What in the world is UX?

UX of course stands for User Experience, and experience design is hot these days. The challenge in defining UX lies in its interpretation often skewed to a digital connotation. Of course, geographical locations and industries have an influence on the interpretation, but let’s not pigeonhole user experiences to digital applications, or even to design for that matter!
Thanks to the rise of the digital age, companies no longer question their digital presence, but only how they will be digitally presented. And in the case of purely digital companies (e.g. Facebook, Airbnb, Uber) user experience is manifested through the interaction design and interface of their website & apps and is mostly the star of the UX show. This recent image shows the digital emphasis on User Experience, which is often the (mis)understanding of what UX is all about:
Wikipedia claims "User experience design encompasses traditional human-computer interaction (HCI) design, and extends it by addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users". UX design origins can be arguably traced to Don Norman when he was responsible for Advanced Technology at Apple and his role in product user-experience, further outlined in his book "Psychology of Everyday Things" (1988). As much as I want to lean on digital as a driver of UX design, I strongly believe user experience is much more than digital, even in a digital environment, and is the sum of all experiences, extending from product to branding to communications to customer service.
During a recent introduction visit to a world leading financial software provider, I was rather impressed to learn that they have recently grown their UX department from a handful of designers to over 200 people, many of whom have management roles and are integrating and influencing colleagues across the organisation. When I asked the Head of Design “what about the other design functions?” he looked back with a kind of blank stare. I had to then clarify “you know, (3D) packaging design, (2D) graphic design”? The answer was somewhat expected, obvious, and rather discouraging: packaging and graphics were sitting in the other buildings, completely disconnected, working under marketing. Yet again, the ominous silos.
While I understand in this case the main product is digital, we always strongly advocate that all touch points with the company/brand should be seamlessly developed and integrated to deliver an optimal user experience. Even while most software services go to the clouds, retail partners will still require a physical product/packaging of some sort to fill their physical shelves. And this is part of the overall experience and brand perception.
Further on the subject of digital landscapes, I recently attended a rather good conference in San Francisco titled 'Managing Experiences', ran by a leading UX design and consulting firm. The event had a rather extensive line up of reputable and respectable speakers. I was inspired by their efforts to position design into their respective companies. Although, being in San Francisco and near Silicon Valley, most of the representation was weighted towards the digital front. Even in this context, I was very much enlightened to hear the bold statement from Katie M. Dill, Head of Experience Design at Airbnb, who claimed in her presentation that ”90% of their users’ experiences happen outside of the website”.Seems they are on the right path and have both an interesting challenge and great opportunity ahead to utilize design to develop & deliver improved user experiences across the entire journey.
Most of the attendees I met at the conference were coming from a digital function, and were managing departments of web developers, programmers and interaction designers, much like the above illustration. I did happen to overhear a great statement made by a participant at one of the workshops, in which he stated: 
“We no longer have a user experience role in our organization. User Experience is the outcome of many roles, including marketing, sales, service and design”.
In a recent LinkedIn post by UX designer Martino Liu, Martino claims “Most of the time, people confuse UX designer with a highly skilled programmer individual and a strong engineering background. The following chart shows the real thing”.
I tend to like Martino’s viewpoint, however this model seems to me suspiciously similar to the Design Thinking lens of Desirable, Viable & Feasible. A Design Thinking approach will certainly help deliver an optimal user experience, but this model implies to me that UX is again the star of the show. In my opinion, a good deal of emphasis should be made on User Experience design (management) as a strategic influencer & integrator across the journey.
When we work with clients in various consumer goods industries, digital is only one element of the overall user experience. The main experience is in the product itself (e.g. the ice cream flavor & texture, the shampoo scent and lather, the feel and sound of the clicking bricks, etc.) along with packaging, point of sale and [marketing] communications. It is in these environments where the understanding and interpretation of User Experiences gets pretty confusing. Nowadays in an omni-channel environment, the digital and physical blur, and digital is often an element incorporated in many touch points. Even packing nowadays may have a digital element integrated in it (for example LEGO augmented reality packaging).
A simple model we use at PARK is putting the user in the center surrounding them with all of the touch points they may encounter on their journey. Each one of these touch points needs to be designed and developed and seamlessly integrated with one another. This is the often the job of the (UX) design manager. However, please do not misinterpret the role of the design manager in large complex organizations. In the grand scheme, typically the responsibilities of the (UX) design manager are to drive the product/pack/formula portion while influencing or informing the “other” functions in hopes that their output is aligned with the overall design/experience intent. Too often, this is where we see the user experience being compromised, by no proper alignment or breaking down of functional silos during the development.
How your customers feel about your brand is in fact due in large to the product experience, which may or may not be largely digital, but is also heavily influenced by all other experiences along their journey. So, depending where in the world you are (industry wise), User Experience could be interpreted differently. However, like design thinking going off in different directions, I hope that the design community comes to an early consensus and clearly communicates what exactly is UX [design]. I like to put forward the claim that UX is:
“the sum of all activities that a user encounters in the process of researching, identifying, buying, sharing and interacting with a product, brand and service”.
What’s your interpretation?

Design Management & Innovation Specialist | Educator


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  3. The abbreviation UX refers to the English name USER EXPERIENCE, denoting the field of science, which deals with researching and designing the experiences of users of applications and websites. It turns out that the rules in this area can be applied to any project whose main recipient are people. Thus, they cover the Internet, as well as every channel of communication with a human being, from the printout of the insurance policy to the interfaces used to operate the machines. Looking at the IT market sector, we will focus of course on application projects. What does the scope of UX design consist of? One of the leading experts in this field, Peter Boersma in 2004 created a graphical answer to this question in the form of Model T.
    It is worth doing an UX audit before implementing a new website.

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