When meeting new people, I'm often asked about my job. However, I've found that outside (and to an extent, within) the app and web development industry, UX is still rather new and not understood.

If the person isn't a related field, I'll usually just say 'I design websites'. I don't like doing this (nothing against web designers!) because I don't feel it describes what I do; but find it really difficult to quickly explain in a nutshell what UX design means and requires.

I guess what I'm looking for is a good shorthand description or analogy for UX design.

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    User experience existed long before the digital realm. But in other design fields(ID, Architecture etc) UX is the end result of a good product design. I'm glad you brought this question up because being a web designer of 16 years, I don't know what a "UX designer" does. I tried to research on this topic but the definition of UX is very convoluted. Also very few UX designers write case studies. I feel "UX" is being used as a buzz word these days. Even Don Norman said "the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose its meaning."
    – Jin
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 15:43
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    @Jin I completely agree. The important part of the phrase "UX Design" is design, and it's as old as flint arrows or Vitruvius. Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 16:47

11 Answers 11


I say: 'I help companies make their software easier to use. Websites too.'

And then if they look as if they're remotely interested after that point I move on to say something that most people identify with and that is: 'I bet you've come across software or a website that is really awkward or annoying to use - well I help companies make them more enjoyable to use - making sure people have a better experience'.

At which point most people will tell you about a piece of software or a website that really annoys them for some reason, and ask if I had anything to do with that. Then they'll ask if I can help them do something in Word that they haven't managed to work out and then ultimately: can I help them fix a problem with getting their webmail, and the internet seems really slow lately, oh and by the way, whilst I'm there, the mother-in-law has been having a problem with ordering a new set of saucepans online - can I help.

Then I say 'I don't really know why your internet is slow, but I guess I can take a look' and then 'What problem has your mother-in-law been having', and before I know it I've spent all afternoon trying to find out what the problem with the email is, and I'm hot and bothered because I can't fix their broadband, and I've wasted the mother-in-laws time because I ran into the same problems she did. And then I get told 'I thought you helped make things easier to use' - you're not very good are you!'

And then I just wish I'd said 'I write software, how about you?'. [sigh]

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    The only thing to add to this is the "family friend who is a real computer expert" who promptly pushes you out of the way and starts deleting icons from the desktop because "This clutter slows everything down." And everyone notices the improvement in computer speed immediately. +1
    – gef05
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 15:04
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    The only part where you went wrong is where you volunteered to look at the slow internet problem... Scrap that and you probably will a have much more enjoyable "user experience". :-) Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 18:48

Call it quality assurance related to the ease of use for a product.

  • Clever way to put it! Perfect way to describe it to 3-piece-suits business people. Might not apply well to lay-people your elderly Aunt. Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 16:00
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    QA is more of a "this is broken" job function. A designer "creates" a great experience. Its also not just about ease of use. Its about delight as well. Read Emotional Design by Don Norman for details.
    – Glen Lipka
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 15:17
  • @Glen: First of all, explaining "UX" is not easy (and this is what the OP wants suggestions on). I've found that it is easier to draw a parallel to "quality". Everybody knows what quality means, but they probably can't tell you what quality is. That is because quality is a compound, situational factor - just like UX. So doing a conversation where you replace UX with quality is an interesting exercise. Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 12:52
  • ... Now, I must add that my background is "usability", which has a slightly different focus than UX (you probably know ISO 9241-110 (and the deprecated ISO 9241-11) and ISO 9241-210 definitions), so the the "ease of use" part might be adjusted. But I think "ease of use" is the essence that John and Jane Doe cares about. Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 12:52
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    ...Anyway, how do you know that you have created a great experience? Well, by evaluating and measuring the users experienced experience and comparing the results to the desired ux requirements. Right? If it doesn't measure up, then redesign. Repeat. (I don't buy the "I just know, a priori"-attitude) This process is the core nature of iterative design and usability engineering. I would pretty much call that quality assurance related to the ease of use... Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 12:52

I usually make the analogy to an architect of physical structures. You know the guy who designed the Guggenheim museum? That building is so cool. Or the boring building next to it that no one cares about? Different architects, right?

I do that for software. I make it awesome, if I do my job right. If you use software that's too hard or boring or annoying, then the person in my role didn't do a good job.

In short, I design the way the software will work.


I usually just say something like "I work with the Internet" and if they're still interested (< 10%) I start explaining. The conversation usually goes something like this:

"I try to make websites and apps easier to use" - "So you're a programmer?" - "No but I work closely with programmers..." - "Oh, so you're a graphic designer!" - "No, but I have graphic designers in my team..." - "So what do you do then...?" ...and then I try to really explain what I do all day long but I guess for most people it's just too abstract. To be honest, I kind of gave up. I think my mom still doesn't know what I'm really doing :)


A User Experience Designer is someone who makes things easier to use by studying the behavior of the people using the product or website and then designing based around those ideas.

  • Can you make things easier without studying behavior? It sounds like you are describing a Usability Analyst, not a Designer.
    – Glen Lipka
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 18:14
  • What would you suggest? How else are we able to help a user with out studying what they do?
    – jonshariat
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 18:47
  • I do it every day. I'm given a particular problem space or feature and I design a wonderful experience. I am a User Experience Designer. I design the user's complete experience. I don't accomplish this by studying the behavior of the people using the product. I do it by creating the experience from my vision of how the feature should work.
    – Glen Lipka
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 15:15
  • So you dont think how the user will use it at all? What they may or may not do when they get to the page? You don't have to have user come in, and then stand behing a 1 way mirror to study user behavior. Every step of the way we think about how they will act. That said, I think I should add in a second part about design.
    – jonshariat
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 15:54
  • I didnt say that at all. I was responding to your original answer which looked, to me, like a usability analyst description. Its hard to describe my job as a UX designer as "studying human behavior". I design for human beings and their behavior is part of who they are. Its like describing a song writer as "someone who makes music sound better by studying the behavior of the people listening. It's clinical and not really capturing the spirit of what they do.
    – Glen Lipka
    Commented Jun 25, 2011 at 22:04

I make things easy to use.....

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    "Ok... but what do you do all day long?" That's what my mom would ask :)
    – Phil
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 14:07
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    Often its felt as if I go to meetings where I try to pursuade people not to add things.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Jun 24, 2011 at 11:13

I think this post is related to your question

UX Designer, UX Analyst or UX Architect?... does it matter?


I like to use old terms, and to be specific when possible.

I design web applications. (I also build web applications.)

I don't think it's any different than:

  • I design pocketbooks
  • I design floral arrangements
  • I design bridges (maybe I also build bridges)

If I were a truly holistic user experience designer, who might design websites, billboards, and kiosks in the same activity, I might go with "I design User Experiences", but I don't, and I'd probably list out the kind of things I make rather than trying to fit it into User Experience. I like to be specific about what I make.

*Some of these answers stress remodeling existing software, which I think doesn't do justice to the breadth of the entire field. Whoever we are, some of us specialize in remodels, some in designing from scratch. Would you define an Architect as someone who improves buildings because some Architects specialize in remodeling existing buildings? I would say they design buildings, sometimes improving old designs, sometimes inventing new ones.


I tell them I put the "friendly" in "user-friendly".

It seems to work, but I do, sometimes, get into the same situation as @RogerAttrill. I tell them, "I can look at your broadband, printer, email, web page but I'm not a Networking Specialist, Hardware Expert, Programmer, etc.." I compare it to medical professionals - you wouldn't ask a cardiologist why you have a skin rash - you would ask a dermatologist.

  • Thanks. These are both great. I'll definitely be using the medical analogy in the future. Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 15:16

As I define it, UX is mainly about moving tasks to the appropriate part of the brain -- draw attention where required and encourage people to subconsciously do the right thing.

I found that examples work best to explain it:

One of my favourites is that German ATMs give back your card before handing out the money, because a lot of people subconsciously consider the transaction complete when they have received money, and leave; if the card comes out first, they cannot forget it.

With a more technically minded audience, you could give the Windows UAC dialog as an example. The entire screen is dimmed, save for the sole important piece of information that the user needs to read, because, well, it is important, while a finished print job will only get a small icon in the notification area and a speech bubble for a few seconds.


Master of human-computer interaction

Digital experience expert

Create excellent web and software experiences that make people happy while using them

Something along these lines. You can keep it simple and non techie-like, but add in the idea that you take something to the next level of making it better that something that just works mechanically.

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