WHAT DO THESE TWO LETTERS MEAN...UX?

What is UX

The single most important tool in UX... is the User. I know this sounds like a simplification but it is surprising to me how many "UX" designers I have met ...that have never conducted a single user study. 

When I first got into UX and usability I realized that the term "UX" was hot.  Having UX design or UX expert on my resume drove me to the top of any short list.  I wrote a white paper on UX and was immediately pinged by several recruiter houses to come in and explain the term to their staff because the demand was there but the term was still new. At the time, no one really knew how to place, hire, or even find a usability expert.

Soon, people began to realize that to get a job, they simply had to call themselves usability experts. I started seeing UX show up on everyone's resume.  This further diluted the term because a company would hire someone that claimed to be a usability expert and they would think that this must be what usability was. At the time, the industry still didn't really understand how to deal with people who claimed ux as a title. Recruiters were kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Many years have passed since those early days. I have started to look at the term UX  in more of a fluid evolving term. Let me clarify...

USER EXPERIENCE is very specific in that it deals with the Users Experience. However, I am starting to view  UX as a term that applies to people who work around improving that experience. UX is... almost more of a category of focus... and not just an oddly abbreviated term for user engaged research. I know this is where I lose some people... So, let me just finish the thought and get it out of my head. I am not saying this is law - I am simply making an observation based on experience and trying to understand the world I am working in. 

While most UX people I meet have different views and skill sets, they are all concerned with the same thing... User engagement. I feel like the term UX was really a general term to encompass how people interacted with various systems. I still use that as a (vague) explanation of what I do for a living. However, as time moves on, I see UX taking shape and branching out into more specific fields of study - ALL... under the same field of how humans interact with various systems. 

Today, I see people being more specific with their title. You are no longer a UX expert. You are a UX designer, UX Engineer, a UX researcher... I even recently took the title of Usability architect.

SO - What does this all mean? Isn't it further abuse of an already misunderstood term?

Perhaps - But perhaps it is the evolution of an understanding of what it means to engage a user. It is still paramount that we understand the wants and needs of our user base, but it is also fair to understand that usability is a common thread that follows a product from concept to completion. Usability is the foundation we build upon. AND, as such, maybe the division of UX into a variety of disciplines is simply the next step. Again - this is just me trying to play with some thoughts on what I am seeing in the industry All of the below items are under the umbrella of UX but there are very different skills involved in each:

STRATEGY PHASE: We do our research and plan for the problem we wish to solve. We understand what we are trying to improve and engage users to see how best to do it. Define what Success looks like.
Possible UX skills: UX RESEARCH, UX ARCHITECT

SCOPE PHASE: Consult with project managers and stake holders to prioritize goals, create functional specs, understand business requirements based on user needs. This allows us to plan key points where we can stop and review to ensure we are on target with user needs.
Possible UX skills: UX RESEARCH, UX ARCHITECT

STRUCTURE PHASE: We begin to lay out the Interaction design, information architecture, roles and process. Things begin to take shape and new questions arise that need solutions.
Possible UX skills: UX RESEARCH, UX ARCHITECT

FRAMEWORK PHASE:  Interface and navigation design - wire frame and annotations. 
Possible UX skills: UX RESEARCH, UX ARCHITECT, UX DESIGN

PAINT/DESIGN PHASE: Visual branding, contrast and uniformity, color and typography.
Possible UX skills: UX RESEARCH, UX ARCHITECT, UX DESIGN

PROTOTYPE PHASE: Working front end design with FED code hand-off.
Possible UX skills: UX ARCHITECT, UX DESIGN, UX ENGINEER

OK, Maybe...Maybe not...

It is not my intent to mislead anyone that is reading this blog. Usability, as I stated in the beginning, MUST INCLUDE THE USER... I stand by the fact that usability without user data or research, is simply an educated guess/opinion. I am also open to the possibility that UX may evolve as it becomes better understood. While there is a common thread in all definitions mentioned above, the skills involved in each UX process, are very different and deserve consideration.  If there is one thing I have learned in the last 20 years of working in the tech sector, it is that things move at the speed of life. What is big today, may be old news tomorrow. If we are not flexible and able to look outside the box occasionally, we stand the risk of being lost at sea.