In recent years, "user experience" has become a rather common term. Everyone, from comedians to grandparents, seems to have adopted it into their lexicon. It makes sense. We all know we are "users" of digital products and we want those "experiences" to be positive. Still, UX is an ironically non-sensical acronym and the practice of UX remains vaguely defined.
Adding to the confusion, every UXer seems to have a slightly different definition for the industry, based on what they do personally. Go to a UX event and you'll realize just how broad the practice really is. You'll meet researchers, writers, designers, developers, engineers, testers, directors and who knows who else. Understanding the segments within which these roles exist may help you understand why a broad definition of UX is valid.
In order to craft the best possible user experience, it is absolutely critical we understand the client's business, their existing products and their customers. We investigate what the client already knows and their data analytics. We challenge preconceived notions and craft alternate hypotheses. We perform user tests, surveys, interviews, competitive analysis and heuristic evaluations. We make recommendations.
Here, our research becomes tangible. We put pencil to paper - incorporating data, art and technology into possible solutions. Literally, we begin with illustrations. Often, detailed functionality is laid out in wireframes. Wireframes (a core UX deliverable) are similar to the blueprints of a house - defining what goes where and why. Complex functionality may require the creation and testing of a prototype. Visual designs are mocked up. Other times, deadlines may not allow for creating any documentation, forcing teams to design in code.
More and more, folks are recognizing the fact that the development of user interfaces is absolutely a component of the overall user experience. There is an art and science in writing presentation layer code that not only runs quickly, but also enhances the user's experience through animation and responsiveness to the user's interactions. Again, depending on timelines and budgets, we may find ourselves preferring to design and prototype directly in code.
The truth is no one knows if a solution is effective until it is tested by users. There are levels of testing and the least you can afford to do is infinitely better than not testing at all. We share our designs with peers, friends and family. We find our users in the wild and trade Starbucks gift cards for feedback. In the best of scenarios, we run controlled studies online and in testing facilities. These tests inform design revisions and better ensure overall success.
Bringing it all together in a centralized role, a UX Director provides abstract conceptual thought and team leadership. This person speaks in terms in which business, marketing, design and technology team members appreciate. The director inspires collaboration, innovation and ensures final solutions resolve the challenges at hand.
These industry segments include a wide variety of roles, each contributing in their own way toward how I would define the UX industry as a whole - crafting pleasantly effective interactive digital experiences.