What is User Experience? A guide to UX terminology (pt. 1)

All of the UX-related terms refer to an idea that users needs are core foundations when building a product or service. It means that the more relief for users pains and pleasure a product gives, the higher the chance that users will use it and pay for it. This knowledge is combined with business goals and marketing strategy to make a profitable product. UX is, therefore, a part of the whole business strategy. Below you will find some nomenclature regarding knowledge of domains, techniques used in the design process, and work methodology.

User Experience

User Experience (UX) is an idea of creating products or services with the deep focus on users needs, limitations, and skills. People only buy/use things that kill their pains or/and give them pleasure. In User Experience approach we focus on identification of those strains and gains to design painkillers and gain creators. As a result, the final product gives more satisfaction to users. The design process also focuses on business goals, stakeholders requirements, and the available technology.

Under the umbrella of User experience, there are such disciplines as UX research, Information Architecture (IA), Interaction Design (IxD), web accessibility, and visual design. Those are core elements of designing user-friendly interfaces.

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

- Don Norman and Jakon Nielsen


The ability to understand and use any software application or object. The better usability, the fewer instructions, tips, and training are needed to start using the product.

“The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.”

- ISO 9241-11

The process

UX research

This stage in the process focuses on the analysis of user needs, behaviours, and motivations. Here pains, gains, and context of usage are validated or discovered. Insights from UX research are the base for further stages of the product design process. There are many techniques and methodologies to conduct User Experience research such as observations, moderated UX tests, interviews, and many more.

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

The science of how humans interact with machines. Currently, this term refers more to hardware solutions such as mobile phones, vending machines, VR glasses, and all other interactive tools that we are surrounded by. Interaction Design, which I will describe next, is an element of HCI.

Interaction Design (IxD)

IxD is a set of rules and tools that help to design the interaction between the user (human) and product that involves motion, touch, sound, etc. It is an approach of creating an intuitive interface based on the HCI knowledge.

Information Architecture (IA)

The art and the science of organizing, structuring, and labelling the content of the webpage. As an outcome, we receive content that’s organized in logical groups with defined relations between them. Information Architecture is essential when you want to have a page that's easily navigated and where users are always aware where they are, where can they go further, or how to go back to the content they've already seen. Well-design IA has a very positive impact on the web accessibility and usability.

Web accessibility

This term refers to the equal access to information and benefits of web and mobile solutions. This is a set of design rules that remove boundaries for people with limitations and disabilities such as visual impairments, difficulty or inability to use hands, deafness or hearing impairments, photo epileptic seizures caused by visual strobe or flashing effects, or cognitive and intellectual disabilities.

Web accessibility is regulated by Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), an international organization that works on guidelines and standards in software and focuses on making using the Internet easier for people with disabilities.

UX content strategy

Content strategy is a document with a set of guidelines, standards, and plans for the future development of content (text, messages, voice messages, visual language etc.). It focuses on the content lifecycle and its structure (Information Architecture).

Sketch, wireframe, mockup, and prototype

  • Before reaching the final stage of the project, designers work with clients on less detailed presentation of the solution. At this stage, features and their shapes are discussed and co-created with a client. Everything can start with simple handwritten sketches.
  • Wireframes (handwrite or digital) are low-fidelity views of the web pages that present relationships between pages and basic interaction. Very often they are black and white and show elements in a simple form, in contrary to mockups which are colourful and display images, logos, fonts, etc.
  • The high fidelity presentation is a prototype, which behave like a final product. They are interactive and may, if needed, contain animated elements. It is a great tool for usability tests. However, creating prototypes requires more time and money than making static views.
    You might also come across the term paper prototype. It is a representation of the product drawn on the piece of paper and used for simple tests. This technique is mostly used in workshops sessions where there is no time to create digital views in HTML.

It is important to consult projects with a client on the very first stages, such as when creating sketches or wireframes.It will reduce the number of changes that will be made later during development since. Implementing changes to simple forms is much easier than doing so to a detailed structure.

User Interface Design UI - visual design

The last phase of the design process is when the product (website) is given its final shape. Thanks to the visual language, UI designers add more value to interaction design, information architecture, and content strategy. This is the most attractive element of product design and surely less boring for clients than all the previous stages. However, we can't forget that the beautiful design needs to have a strong foundation to be usable. Otherwise, the client might get a piece of art to hang on a wall, not a product to use.

Service Design

Service design has a wider meaning than product design. It also contains the design of relationship with the product and focuses on the whole user experience, both online and offline. Here we design all user paths where interfaces are integral elements. Service design can be used to create a brand new service or to improve the current process.

UX audit / Usability engineering

Inspection of the product, service, webpage regarding usability. Auditor checks compliance with the UX standards, usability heuristics, and good practices. As a result, the list of improvement recommendations is created.

Usability test

Evaluation of the product or a prototype of the product with representative users. During the test, researchers investigate usability problems, gaps in the user flow, collect insight, and prepare recommendations for improvement. Usability tests are done in various ways but mostly they are based on observation of users interaction with the product. During such test, users have particular tasks to do. Researchers focus on the time spent on each task, a number of problems spotted, moments where users weren't able to finish tasks etc.

UX Strategy

Plan of UX actions and principles that will lead to achieving product goals. It is crucial to make constant adjustments that will make product both more suitable for clients and competitive. It means that UX approach needs to be present in the product and business strategy.

If you want to design a product that will be usable and will meet business goals, you need to be sure that the flow of the Product Design is respected by the design team. There should be analysis phase, architecture phase (Information Architecture, Interaction Design), and then Visual Design. Ideas should be validated by targeted users and changes applied according to the tests results. How it's done depends on many factors: the field of product, access to target users, stakeholders, amount and quality of data, time, and budget.

That’s it for this part of our UX cheat sheet. I hope that my definitions made it a bit easier to work on your projects with UX Designers. In the second instalment of this series, I’m going to talk about the methodologies that are used in the User Experience world - see you then!

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