UX One-liners

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A little background to start: I’ve had the honor of working as a designer-in-residence for General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive Pilot Program (UXDI) from June through July. Our team built, launched, and taught a UX course 5-days a week, 8-hours a day, for 8-weeks straight.  It was quite the challenging, yet rewarding experience.

However, learning from our approach, I found something about the way we bring people into the fold that we can stand to improve.

We instructors spent much of our early days teaching techniques by going through truckloads of slides. We sent students home to read more chapters and articles loaded with paragraphs after paragraphs of definitions and use cases.

Yet, when students have trouble with a particular technique or concept during their free practice time, we’ve always had to re-explain to them the crux of these ideas with piercing simplicity.

Why don’t these simple core ideas exist in a simple, more easily referenceable form?

Looking up any UX terminology in Google results in many results: incomplete lists long abandoned, or gigantic lists of terms with accompanying paragraphs–and that’s only if you’re lucky enough to avoid the full blown articles. At a time when Dieter Rams’ As Little Design as Possible is common advocacy, we can present the fundamental impressions of UX’s core capabilities as something much more succinct than a wall of text. I’d argue that we would want the same considerations for our own products and content.

I have a modest proposal. Introduce the essence of your techniques and concepts in a single sentence. Do it in a one-liner. If it goes beyond one sentence, make it shorter.

Understand that these one-liners are NOT meant to explain UX techniques or concepts as well as articles or lengthy discussions can. Likewise, the real substance behind any of these techniques and ideas will expand and change over time, context, usage, and the like.

However, my contention is that there should be a much simpler and more concise way for people to see to the fundamental core of a technique or idea. For any confusion and disagreements that exists within the UX community, one of our common goals is to better communicate our ideas and intents to our teams and colleagues so that we can better create.

Why not then reconsider how we communicate the most basic fundamentals of what and how we work?

UX has always had a rich tradition steeped in academia, which is often somewhat verbose. It’s only relatively recently that its relevance to the consumer world has been realized on a massive scale. As UX adapts to a rapidly shortening cycles of technological–and by proxy, behavioral–change, we need to consider simplicity and conciseness in introducing the rest of our world to not only the products we design, but also the universe in which we create.

There will be another session of UXDI session beginning in September. I’ll be preparing a list for the students to use. Would you do it for a class you taught?

Here’s to an improved UX of UX.

Here are some one-liners I think adequately communicate the focus of their associated techniques and methodologies. This is a start. Add your own in the comments.

Card Sorting Activity in which users organize a set of data in ways that they think makes sense.
Contextual Inquiry Ethnographic Interviewing technique where the user is observed using products in their natural usage setting.
Ethnographic Interviews Interviewing techniques combining one-on-one interviewing and extensive observation.
Facets Preset categories used to filter information/content into more digestible chunks.
Heuristics Quick rules of thumb used to streamline design decisions.
Metadata Data used to categorize other data.
Personas Description of fictional yet realistic persons that represents a target user group/market.
Scenarios A story describing a user’s problem situation and how she might use a product to achieve a solution.
Site Maps Modular diagram conveying your site’s page inventory and, to a lesser extent, categories.
Usability Testing A test conducted with end users to see how usable they find a product.
User Flow A path map highlighting what a user has to do within your product to accomplish his goals.


  1. “it depends” – universal get out of jail free card (annoys everyone despite being true nearly always)

  2. I am a UXDI graduate from San Francisco, and I thought this article was extremely useful 🙂

    “Conceptual model” a model to the user defined by the design and interface of the product

    “Mental model” a model of thought by the user and how the user interacts with the object (usually minus product)

  3. Carl, words can’t describe how appropriate your comment is in context of how we had to pry our students’ perspectives open in class.

  4. You know, I took the UX Design (non-intensive), that cost almost the same amount of money. I have to say, I’m super disappointed we didn’t go over most of the things mentioned above.

  5. I work as a UX designer at a digital marketing agency in South Africa- and more than once, client service has asked us to produce a certain document/output and on feedback we are told that it’s not what the client wanted (ie. client service asked us for user journeys- but really wanted user workflows). This comes down to sales reps within the agency not having an understanding of UX and its deliverables.

    I get caught up in sending links and longwinded articles to the agency about certain deliverables and their outputs. By creating a glossary of UX oneliners, I think I’ll be able to
    communicate what we do in a clear, concise manner (the UX of UX). This was an awesome read!


  6. “User Experience” – A person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service
    – ISO 9241-210 (2010)

    Our group tries to help software developers understand the distinction between UX and UI, where the UI (for computers) is the actual piece of software and/or hardware, and UX is the user’s thoughts and actions relative to the UI and his or her use of it.

  7. The fact of the matter is, you need to user-test your lesson plans and class assignments as rigorously as you profess to do so for your wireframes – the GA UX classes especially!

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