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I came across multiple different reasons why UX design should not be called design or why a UX designer is not really the designer of user experiences.

For example:

User experience (UX) cannot be designed or crafted because:

  • UX depends on the user and each user is different
  • UX depends on the context in which the product is used
  • UX evolves over time
  • ... (add reasons yourself)

Can it be that the above reasons make it very hard for us to design a good user experience but not necessarily make it impossible to do so?

Let's consider it is not possible to design, but can we influence it?

UX design/designer is a buzzword. But isn't this a good thing? Buzzwords get things sold (see cloud-computing) and is giving the field a lot of positive intention.

If we are aware of our limitations, for example: that a user's experience depends on a lot factors which we cannot directly influence), should we be concerned about using the right terms?

What other terms are available to pick from? (for field (UX design) and function (UX designer)

N.B.: I know a lot of different subquestions are included, but they all relate to my first questions. Feel free to pick all or just a few to answer.

Reference article on Smashing Magazine

Not sure of the date, but similar sentiments from the people at Zurb

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

You're asking a deep question but I think on somewhat flawed premise.

User experience (UX) cannot be designed or crafted because:
UX depends on the user and each user is different

Now let's define Design, I rather like Wikipedia's definition:

Design as a noun informally refers to a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawing, business process, circuit diagrams and sewing patterns) while “to design” (verb) refers to making this plan.

Are we not using plans and conventions to sculpt the experience? How is this not design?

Furthermore, design is fairly often used for fields in which the final result is subjectively valued; Graphic Design, Interior Design, aesthetics and taste are different so the "user's" experience of art, graphics, music ect are always different. I find nothing in any definition of design that requires the result to be objectively valued, which seems to be the reason your hypothetical people disregard it.

Let's consider it is not possible to design, but can we influence it?

If you are influencing the experience, that is design. Just because you don't have 100% control does not mean you are not designing. Even engineers don't have 100% control over all conditions, that doesn't make it impossible to design a system which works, despite uncontrollable inputs.

Psychology faces many similar criticisms that you bring up. People aren't always the same, so how can their brains work in a predictable way? Without going too deeply into the arguments, I think it's important to note that many psychological techniques aren't important because they always work but because they work better than a placebo. If you can prove that your design increases conversion rates better than no change or than an absurd change, you have objective evidence to support your design.

It's not impossible to design experience, even if it is impossible to convince some people that it is. Framing experience instead as "interaction" or "usability" really has the same problems, does it not? Neither of those are 100% objective either, if you argue against UX you argue that nothing subjective can be deisgned.

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2  
Great answer Ben! While buzzwords may change, design thinking remains the same. I don't really care if you call it UX, UI, HCI, human factors ... the principles remain. Design to me is a perspective, a way of seeing, a method of thinking and approaching problem solving. –  Nadine Schaeffer Nov 11 '11 at 19:58
    
@NadineSchaeffer I'm in fact quite glad UX has become enough of a buzzword for companies to start caring about it. Inevitably some people will react poorly to the fact it's a buzzword, but that's certainly better than people just never knowing it existed –  Ben Brocka Nov 11 '11 at 20:21
    
Well, yes, definitely! Certainly makes it easier for me to be gainfully employed. –  Nadine Schaeffer Nov 11 '11 at 21:10

Disclaimer: this is a somewhat opinionated answer.

The reason "design" irks a lot of people is because it generally implies visuals. One's experience is however not something that exclusively relates to what something looks like. It's about structural, angles, contexts and much more.

Hence why I prefer UX architect.

The difference here is that architecture isn't necessarily visual, and implies that it's more than just design.

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I prefer the terms "interface design" or "interaction design" anyway. After all the interface and the possible interactions are what is being designed.

The user experience is what the user makes of it.

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Au contraire, the user experience is what we make! Just because not all users agree doesn't a better experience can't be delivered to the majority or most important users, and that's where UX comes in. –  Ben Brocka Nov 11 '11 at 14:27
1  
I personally dislike Interface Design as this often gets interpreted by stakeholders as just "making the UI pretty" or "does the button go on the top or the bottom". It does not hold the context of making the system as a whole more usable. IX/UX goes beyond the Interface and should delve into the architecture, flows, content, etc. of a solution. –  Chris Janssen Nov 11 '11 at 20:11
    
Well, I disagree. I don't believe to have any real power over the users personal preferences, tastes and past experiences. All of which have a huge influence on the users experience with any product. All I can do when designing something is control the way in which I allow the user to interact with the product. Which is the definition of an interface. That's why I prefer the term "interface designer" because it resembles the actual thing that i'm doing. Although I can see your point that others often see it as "pushing pixels around" which needs to be corrected. –  lnwdr Jan 9 '12 at 14:32
    
Interface design and interaction design are professional practices in themselves. UX design is another. It's not a matter of preference - thinking it is is like saying "I prefer to call oranges apples. It's all fruit after all." –  edeverett Jul 30 at 8:57

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