What’s the definition of User Experience? Stop wondering!

Last Modified: Jun 19th, 2024 - Category: UX, Blog Articles About UX, UI, Research and Development
1527 words, 8 minutes estimated read time.
UX screens for mobile app

Before we start, we need to make something clear: There are many definitions of user experience . Some as broad as the disciplines of User Experience itself.

Other definitions are more narrow and simple, but not less correct.

Renowned usability  experts Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen present one of those definitions, perhaps the simplest and most direct:

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

Furthermore, if we visit the article with the definition of user experience of Norman / Nielsen Group, we will see a clarification. It sheds light on one of the most common confusion on this topic:

User Experience is NOT User Interface, and it’s not usability either.

Or in other words: UX is not UI.

In future articles we will see both concepts in depth. But for now, we can say that both usability and user interface design are (very small) parts of UXD as a whole.

Of course, the abive is not teh only definition of UX.

ISO standards in User Experience

For example, we have the ISO standards.

These are the quality specifications for defining reliable, safe and durable products and services.

For this reason, in UXUsability and User-Centered Design (UCD) we will frequently use ISO standards. And of course, these standards include definitions. Starting by the definition of UX itself!

In ISO 9241-210: 2010 , in the document entitled Ergonomics of human-system interaction – Part 210: Human-centered design for interactive systems we find the following definition, somewhat broader:

2.15 person’s perceptions and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service

Although the definition is short, it’s extended with the following three user experience definitions:

First note to entry: User experience includes all the users’ emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviours and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use.

Second note to entry: User experience is a consequence of brand image, presentation, functionality, system performance, interactive behaviour and assistive capabilities of the interactive system, the user’s internal and physical state resulting from prior experiences, attitudes, skills and personality, and the context of use.

Third note to entry: Usability, when interpreted from the perspective of the users’ personal goals, can include the kind of perceptual and emotional aspects typically associated with UX. Usability criteria can be used to assess aspects of user experience.

Source: ISO 9241-210

As you can see, the definition of UX is already much more complex (no one ever said that ISO standards were easy!).

And yet, these user experience definitions are still incomplete; or maybe a little vague.

User Experience considers all dimensions of a user

A common definition for UX

Just to give a slight glimpse of the hundreds of user experience definitions, let’s see what Wikipedia says as definition of UX:

In commerce, user experience (UX) is a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. It includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency. UX may be subjective in nature to the degree that it is about individual perception and thought with respect to a system. UX varies dynamically, constantly modifying over time due to changing usage circumstances and to changes to individual systems as well as to the wider usage context in which they operate. In the end, UX is about how a user interacts with, and experiences, a product.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_experience

This definition of UX is more or less correct but quite old, usually used in Computer Systems careers. However, coming from Wikipedia, is a definition that we will hear really often.

I have my own User Experience Definition too!

Finally, among so many UX definitions, I will add mine:

User experience is the sum of subjective perceptions that a person has about a product, service or system designed to create or satisfy a need.

As you can see, my definition is simple and grounded in psychological and economic theories. Personally, I believe that any definition of user experience that doesn’t consider psychology as a central component is likely to be erroneous or incomplete. The user experience is fundamentally rooted in the measurement of users’ subjective experiences, perceptions, and emotions.

Psychological theories help us understand how users think, feel, and behave when interacting with a product or service. This understanding is crucial because user experience is not just about the usability of a product but also about how it makes the user feel. Economic theories, on the other hand, help us understand the value users place on their experiences and how these experiences can influence their purchasing decisions and brand loyalty.

In most cases, we aim to satisfy or create a need, making it essential to incorporate the concept of need into our definition of user experience. The user experience we design must have intentionality and purpose. We are not just designing interfaces or products; we are designing experiences that meet specific needs and evoke particular emotions.

Technically, we can measure random or casually created systems, but that wouldn’t involve creating anything meaningful—just measuring. For example, we could analyze how users interact with a randomly generated website. While this might yield interesting data, it wouldn’t provide insights that we can use to improve the user experience. Without intention and purpose, there is no true user experience.

Not all UX research is useful!

An illustrative example is if we were to measure the effects of gamma rays on a particular demographic and assess their perception of these effects. While the results might be scientifically interesting, they may not provide actionable insights for improving user experience in a practical sense.

To whom do we assign these effects? What can we do to change them? Who is responsible for implementing these changes if necessary? It’s clear that such research, while potentially fascinating from a scientific standpoint, may not be very useful in a practical sense for enhancing user experience.

Effective UX research should always be focused on understanding the needs, behaviors, and emotions of users in the context of their interactions with a product or service. It should provide actionable insights that can inform the design process and lead to the creation of better, more meaningful user experiences.

In conclusion, user experience is a complex and multi-faceted field that requires a deep understanding of psychological and economic theories. It is about more than just usability; it is about creating intentional, purpose-driven experiences that meet users’ needs and evoke positive emotions. Without this focus on intentionality and purpose, we risk producing research and designs that are ultimately unhelpful and ineffective.

user experience definition - UX definition - Definition of UX
UX is not UXD (and much less UI/UX or UX/UI!!!!!)

Definition of UXD: is it the same as UX definition?

It’s very common to hear phrases like “I work on UX” or “I will create the UX for…” but these are incorrect.

Why is it wrong? By now, you should understand that no definition of UX involves a designer creating a user experience. That would require some kind of superpower.

To clarify: user experience occurs on the user’s side; it’s not something you can directly create. You can design an experience, and that experience can be measured using scientific methods.

Researching the effects of any design we create will provide us with a set of insights. THAT is UX in practice.

We often use “UX” in casual conversation because it’s shorter and more widely understood without needing to explain the full definition. However, in professional, academic, or interview settings, it’s important to use more precise terminology. The correct terms are UXD (User Experience Designer), UID (User Interface Designer), UXR (User Experience Researcher), or UXE (UX Engineer), depending on your specialization.

If you’ve worked on a project where you contributed to various areas, UXD is perfectly acceptable. It’s more accurate than just saying “UX” and far more professional than using combinations like UI/UX or UX/UI.

In summary

To recognize what is UX, we must find AT LEAST the following elements:

  • User: Who do we direct our efforts to in designing a user experience?
  • Experiencer: Who creates the experience.
  • Intentionality: The reason why we undertake the process
  • Design: The way the process is developed, including previous investigations and further results measurement.

This list is very minimal for the complexity of the tasks we should perform. At least, in a correctly implemented user experience design process.

However, none of these elements should be missing.

Otherwise, the process itself would be meaningless and probably not more than a hypothesis at best.

More UX Readings

Quantifying the User Experience Practical Statistics for User Research – J Sauro, JR Lewis (PDF)

Eye Tracking in User Experience Design – JR Bergstrom, A Schall (PDF)

User Experience (UX): Towards an experiential perspective on product quality – M Hassenzahl 

User Experience Over Time: An Initial Framework – E Karapanos, J Zimmerman, J Forlizzi, J Martens

Disclaimer: This content was translated to English from the original we wrote in Spanish, available in UXpañol

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