What is UX, exactly?

You’ve probably heard about UX lately, as it’s a rapidly growing field thanks to companies like Apple, Amazon, and Zappos that have made big business out of taking UX seriously. We’ll be talking plenty about the details of user experience in later writings, but for now I think a good start would be to give a quick primer on what exactly UX means. There’s a lot to cover, such as what UX professionals do, how UX differs from usability, what the benefits of UX are, and how UX should be implemented. But for now we’re just going to give a quick high-level introduction to the concept and why it’s important.

Human, meet Computer

Technology provides us with tools that allow us to do business more efficiently and effectively than ever before. It also provides us with new forms of entertainment, communication, and productivity. The common denominator in all of this, however, is that in each of these cases, technology is used by people in service of people. Everywhere you look, humans interact with computers. And yet it’s only in the past decade or so that many businesses have considered it especially important to study and refine how that interaction works. The two-way conversation that happens between a person and technology is what user experience tries to understand and shape.

That so-called conversation consists of everything a user sees, hears, thinks, and does as well as everything your website, device, or document takes in as input, processes, and outputs back to the user. It’s a pretty big picture to consider. But when done right, the user comes away with an impression of a seamless, professional, helpful system that benefited him or her and was worth the time, money, and effort spent on it. That’s the kind of impression that leads a user to come back and become a repeat customer, regular visitor, or dedicated fan.

The Bottom Line

Bridging the gap between the cold, calculating world of technology and the fickle, capricious nature of humanity is no easy task. That’s why it’s important that the best methods are employed to gain knowledge, apply best practices, and unify that big picture as much as possible. Practitioners of UX like myself work hard researching users, designing interactions, and guiding the creative and development processes so that a user might fall in love with their smartphone, delight in a purchasing experience, or just plain feel good about the technology in their life.