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

Last Modified: Jan 14th, 2021 - Category: UX, Blog Articles About UX, UI, Research and Development
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 based on psychological and economic theories. Personally, I believe that any definition that doesn’t contemplate psychology as a main part of the user experience is going to be erroneous or incomplete. Remember that user experience is based on measurement of user’s subjectivities.

In the same way, in the vast majority of cases we will try to satisfy or create a need. Therefore, it is important that this concept of need is present.

In other words: The user experience that we are going to create has to have intentionality.

Technically, we can measure random or casually created systems, but we would not be creating anything, just measuring.

And if that intention did not exist, then there is no user experience.

Not all UX research is useful!

An example: we could measure the effects of gamma rays on a given demographic sector. Then, the perception that this target audience has about said effects. Although very interesting …

  • To whom do we assign these effects?
  • What can we do to change it?
  • Who is responsible for these changes if necessary?

It is easy to see that the answer is not very useful!

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 say “I work on UX” or “I will create the UX for…” or something like that. And it’s wrong.

Why is it wrong? If you got to this point, you’ll already know that no definition of UX talks about a designer creating a user experience. That would require some kind of super-power.

To be more clear: user experience happens on the user side, is not something that you can create. You can create an experience. And that experience will be measured with scientific methods.

The research of the effects of any design we create will give us a set of insights. THAT is UX in practice.

Okay, we all say UX just like that. I do it sometimes. Because it is shorter and easier to remember. Also because other people are more likely to know what we are talking about without having to provide a full definition of UX.

However, if we are talking to colleagues, or are in an academic setting, or in a job interview, we should not say UX. The correct term is UXD (User Experience Designer, also used as generic) or UID (User Interface Designer) UXR (User Experience Researcher) or UXE (UX Engineer) or whatever specialization you have.

If you have worked on a project in which you have participated in several different areas, UXD is perfectly acceptable. It is much better than UX and infinitely more professional than UI / UX or UX / UI or any combination of those acronyms.

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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