What is user experience (UX)?

User experience, also known as "UX", encompasses all the interactions between a user and a product. In modern-day UX, that product is usually a digital application, device, website, service, or system—which is why you'll often hear the term “human-computer interaction” as part of UX.

The function of UX is to naturally guide a user to your product’s goal—whatever that may be. For a device, how does it turn on and off? How do you change the volume, or speed, or other settings? And if it’s a website, how do you get to the Help section or contact someone? This is the practical side of UX: How a product gets users from point A to point B.

There’s also the emotional side of UX: the users’ enjoyment. Does the UX elicit positive emotions from your user? Are there negative feelings caused by your product’s limitations or challenges? 

To make sure you cover both the practical and emotional side of user experience, start by deeply understanding your users’ needs, values, and feelings. The key to this is doing market research and customer interviews early and often. Beyond that, continuously test and validate your UX to make sure you can answer yes to these questions: 

  • Does the product work?

  • Is it easy to use?

  • Is it enjoyable?

What UX isn’t

Sometimes UX and UI—two separate concepts—are used interchangeably. Where UX stands for user experience, UI stands for user interface, while both deal with user interactions, they're distinct concepts with separate goals. 

UX encompasses the end-to-end journey a user takes with a product or service, and UI is the physical or digital interface they use to achieve a particular outcome. The first is a broad, subjective experience of using the product. The second is a finite set of actions taken with the product itself.

For example, the UX of an iPhone includes the subjective experience of using both the hardware and software, and how enjoyable and easy it is to use.

The iPhone’s UI includes the screen and icons that make it possible to use the device’s functions and features.

What is UX design? 

User experience design, or UX design, is the practice of putting the user at the forefront of the design process. It helps teams conceptualize and create a product that will be not only functional, but enjoyable to use.

The north star that guides all good UX is the user’s needs. UX designers collaborate cross-functionally with product, marketing, sales, customer support, and others to understand what a user’s preferences and perspectives are. With stakeholder’s input and collaboration, UX designers should follow a user-centered process to create products that users love. 

The UX designer’s specific role and responsibilities will vary in different companies, and may overlap with a user interface designer. But universally, UX designers focus on making products that are easy to use, useful, and attractive. This commonly includes tasks like:

  • user research

  • wireframes

  • visual design

  • information architecture

  • information design

  • front-end design

  • interaction design

  • usability testing

Why does UX design matter?

User experience design matters for obvious reasons: you want your users to find your product usable, accessible, valuable, and enjoyable. But how important is it really

Having great UX makes customers more willing to buy from you (and even pay more). Customers are willing to pay as much as 18% more for products simply because of a good customer  experience. And when it comes to websites, a recent Deloitte study showed that improving load time by as little as 0.1 seconds can increase customer conversions up to 8% for retail sites and 10% for travel sites.

There are also genuine consequences of having bad UX. For example, in a PwC study, 32% of customers say they would leave their favorite brand after one bad experience. And after experiencing bad UX on a website, 88% of users are less likely to return to that website. 

Remember that UX is subjective and “good” UX looks different to different people. In a user’s eyes, UX also extends beyond the product itself and includes a user’s experience with a business at large. Therefore, UX design needs to be comprehensive across the entire user journey

With that in mind, here are a few questions to help you optimize your UX:

  • Is the product user-centered? 

  • Do your UX design decisions align with user research?

  • Are there any known bugs or sticking points in the product?

  • Do users ever get stuck or frustrated in their user journey?

  • What does the user feedback and analytics look like? 

Build the foundation for an optimal user experience

UX is critical to customer satisfaction for any product—but many companies fail to give it the attention and resources it deserves. Hopefully, having read this article, yours won’t be one of them. 

With the definitions and foundational elements of UX and UX design under your belt, you can now approach customer research with a stronger perspective on what to look for to improve  your user’s journey. This high-quality user experience can lead to more sales and increased customer loyalty. 

Speaking of strategy, Airtable has a deep suite of relevant resources to help you build your own comprehensive, data-driven UX strategies. Some of the most helpful include these must-reads:

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About the author

Bob Willsonis a creative project manager with over a decade of experience in complex production.

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