Ario from LiveJournal recently wrote an excellent explanation about user experience that I just had to link. I’ve copied some of it below for posterity’s sake.
1. What is “user experience” (aka “UX”)?
In a broad sense, this field examines both improving existing products and the creation of new ones that solve some sort of human problem or fulfill a desire. More often than not, this mainly involves the design of web sites, web applications, and client software (programs that run on a computing device vs the web).
This narrow definition reflects the field as its practiced in techy areas like Seattle and Silicon Valley, but on a greater scale, “UX” means a whole lot more.
If you really boil it down, anyone who prepares anything for someone else to consume is a UX designer… so by this definition, we are all UX designers. Telling someone a story: that’s UX… DJs stringing together songs in a pleasurable way: that’s UX… the sushi chef who prepares an omakase style diner: definitely UX…. filmmaking = UX. No matter what the particular example, these all share the common thread of understanding an audience and satisfying some kind of desire (to be informed, entertained, etc).
2. Where do “user experience designers” work?
Going by the definition above, someone with this printed on their business card can follow any of the following routes:
A. working for a big corporation like Apple, Google, IBM, Oracle, Amazon, etc
B. working for a startup or small company like Twitter
C. working as a freelancer that goes from project to project with various clients (like my friend Sally)
D. working for a design firm that also has multiple clients (Adaptive Path & ZAAZ are popular ones)
A person in this role will spend their time thinking about how to make a given experience easier to understand and generally more appealing, hopefully even pleasurable!
3. How do I know if UX is something I’d want to do for a living? (aka, “you might be a UX designer if…”)
A good litmus test is to look at how you live your daily life. Are you constantly looking for ways to improve the environment around you? Are you the type that gets enjoyment from optimizing your closet? Do you look for ways to make your daily routines more efficient? When you run into the inevitable bad user experience, do you only complain about it or do solutions to improve the frustration come to you naturally? The answer to these questions should give you a sense for whether UX is something you’d enjoy and be good at.
4. How does UX differ from graphic design?
One of the most common misconceptions about the field is that it’s the same thing as graphic design. I understand the confusion as the two are very related. To put it as plainly as possible… one could have really crappy graphic design skills yet still be a great UX designer. Having art skills is certainly helpful, but it’s not a requirement. Some of the best UX work is illustrated by stick figure diagrams and white board drawings covered in post-it notes. In fact, focusing too much on the visual details can often hinder a UX designer depending on the needs of the project (more on this later in the post). While graphic design is certainly a part of good UX, it’s a subset which resides along side things like information architecture and usability.
8. What is the difference between user experience design and usability?
Usability researchers spend their time uncovering UX issues and do things like lab studies, surveys, ethnography, etc. Designers spend their time more on the other side of the equation coming up with solutions to UX problems. They both need each other and work towards a common purpose, but the skill sets and deliverables involved are different.