of course it’s not all about the user’s needs—UX Designers need to take into account a business’s needs as well. It’s no use having a product that people love, if it doesn’t help a business achieve its goals—that’s not a product, that’s a side project. A UX Designer aims for that sweet spot where user needs and business needs overlap.

How do they do this, other than by asking lots of questions?

Well, a UX Designer follows what’s called a user-centred design process. We use a set of tools and techniques to take the user’s needs into account at every stage of the product’s lifecycle. I say product, because these techniques apply to web apps, mobile apps, desktop apps, or even physical products.

OK, that’s all well and good—but why should you care?

I’m going to give you four reasons why I believe this stuff matters so much and you should learn more about it. Note this list doesn’t include the obvious one, which is the fact that paying attention to UX results in you building a product that’s awesome instead of one that people hate using (hopefully that’s a given).

The reasons why I think you should learn more about UX are:

  1. You’re probably doing some of this already. One thing I’ve learned is that when you understand how it is that you do what you do, you become infinitely better at it. Like the fable about the centipede who, when asked how it was that he walked, couldn’t give an answer. But when he picked himself up, and examined and flexed each of his hundred legs, he danced the most beautiful dance in the world.
  2. User-centred design is a process, which means it’s practically scientific. It’s like taking the scientific method—using analysis and measurement—and applying it to humans and their behaviour. And that’s fascinating to me, this notion that designers are artistic geniuses with a penchant for cutting off their own ear—it’s nonsense. This is a science! Quasi-science. Which leads me to the third reason that UX matter.
  3. It’s not that hard. Especially for people who are already technically inclined. I don’t want to go putting myself out of a job here, but you know what? This stuff is not rocket surgery, to borrow from Steve Krug. Anyone can learn the basics of user testing and card sorting and writing scenarios and creating wireframes. It’s actually very straightforward. Which is a good segue to the fourth reason you should care about UX, and that’s that …
  4. It’s fun! This stuff is fascinating! A career as a UX Designer is interesting, it’s challenging, it’s rewarding, it pays well, and there’s a very low barrier to entry. A lot of people feel uncomfortable calling themselves a “designer”, because they’re no good at choosing a typeface or a colour palette. Get over it! UX Design is the design behind the visuals. Visual design is just one small part of it. It’s an important part, but some of the best UX Designers I know actually aren’t that great at visual design, but they’re really good at those other areas that are so important.

And that’s pretty much it! So while you might hear terms like information architect, user interface designer, interaction designer, user researcher, or whatever, essentially these are all people with different backgrounds—they might specialise in marketing or technology, or maybe their strengths are in user research, social media or come from a customer support background. Either way, they’re all asking a ton of questions and following a quasi-scientific process to do the design behind the visuals. And they’re having a blast doing it.

That’s what I’d like to leave you with—that if this stuff interests you, you may very well be well placed to have a promising career as a UX designer.

We started UXMastery.com to help newcomers to UX Design learn how to get better. I hope you’ll stick around!

Keen to get started? Check out our ebook, Get Started in UX: the complete guide to launching a career in user experience design.


A series of five planes, stacked on top of each other, depict the different levels of abstraction with which to view the user experience of a product.
Jesse James Garrett’s depiction of The elements of user experience design have been seminal in shaping modern thinking.
An iceberg, representing the surface design of a project, shows its tip above the water, while other, much larger factors lurk beneath the surface
The UX Iceberg, as described in The Elements Of User Experience and illustrated by Trevor Vangorp.

This article first appeared on UX Mastery and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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