About UX

What is User Experience (UX)?

User experience (UX) is an approach to product development that incorporates direct user feedback throughout the development cycle (human-centered design) in order to reduce costs and create products and tools that meet user needs and have a high level of usability (are easy to use). There are many definitions of user experience by UX professionals.

The business benefits of adding UX to a product development process include:

  • Increased productivity
  • Increased sales and revenues
  • Decreased training and support costs
  • Reduced development time and costs
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Increased customer satisfaction

Too often, organizations don't track total lifecycle costs for a software project. The original development budget and schedule is known, but they don't typically track how expensive support costs are, what they're attributable to, how much employee time is wasted on unusable tools, and other post-production factors. Thus, projects that have small up-front costs and short development cycles are often rewarded even if they result in failed, ineffective, or unusable products. There are many real world examples showing how UX can benefit a project and how a lack of UX can add risk.

UX in Practice

User experience work is based on designing products and services with the people who will use the product or service in-mind (users). This practice of focusing on the users is sometimes more specifically called user-centered design (UCD). In UCD work the focus is on the users through the planning, design and development of a product.

An International Standard

There is an international standard that is the basis for many UX/UCD methodologies. This standard (ISO 13407: Human-centred design process) defines a general process for including human-centered (user-centered) activities throughout a development life-cycle, but does not specify exact methods.

Diagram of a UCD process from the ISO 13407 standard

In this model, once the need to use a human centered design process has been identified, four activities form the main cycle of work:

  1. Specify the context of use
    Identify the people who will use the product, what they will use it for, and under what conditions they will use it.
  2. Specify requirements
    Identify any business requirements or user goals that must be met for the product to be successful.
  3. Create design solutions
    This part of the process may be done in stages, building from a rough concept to a complete design.
  4. Evaluate designs
    The most important part of this process is that evaluation - ideally through usability testing with actual users - is as integral as quality testing is to good software development.

The process ends - and the product can be released - once the requirements are met.

A Typical UX Methodology

Most UX methodologies are more detailed in suggesting specific activities, and the time within a process when they should be completed. The UXPA published a poster, Designing the User Experience, showing a typical UX/UCD process.

In this version, the UX activities are broken down into four phases: Analysis, Design, Implementation and Deployment, with suggested activities for each phase. They are:

Analysis Phase

  • Meet with key stakeholders to set vision
  • Include usability tasks in the project plan
  • Assemble a multidisciplinary team to ensure complete expertise
  • Develop usability goals and objectives
  • Conduct field studies
  • Look at competitive products
  • Create user profiles
  • Develop a task analysis
  • Document user scenarios
  • Document user performance requirements

Design Phase

  • Begin to brainstorm design concepts and metaphors
  • Develop screen flow and navigation model
  • Do walkthroughs of design concepts
  • Begin design with paper and pencil
  • Create low-fidelity prototypes
  • Conduct usability testing on low-fidelity prototypes
  • Create high-fidelity detailed design
  • Do usability testing again
  • Document standards and guidelines
  • Create a design specification

Implementation Phase

  • Do ongoing heuristic evaluations
  • Work closely with delivery team as design is implemented
  • Conduct usability testing as soon as possible

Deployment Phase

  • Use surveys to get user feedback
  • Conduct field studies to get info about actual use
  • Check objectives using usability testing

You may notice that "usability testing" appears several times throughout the process, from the first phase to the last.

Providing a great user experience is an ongoing process.

You can find more information about usability and user-centered design guidelines and methodologies in the rest of the resources section of the UXPA web site.

What Is a User Experience Professional?

The UXPA defines a User Experience (UX) professional broadly as people who research, design, and evaluate the user experience of products and services.

Some specialize in conducting usability tests or other user research while others practice UX as part of other responsibilities in designing products, services, software applications or web sites.

The training and professional background of UX professionals is equally broad. Many have qualifications in closely related fields like human-computer interaction (HCI), information design or psychology. Others have used their backgrounds in computer science, project management, journalism, fine arts, library science, or business as part of their journey towards being a UX professional.

People start from many different fields, and many different user experience disciplines. This image shows them all pointing towards a common center: usability.

"Doing UX"

The activities of a UX professional - or the time spent on UX activities for those with other primary responsibilities - are all part of an approach to design called user-centered design. They span the entire product life-cycle from user research during planning and early visioning to the final rollout or release of a product. There is an international standard, ISO 13407 that is the basis for many user-centered design approaches.

Broadly speaking, UX activities can be divided into:

  • Research - learning about the people who will use a product and the context in which it will be used.
  • Evaluation - observing (and learning from) users as they work with a product before, during and after the design and development process.
  • Design - whether it is called interface, interaction, information or experience design.

Body of Knowledge

The UXPA Body of Knowledge project is working to define the work of a UX professional. The project includes:

  • Activities and methodologies
  • Common titles and roles
  • Curriculum

The UXPA Code of Conduct guides professional activities.

How Do I Get Started with UX?

If you are just learning about UX, this site includes some good resources - and links to many others - on UX, whether you like learning by reading, listening or in discussion with others. Some places to start are:

But if you have already done some reading and are wondering how to take the first steps, here are some articles written by others who have shared their experiences. 

What is the code of conduct for UX professionals?

About the Code

The Code of Professional Conduct of the User Experience Professionals Association expresses the profession's recognition of its responsibilities to the public, clients, employers, and colleagues.

The Code guides members in the performance of their professional responsibilities and express the basic tenets of ethical and professional conduct.

The Code of Conduct calls for UXPA members to evaluate the risks and benefits of their actions on all stakeholders and ensure these actions meet highest ethical standards.

Read the Code of Conduct

(approved September 2005)

UXPA Ethical Principles

  • Act in the best interest of everyone
  • Be honest with everyone
  • Do no harm and if possible provide benefits
  • Act with integrity
  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Respect privacy, confidentiality, and anonymity
  • Provide all resultant data

Ethics Advisory Committee

If any member believes that a violation has occurred during the trial period, he or she should report the violation to the Vice President of the UXPA who will call a meeting of the Ethics Advisory Committee. 

The Advisory Committee will evaluate the evidence and determine if the Code has been violated. The findings will be reported to the UXPA Board of Directors who have the power to expel the member from the User Experience Professionals Association.

    Articles and Resources

    • Ethics Resources: STC Usability SIG Topics in Usability. Resources and links collected by Chauncey Wilson