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UX: What is it and why does it matter?

The term "UX" or User Experience is a commonly misunderstood and misused phrase. It also gets confused with "UI" or User Interface, and although the two are related, there are very distinct differences.

For simplicity, UX encompasses how a user interacts with your website or application, and UI is how it looks, feels and behaves. The user interface is just part of the overall user experience.

But it's not that simple.

A digital product can have many millions of users, each having different needs and abilities. Catering for all of these use cases is difficult and requires a lot of careful research and thoughtful design.

Designers and developers work together, using evidence gathered from user research, to create a shared understanding of the problems users face. There are many different tools and techniques for conducting user research, all of which contribute to the UX design process.

This process produces outputs, such as survey results, interview transcripts, wireframes, prototypes and user interface designs; the list is long. These outputs are then used to make decisions about the design of a product, and the goal is to create desired outcomes for your target users.

And there it is, the User Experience is the outcome. It's how a user feels and reacts when interacting with a product or service.

People commonly, although incorrectly, refer to UI designs as 'the UX'. I've heard people say things like "The UX looks great!". The problem is, it's possible to have an appealing and aesthetically pleasing user interface, that provides a terrible user experience. It's also possible to have a product that offers a simple and efficient user experience but has a user interface that is not at all pleasing to the eye.

So why does it matter?

It's important to understand that user experience is an outcome. Software development teams need to focus on producing results that generate the desired outcome for target users. This focus ensures the team have a shared understanding of user needs and objectives. It also means that the team can work in a user-centred way by placing target users at the heart of every decision.

Within a UX team, there may be several different roles all contributing towards the UX design process. User researchers, UX designers, interaction designers, visual designers and engineers. However, everybody involved in software development and delivery, including stakeholders, product owners and project managers has a responsibility to make sure that empathy with users is always a priority.