What is User Experience?

Written by: Stephen P Anderson

I’m tired of discussing “user experience.” What it is, what it isn’t. I’m tired of talking about wireframes vs prototypes. I’m tired of the agile-lean-waterfall debates. I’m weary from discussing personas and sitemaps. I’m wary of design patterns, and I’m pretty sure the term “user” has held us back. Above all, I’m tired of defining the damn thing. None of this is what I practice, and these things aren’t user experience.

So what is UX?

Let’s talk instead about two kinds of people:

At the end of the day, there are those people who will go quietly about their jobs, perhaps grumbling about not having a “seat at the table.” These people may have also been taught the right way to do things. Then, there are others who–regardless of their titles or position–will stand up and say, “Wait a minute, why are we doing it this way?”

What sets these folks apart is a relentless curiosity.

They are the people who ask all the “what if?” and “why not?” questions. They disrupt processes when the process isn’t paying off. And they defy decisions, when the decisions don’t make sense. They may be subversive, but their goal isn’t subversion. Rather, they care. About the experience being designed for, and the people who will have to live with these experiences.

They care because of another vital quality: Empathy. They care about people. It’s not all about the paycheck for them. They care about what is created, because people will be affected, influenced, hindered or helped. They care about the business, people served by that business, and ultimately the world. They are curious, have empathy, and are vocal, which puts them in an interesting position.

Regardless of their appointed position, those who care will be found at the center of all that is designed, built, served, or otherwise experienced by people. These people will care about load times in browsers as well as long lines at the grocery store. They care about the details that make or break an experience: remembering a name, when someone on hold is transferred to another representative, or fixing the out of place pixel because, well, it matters.

They care about solving the real problems. And to be clear, they care about the business that enables these experiences. No customer=no business (and vice versa). Because they care about all of these details, they don’t fit neatly into an existing business unit. And they don’t even want their own business unit. They’d rather cut across silos, and grin at the magic that happens when people collaborate across disciplines.

These people have been around, long before the term “UX.” And these people will still be around, long after UX has either died out or hardened into a certifiable profession.

I am one of these people. I design experiences. Or I design for experiences, if we must mince words. I don’t do this because I was trained to do so. I do this because I must. I am a User Experience Designer. Or whatever they’re calling it these days.