Truth be told, they are closely related
UX has become quite the buzzword in the past few years. It’s not a fad, though.
User experience is a broad term that focuses on the end user of some kind of product, whether it be a service, a tool (like a website), or a company. Nielsen Norman Group defines user experience as encompassing “all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
UX is User Experience Design
Typically when you hear “UX,” it references the practice of user experience design, which is used to solve problems, no matter how large or small. User experience design can provide a framework for identifying a problem and coming up with a solution to solve it, and then testing the the idea and iterating until it works.
The Interactive Design Foundation says “User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function.”
User experience design can be broad, and it can include research, writing, visual design, interactive design, and many more disciplines. It depends on the skills and range of the designer.
User experience design is often done differently depending on the practitioner. Every user experience designer or UX team often has its own method. Typically the phases of UX design look like this:
- Definition and Analysis
- Prototyping and Iteration
Design Thinking is a similar process
User experience and design thinking are often confused because they are so closely related. In fact they are both rooted in academia. And some experts call themselves design thinkers and some user experience designers. I use design thinking as the methodology for going through all of the steps of the UX process. They are incredibly similar:
- Empathize with the people using your service or product
- Define their needs, problems, and define insights
Challenge assumptions and innovate new ideas for solutions
- Prototype to start creating solutions
- Test those solutions
Just as in user experience design, these phases can be messy and don’t always happen one after the other. It’s common to go back to a previous step if the data needs to be revisited or redone.
Design thinking doesn’t just belong to designers, though. It’s long been used across disciplines. Here’s why.
“Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. At the same time, Design Thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods,” according to the Interactive Design Foundation’s article on the subject.
Design thinking and UX working together
According to the Association for Computer Machinery website, Interactions, where design thinking as seen the most success is in corporate boardrooms. It has enjoyed relatively wide acceptance by executives. User experience remained more in the trenches. It was introduced via the bottom and started moving its way up. There was a time when UX and design thinking were seen a separate. In fact, UX struggled to be respected.
This appears to be changing. User experience and design thinking are recognized as methods for improving the bottom line and more companies are adopting it.
It can be a confusing connection, but it’s important to note that both UX and design thinking are valuable tools for understanding users and helping solve a pain point. They can work together and provide value for the humans who need it.