UX Design: What Exactly IS UX?

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UX Design: What Exactly IS UX?

Working to find clear definitions for a field that is incredibly broad, and only getting broader.


Ask four UI/UXers what UX is, and you’ll get seven to eight definitions.

UX is intrinsically a broad field and I don’t think any aspiring or practicing UX designer would tell you otherwise.

Today, what I am hoping to do is cut through some of the clutter and get to what is, at least in my opinion, a reasonably good definition of what, precisely UX actually is.

More specifically, we’ll be attempting to define UX holistically, and go over the six main constituents of quality user experience design:

  • Tangible considerations
  • Intangible considerations
  • Emotional values
  • Utility values
  • Convenience values
  • Desired outcomes

Defining UX

Most people can tell you, broad-strokes, that UX stands for User Experience, and that it is essentially designing a user’s experience as they work through a particular set of tasks, which influence their takeaway of a product/service on the whole.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels

This is pretty good, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like it betrays the complexity of what UX actually entails, so let’s try again.

In my experience:

UX is the process by which we merge the tangible, intangible, emotional, utility, and convenience values of a user in order to help them garner their desired outcome(s).

Let’s unpack that a little bit:

The tangible

This refers to any physical touch point that the user comes into contact with when attempting to use our product/service, along with the environment that they are using it in, and their current physical state.

Photo by Ashutosh Sonwani from Pexels

The reason this is important as a consideration is because the product alone does not make the experience. User experience must be treated holistically, with respect to where the user is at not just during, but before, and after they use our product.

The intangible

In contrast, the intangible refers to what a user is thinking, their mental, and emotional states before they use our product, and what their overall perception of our product is, and becomes over time.

Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

The intangibles are equally as important as the tangible considerations, because they represent the psychological, and emotional aspects of a users experience that influence those respective states.

I know this may be a little abstract, but bear with me, as we’ll go over some more concrete examples of all this together in just a minute.

The values

Let’s talk about the values in UX. Essentially a user comes to a product or service with three categorical values that they are looking to satisfy:

  • Emotional
  • Utility
  • Convenience

I’ve written extensively about these before, but I feel that they are so important in understanding UX, that I will reiterate them here.

→ Emotional value is how you help a user feel.

Photo by juan mendez from Pexels

→ Utility value is what you help a user do.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

→ Convenience value is how easy you make it for your user to get to their desired state.

Photo by Vojtech Okenka from Pexels

The outcome(s)

Knowing all of this, the outcomes are based on the values that a user has, with respect to where they want to be vs where they are right now.

Photo by Pixabay, Pexels

In other words, the outcome(s) that a user garners from utilizing our product or service must fulfill the values that they are looking to satisfy.

Put this all together, and you have essentially the core parts and pieces that make up user experience.

What this looks like in practice

Now that we have a better understanding of what UX entails, let’s take a look at how you might address each one of these points in a real-world project.

Amazon Logo, all rights reserved to their respective parties

Let’s take Amazon for just a minute and examine their UX in terms of these constituents:

The tangbile: users need something that they don’t have. They may be looking through a store to garner an item only to discover that the store is out of stock. They have a need for a physical object and Amazon addresses that consideration.

The intangible: users feel this lack of something acutely. They may need/want something but have no idea how to go about getting it normally. Users feel confused, frustrated, or at the very least irked that they can’t find an item. The need for these intangible considerations are taken into account as well.

Emotional value: users want to feel good about their purchase, that they got a good deal, like they were shown all the options, and were able to make an informed decision. Users want to feel like they are important in the process and that the shopping experience is kept neat, tidy, and is simple to follow along with. All of these needs are met by Amazon.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Utility value: users need a good or set of goods. They need them by a certain date, and need them for a specific thing or set of things. They may need to return items, get customer service, or have issues addressed. These needs, again, are fully met by Amazon.

Convenience value: users want their products fast and easy. They want to be able to check out quickly, efficiently, and know that their products are on the way with a high degree of immediacy. Users don’t want to wait for anything, they want it and they want it right now. Once again, Amazon delivers on these needs.

Outcome(s): the user selects their items, checks out, and receives them within two business days, generally speaking without issue or error. Returns are simple, as are money-back guarantees to work with.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The user has gotten what they wanted, what they needed, and feels fulfilled throughout the process; satisfied with their outcomes. Mission accomplished, problem solved, the user is the hero, and Amazon helped them get it done.

What this means for you

As you work through you UX projects, or even consider the UX of your company’s products/services, you really want to take the time to think about a holistic definition of UX:

UX is the process by which we merge the tangible, intangible, emotional, utility, and convenience values of a user in order to help them garner their desired outcome(s).

Along with these six, major pieces of quality UX:

  • Tangible considerations
  • Intangible considerations
  • Emotional values
  • Utility values
  • Convenience values
  • Desired outcomes

By examining all aspects of your product/service openly and honestly, not only can you garner a much better idea of what your current UX is like, but what you may be able to do to improve your UX as well.

I’ll leave you with these questions:

  • How could you make your user feel better for using your product or service?
  • What could you do to make it easier, or simpler, for your user?
  • How could you increase the usefulness of your product or service for your user?
  • What could you do to make a user’s outcomes more impactful, and deliver more value to them, especially in ways that they didn’t expect?

Nick Lawrence Design
Website | Portfolio

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