User Experience

Good vs Bad UX. Source: Adapted from Lvivity 2021.
Good vs Bad UX. Source: Adapted from Lvivity 2021.

User Experience (UX) is how a person feels while engaging with a product or service. For example, when an e-commerce website is easy to use and free from ads, it's a better UX. Conversely, if it's complex to navigate and hustling with ads, it gives a bad user experience.

A good UX design delights the user. It touches upon the psychological aspects of user interaction. Human empathy is an important factor. A delightful UX design is useful, usable, valuable, desirable, accessible, credible and findable.

Good UX designs uplift failing businesses. Conversely, a bad UX can cause losses to a firm. Statistics say every dollar invested in UX brings a hundred dollars in return. About 70% of customers give up purchases due to bad UX. A good UX improves a product's visibility that translates into higher sales, revenue and customer loyalty.


  • Isn't UX the same as the UI (User interface)?
    UX vs UI. Source: Adapted from Sharma 2020.
    UX vs UI. Source: Adapted from Sharma 2020.

    UX and UI are often mistaken for synonyms. UX deals with how we experience a product. UI is more about its look and appearance.

    Structurally, UX is comparable to the skeleton of a product. It takes a lot of design thinking and research. UI is akin to the body or the external form. We associate the product's colours, fonts, images, navigation and other visual elements with UI.

    UI is tangible, whereas UX is intangible. The first stage of product development is UX. UI comes next, and the process is recursive as the product evolves.

    UX covers all types of human experiences and interactions. It doesn't restrict just to the device interface. On the other hand, UI is all about the device interface of the product or service. For instance, the UX of a food delivery app takes into account the speed of delivery. Displaying delivery time on the interface so that it's useful for the customers is a UX question. The UI bothers about putting it up on the app attractively.

  • Isn't UX the same as the interaction design?
    Interaction design is a big part of UX but not synonymous. Source: Saffer 2010, fig. 1.15.
    Interaction design is a big part of UX but not synonymous. Source: Saffer 2010, fig. 1.15.

    A user's interaction with a product largely shapes his/her user experience with that product, both on physical and emotional levels. Form, function and technology play important roles in this interaction. While there's considerable overlap between UX and interaction design, they're not the same.

    UX is interaction design and more. It's a more holistic user-centric process that includes other aspects when the user is not interacting with the product: information architecture, content strategy, visual design, sound design, industrial design, usability, and user research. For example, interaction design concerns with user flows so that users can exercise product functionality easily and effectively. Information design concerns with presenting information for better understanding. Visual design concerns with the product "look-and-feel".

  • What are some basic principles of UX design?

    Usability: A good UX design is easy to use and learn. It is accurate and engaging. It helps a user complete tasks effectively. Its error tolerance is high. This means it understands the user's intentions and rectifies errors automatically or with minimum effort.

    Accessibility: UX should make the product or service easily accessible to a maximum of users across the spectrum. As per a report, long-term stock prices of brands catering better to customers with disability beat their competitors.

    Hierarchy: The flow of functionality and information is the hierarchy. UX design shall ensure that the flow is natural and easy. A well-structured hierarchy provides a great user experience.

    Consistency: Keeping the look and feel of a product or service uniform across all platforms and interfaces is vital. Fulfilling user expectations every single time is also equally important.

    Context: A UX designer should know the purpose of the product or service. An understanding of the user's emotional state should be a prime consideration. Different devices that the user may interface with warrant different design approaches.

  • Why do we need user flows in UX design?
    User flow. Source: Adapted from Userfacet 2021b.
    User flow. Source: Adapted from Userfacet 2021b.

    Users go through a certain path in their interaction with a digital interface. The series of interactions from the entry point to the final stage is a user flow. Designers plan and create new user flows or alter an existing user flow using user research and feedback. It's an iterative process.

    Designers need user flows to create smooth interaction for users to interact intuitively. They make communication with the stakeholders easy by visually breaking down the design components. They help at picking flaws in the existing user flows and offer a blueprint to assess any need for changes.

    There are three basic types of User flows:

    • Task Flows are suitable to describe the flow of a specific task. Users will follow a single path without branching out.
    • Wire Flows convey the layout and design on a single page along with the flow. They can't accommodate dynamic interfaces. They fit best where designs pose screen limitations and demand relative simplicity.
    • Screen flows are used to design the aspects of how a user shall interact with the product. They accommodate multiple scenarios and complex designs.
  • How can we leverage mental models in UX design?
    Mental model adopted by Source: Adapted from Philip 2020.
    Mental model adopted by Source: Adapted from Philip 2020.

    A mental model represents how we perceive an interaction or an experience. Our reactions to a stimulus stem from our past experiences and mental impressions.

    Let's take the example of a digital cart on an e-commerce website. We drop items into a cart, add on to them or remove them, checkout and then pay. This is a mental model that matches a real-world shopping experience.

    A mismatch between the users' mental model and the design model may occur. It is more pronounced when users don't understand the interface. Designers immersed in design projects can get stuck in their individual mental models. It's called a designer bubble. Designers need to keep the average user in mind to break this bubble.

    UX research helps us identify the gaps in the design. There are many methods such as card sorting to identify users' mental models. Reworking the designs to suit the users' mental models can minimize such mental model mismatches.

    One way of addressing mental model mismatches is by making the UX and UI clearer and more transparent.

  • What's the difference between a user testing and a usability testing?
    Difference between user testing and usability testing. Source: Adapted from Wood 2020.
    Difference between user testing and usability testing. Source: Adapted from Wood 2020.

    Usability testing is a research methodology. A small group of real customers or users are asked to use a product, feature, or prototype. A moderator or a computer application observes their behaviour and takes feedback. It focuses on usability. It's done as a product or feature or prototype evolves.

    User testing is performed to determine whether a product is needed or not. Researchers use user testing to validate product ideas. It focuses on the target audience. It's important at the beginning stages of the design.

    However, both user testing and usability testing take a user-centric approach.

  • What are some useful UX tips for designers?

    Designers should focus beyond what users want. Steve Jobs said it's not the customer's job to know what they want. Giving beyond users' expectations is as important as matching their mental models.

    Designer's shouldn't think UX design is only about aesthetics. The main purpose of a UX design is to solve problems. It should address the entire product or service cycle. Visual appeal alone cannot make an interface usable.

    Designers must not treat UX as the last item in the product design's timeline. UX design is a work in progress. It depends on contexts and conditions that change over time. Integrating UX design later becomes costly and aesthetically difficult.

    Designer should give due importance to small details. ShopClues moved the 'Wholesale' section on its website towards the left side. It replaced the word with 'super saver' etc. This minor change increased the visits-to-order (percentage of visitors placing orders) conversion by 26%.

    Designer's shouldn't assume that people read every word on a digital interface. Most people scan or skim web pages. Merely adding more words won't enrich the UX. Using a concise choice of effective words bears maximum fruit.

  • What are some techniques used in UX design?

    Heuristic evaluation: It is useful to figure out the issues in an existing product. It assesses the usability, accessibility and effectiveness of the user experience.

    Value Proposition: This method aims to match the user's needs with a proposed product. It works from the standpoint of saleability. Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and target customers are two important considerations in the technique.

    Card Sorting: Participants organize topics into categories, make groups, and label them. This is useful to build the structure of the digital interface. The technique is cheap and easy to extract input from users.

    Brainstorming: Participants throw fresh and creative ideas among a closed group. It can be random or structured. Depending on the method, a moderator records, classifies and drafts outcomes from the session.

    A/B testing: It tests alternative versions of a product by offering them to different users. Comparing the outcomes gives a clear picture of what works best.

    UX roadmaps: These communicate the firm's UX future and the problems to solve. It is not restricted just to the UX team. It reflects the UX vision of the entire organization.

  • Could you discuss a couple of UX case studies?

    New York Times app was fast losing its user base. The reasons were poor coverage, changing priorities, lacking regularity and irrelevant content. Johny Veno performed a case study. His team proposed minor changes to the landing page and called it Timely. Timely would send notifications at opportune moments in a packed day. It would send short reads at times around breakfast, commute, or a coffee break. These customized feeds would glue the readers onto the app.

    Stacey Wang identified four pain points in the usability of the Fitbit app:

    • Users had issues tracking and logging exercises on the app.
    • Users couldn't fix a start time or set a duration for the exercises.
    • Users found it hard to identify the right exercise type.
    • The app didn't have an option for the user to challenge a friend.

    She suggested the following fixes:

    • Make the exercise page easily discoverable and the choice to track and log more conspicuous.
    • Add a button to browse all the exercise types.
    • Add access buttons to edit start time and duration.
    • Add a challenge button on a friend's page.



J. C. R. Licklider introduces the concept of man-computer symbiosis. It talks about a cooperative interaction between men and electronic machines. It is one of the early stages in the evolution of interaction design that later becomes an integral part of UX designs.


Xerox Palo Research Center(PARC) creates Xerox Alto personal workstation. It employ's the world's first Graphical User Interface. Interface design and UX are interdependent.


Richard Saul Wurman coins the term Information Design. The goal of an information design is to work around structure, context, data and information to communicate effectively. Effective communication is an essential part of UX design.


John Bennett publishes The commercial impact of usability in interactive systems. It is the first scientific publication with usability in its title, denoting what UX means later on.

Mac's skeumorphism. Source: Adapted from Irish 2022.
Mac's skeumorphism. Source: Adapted from Irish 2022.

Apple introduces Macintosh computer that allows the users themselves to become creators. It incorporates skeumorphism, a visual design technique that mimics real-life objects on the interface. Mac design becomes a trend setter for future UX.

System Usability Scale. Source: Bangor et al. 2009, fig.1.
System Usability Scale. Source: Bangor et al. 2009, fig.1.

John Brooke invents a questionnaire to assess Digital Equipment Corporation's System Usability Scale (SUS). It becomes a widely used tool to assess the usability of systems. It is a simple, ten-statement questionnaire. Researchers can use it to assess whether a system needs an update. They can also evaluate the effectiveness of system improvements and the need to invest further on UX.


John Whiteside and John Bennette publish a handful of articles in Usability Engineering. The articles emphasize initial goal setting, prototyping and interactive evaluation. The three practices become the starting points for most UX methodologies.


Donald Norman et al. coin the term User Experience (UX). It encompasses everything that refers to what the world terms user experience.


Netscape Communication Corporation introduces Netscape Composer. It is a webpage editor that gives a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) environment. It permits easy web formatting, editing and spellcheck.

The duality of the web: an interface (left) and an information space (right). Source: Garrett 2000.
The duality of the web: an interface (left) and an information space (right). Source: Garrett 2000.

Garrett observes that the web was conceived as an information space. But as the technology evolved, the web is now a remote software interface. Via the web interface, users can perform complex operations or workflows. This duality has led to confusion on the terms used to describe the web. Garrett clarifies some of these terms including visual design, navigation design, information design, interaction design, and more.

The UX Honeycomb framework. Source: Morville 2004.
The UX Honeycomb framework. Source: Morville 2004.

Peter Morville introduces the UX Honeycomb. It's a framework to evaluate a product or service through seven facets of UX. It's a widely used tool to measure the quality of user experience.


Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone. He calls it a breakthrough product that revolutionizes the history of UX. It replaces the traditional keyboard with a finger-touch keyboard.

CUE-model. Source: Nicolás 2017, fig. 1.6.
CUE-model. Source: Nicolás 2017, fig. 1.6.

Thüring & Mahlke propose the Components of User Experience (CUE) Model. It's a comprehensive model that schematizes the core elements of UX. It's built from studying the research findings on smartphones and audio player usage. It categorizes the core UX components into perceived Instrumental qualities, emotional reactions and perceived non-instrumental qualities. Usefulness and ease of use are examples of perceived instrumental qualities. Perceived non-instrumental qualities could include aesthetic aspects, symbolisms and motivational aspects.


Tom Tullis and Bill Albert publish the first book on usability measurement. It is titled Measuring the User Experience.


Usability Professionals Association (UPA) changes its name to User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). It supports people who research and design the UX of products and services.


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Further Reading

  1. Robier, Hannes. 2021. "The Future of UX jobs – What's coming next?" article, Linkedin, December 20. Accessed 2023-02-23.
  2. Donahole, Stephanie. 2021. "How Artificial Intelligence Is Impacting UX Design." UXmatters, April 19. Accessed 2023-02-23.
  3. Stevens, Emily. 2021. "Here's How to Become a UX Designer in 2023." blog, Careerfoundry, June 23. Updated 2023-01-23. Accessed 2023-02-23.
  4. Columbia Engineering Boot Camps. 2021. "12 UX Designer Tools You Should Be Using (From Beginner to Pro)" blog, Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, September 09. Accessed 2023-02-23.
  5. Foley, Joseph. 2022. "VR and AR could be the future of UX design." Creative Bloq, October 28. Updated 2022-10-31. Accessed 2023-02-23.

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Devopedia. 2023. "User Experience." Version 9, March 22. Accessed 2024-06-26.
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