Published January 21st, 2016
by Steven Clark

I’m beginning to think nobody really knows what UX is.

I’m sure it was easy to bamboozle your way into a web job when the internet was in its infancy. Describing 90s web development must have seemed like magic to an aged ad man. Similarly, there seems to be a number of people in UX or digital design positions who aren’t actually sure what UX is or, at the very least, apply practices associated with UX to normal web projects and claim to be UX experts.

For the uninitiated, User Experience is the methodology of analysing and improving the overall experience of using a web or app for your average user by gathering information (e.g. surveys, click heat maps, analytics), trialling iterative improvements based on that information (e.g. beta testing, A/B tests) and improving your app/website based on the outcome of those trials. It’s a relatively new practice, usually adopted by large tech companies with dedicated web or mobile applications.

“Once you’ve completed your interviews, analyze them all together to find themes, including user needs and priorities, behavior patterns, and mental models. Note the specific language and terms you heard so you can better reflect the way users think and talk in the actual interface. If you are doing generative research, look to the needs and behaviors you discover to point out problems that need solving. Turn the clusters around user types into personas that you can use for the life of the product or service you’re working on.”

Erika Hall, Just Enough Research

While it could be argued that providing UX services to clients is as simple as wireframing before a website build, unless significant data and research is informing your decisions, it’s not really valid UX. It’s just UI design.

I’ll finish with my favourite example of an improvement brought on by what could be considered UX research. I somehow found myself at a talk given by Gregor Lawson, the founder of Morphsuits, early in my career. Operating primarily online, his talk covered how they had improved over the course of the last few years and what lessons they’d learned in doing so.

After completing a survey given to recent purchasers the results showed male customers weren’t particularly thrilled about how prominent wearing Morphsuits made their crotch. At the time, the homepage had a large hero image with four guys at a festival, all wearing Morphsuits, with one guy’s wang being particularly noticeable (shown below if you’re into that sort of thing). They ran two versions of the site alongside each other: one unchanged and another with the man’s schlong tastefully edited out. Half the visitors saw a banner free of dick and the other half saw the original image. I don’t recall the exact values, but the version without this dude’s pork sword on display achieved a significant increase in sales.


So there you have it, UX isn’t producing a bunch of wireframes before building your site or doing the odd A/B test and changing some font sizes. It’s a completely data driven practice.

Even when that data tells you to photoshop dongs out of a photograph.

For some background on how we approach UX, check out our Services.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Habanero Digital blog meaning certain parts are probably weirdly self referential or talk about ongoing feuds that probably exist almost exclusively in the mind of the author.

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by Steven Clark

Steven is a designer/developer and wannabe intellectual with an obsessive personality and too much spare time. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

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