UX: The Trouble of a Term

The term UX (user experience) has probably come to the point where it’s becoming more misleading rather than encouraging, aspiring, or clarifying.

“…the term [User Experience] has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose it’s meaning. …user experience, human centered design, usability; all those things, even affordances. They just sort of entered the vocabulary and no longer have any special meaning. People use them often without having any idea why, what the word means, its origin, history, or what it’s about.”

– Don Norman (Source)

Ever since we had to explain UX isn’t just about user and/or experience, the term has become an unfortunate concern.

What happened? When and how did a promising and forward-thinking term become such an abused misinformation?

The notion was coined in a specific time in response to a specific trend.

“I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow. I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design graphics, the interface, the physical interaction and the manual.”

– Don Norman (Source)

By definition, it cuts across the functional divisions of orgs.

“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. In order to achieve high-quality user experience in a company’s offerings there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, marketing, graphical and industrial design, and interface design.”

The Definition of User Experience (UX)

Therefore it’s actually wrong to set it up as a traditional functional division, which was what many did, exactly when it became tricky. One reason may be that, people were so used to the reductive analytic tradition used for structuring functions in orgs. While UX is holistic.

UX, just like Design, is the overarching, systemic approach to an org and their products. No wonder designers used to murmur and scream (and still are).

UX wasn’t seen and approached as a horizontal penetration into hierarchical org functions until very recently, when few did gain a strategic voice in some exemplary business success stories.

UX designers, in functional silos, had a hard time fighting the interpretation that UX is a “function/component” like others. It’s not. They had to explain how it’s not just “user” or “experience” or “UX” as they’re interpreted in the reductive analytic tradition.

The core issue facing business may be how to infuse that synthetic, systemic/holistic approach (Design Thinking) in a strong analytic tradition/inertia.

There’s a bigger struggle out there about art, science, and design. Somehow design borrows heavily from both art and science, while having something unique that goes far beyond the scope of art and science. A third culture. UX evolves in that third culture before it becomes obsolete.



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